Goodreads: The Complete Works of Primo Levi
Series: Auschwitz Trilogy #2
Primo Levi recounts his experiences in a dislocated persons camp and his journey back home to Italy after being liberated from Auschwitz. Also translated as The Reawakening.
In this sequel to Survival in Auschwitz (also known as If This Is a Man), Holocaust witness Primo Levi describes his bizarre journey home after being liberated by the Russian army. Initially abandoned by the retreating Germans to die in the camp hospital, then moved around to various dislocated person camps, and then finally loaded onto a train with no clear destination or agenda, Levi realizes that liberation is also precarious and that he will need all his wits and skill to continue to find food and clothing. He describes with witty insight the men and women he meets as he travels across Europe, always hoping to find his way home.
Though Levi is still in many ways fighting for survival because food and resources remain scarce in the days of liberation, the tone of this book is somewhat more lighthearted. Levi delights in his character studies and he vividly draws the compelling and strange figures he encounters. From his friend Cesare, whose tricks to get money constantly entertain and amuse the men, to Mordo Nahum who allies himself with Levi but constantly chastises him for his poor survival instincts (such as not having shoes), Levi fills his pages with reminiscences that are often fond, sometimes baffled. He does not spare the Russians from his observations that they lacked any clear schedule or order, and often likes to muse on the Russians he encounters who seem to have no apparent job. But, in the end, he is not too harsh. One senses that he has no strength or desire to be harsh.
Perhaps the most moment, however, is when Levi and the others pass through Germany. Levi writes of his need to communicate with the people he associates with his nightmare. He wants to know–did they know? Were they complicit? How could they do it? And what do they have to say to him now, now that they see him before them? But the people of Germany will not meet his eyes and Levi leaves unsatisfied.
Many people have read or listened to the testimony of those who have survived the Holocaust. Levi was one of the first to speak (If This Was a Man was published in Italy in 1947), but he adds to his story a segment that some readers may be less familiar with. To modern readers, “liberation” sounds celebratory. We forget that liberation came with its own set of concerns, its own troubles. Levi reminds us that liberation took strength and resilience, too.