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The Meaning Of The Phrase "The Demolition Of A Man" In Primo Levis Survival In
Auschwitz

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The Meaning Of The Phrase "The Demolition Of A Man" In Primo Levis Survival In
Auschwitz
The book Survival In Auschwitz is a straight forward narration by Primo Levi about the
situation during the Nazi led holocaust. The story is staged in 1943 when Primo Levi was
deported from Italy to Auschwitz, Poland, whereby together with other Jews they were hurdled
in a concentration camp. Levi, who was aged 25 by that time was a Jew and a chemist. He spent
about 10 months in the concentration camp, whereby he was subjected to the worst kind of
human rights violation during that time1. Levi uses a graphic description of the horrors witnessed
in the concentration camp and allows the reader to experience his emotions and experiences at
the hands of the Nazi soldiers. The book portrays a number of themes related to the Jewish
genocide and this paper focus on explaining the term the demolition of man.
The Nazis succeeded to a large extent in striping humanity out of the prisoners in the
concentration camps. The phrase demolition of humanity therefore summarizes the
dehumanization process spearheaded by the Nazi regime in the concentration camps. The entire
book is about how the Jews were dehumanized, whereby their humanity was demolished. The
demolition of man, as evidenced in the book, commenced when the Jews were taken into
concentration camps, and ended when about 6 million Jews were subjected to death by torture,
starvation, and brutal handling2.
From the introductory part of the book, Levi lays bare the central issue, which is suffering
in the concentration camp, and with this description, he brings about the meaning of the term
the demolition of man3. By this statement, he implies the act of destruction and deprivation of
1

2
3

Levi, Primo, Survival In Auschwitz, (2010, New York: www.bnpublishing.net) 6.

Levi, p. 11.
Levi, p. 17.

man through a number of dehumanizing activities, including the removal of dignity, hope and
luxury. In addition, the statement refers to the genocide itself, whereby millions of Jewish people
were destroyed. In this case, their right of living, as human beings was deprived.
Levi describes the demolition of man based on his encounters in the camp. He points to
the demolition of mans self worth, whereby the basic luxury and self-worth of life is demolished
after it occurred to him that all basic needs were stripped from him. He claims that they were
greeted with the horrific situation of the demolition of man, such that their identities as human
beings were reduced to the point that they could not sink any lower4. He recounts the situation,
whereby people were subjected to horrific torture-some conditions. For instance, he describes the
situation, whereby people in the working camps were shaved, stripped of their clothes, immersed
in a disinfected shower before being given rags and tattered boot to wear5. This form of treatment
was very harsh and did not befit normal human beings.
Levi further describes the demolition of man in relation to the striping of their identities
in concentration camps, whereby their names were removed, and instead they were tattooed with
certain numbers to identify them from one another. This means they lacked human identity, but
were rather a mass of creatures identified with numbers, just in the same way as animals are
identified6. In a normal situation, animals are tattooed for the owner to distinguish them from
one another. At the same time, animals are housed in a poor state in large numbers, and thus the
situation Levi, and his companions were exposed to is equivalent to the conditions in which
animals are housed. This means that the Nazi regime imposed animalistic conditions on the
Jewish people, and this process is equivalent to stripping them of their humanity, which the
demolition of humanity.
4

Levi, p. 23.
Levi, p. 37.
6
Levi, p. 38.
5

In reference to the demolition of man, Levi uses the term fressen which is a Germany
word meaning food for animals, and this is opposed to the term essen, which implies human
food7. He clarifies that this term was not used ironically, but rather is the actual situation they
were experiencing in the concentration camp. The kind of food given to them did not merit
human status, but was rather equivalent to the status of animals, including domestic cats and
dogs. He states that they used to eat while standing, and the food used to burn them because they
could not afford the luxury of waiting. The prisoners were forced into accepting their situation,
and Levi claims that they had gotten used to their dehumanized state. By accepting the
animalistic situation in the camp as normal, the Jewish humanistic tendency had completely been
demolished.
The demolition of humanity as a theme in Levis book paints a picture of the entire
situation during the time of the holocaust. Prior to the holocaust, about nine million Jews resided
in Europe. However, only less than three million remained after the holocaust, implying that the
Jewish generation was demolished. The holocaust was carried out by a well coordinated network
of the Germany soldiers in a number of facilities in Europe, and this ensured that the Jews were
eliminated.

Bibliography
Levi, Primo. Survival In Auschwitz. New York: www.bnpublishing.net, 2010.

Levi, p. 41