During the time of the Holocaust many of the world’s nations decided not to respond and almost seemed to ignore the fact that these tragedies that were starting in Germany were happening. The first example is the involvement of the United States during the Holocaust. The first politician that had found out about the actions going on in Germany was a man named Dr. Gerhart Reigner who was the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland. Once the word eventually got out to the American Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise, he held a press conference about it and it was soon known to the American people through the New York Times what was happening in Germany. Throughout World War II the press was very slow to report on the atrocities going on in Germany due to previous false accusations in Germany during World War I. Eventually, there was an emergency conference was held between the United States and Great Britain, and both decided that they were not going to be accepting more Jewish immigrants nor providing aid the European Jews. On January 22, 1944 President Roosevelt issued and executive order which led to the War Refugee Board being created. Although this board was created, the United States still refused to bomb Nazi concentration camps and the railroads that went to these concentration camps which would have put a large halt on the transportation of Jews to the concentration camps.
Elie Wiesel’s views about God had changed a lot throughout the book. He was always taught by his father about how God is the center of everything in the world and that if it was not for God, we would have no world. He was raised up on the belief that God is good and due to the fact that God is good, he believed that the world then, must be good as well. One could see how an event such as the Holocaust could drastically change your views about that and really rethink your thoughts that the world and God is good if these terrible events were happening. Towards the middle of the book he even started to question if God existed. He not only saw evil in the acts of the Nazi officers, but also in the Jewish people that were in the concentration camps. Although he would say that he believes that there is now no God, he still shows actions of prayer when things get worse, which goes to show that deep down inside he still had much faith in God. One quote that I found to be very important in this memoir was the quote he said during the moment a young boy was being hung, “Where is God?” He goes on to explain that after saying this there was complete silence within the camp. Although he was forever traumatized by the events that happened, and although he wonders how their God could let these things happened to such religious Jews, he still remained a believer in God.
Primo Levi discusses to types of people during the Holocaust. They were the saved versus the drowned. He goes on to talk about how the people that were “saved” did not do things that were just or admirable, and that they did what they had to do to survive and stay alive. In order for these people to be saved, they had to let go and sell their soul to evil because it is what had to be done to survive. The word saved seems ironic due to the fact that it comes with a positive connotation, however here that is not the case. The people that were “drowned” were people that gave up and were mentally and physically destroyed inside. He talked about how these people do not exist outside the concentration camps because they have not been stripped of their dignity and mentally destroyed as they have been in these death camps. This is very significant to this book because you either did everything you had to do to survive in Auschwitz even if it meant do morally wrong, or you gave up due to mental and physical exhaustion.
I do get the impression that Primo Levi is religious but definitely questioning the truth about where God was during this horrible time. I think the fact that he talks about the people that have been saved have given up when it comes to morals and religion to be able to survive, shows that he thinks God does still exists because he seems to understand they gave up on God. I truly think that he is still religious throughout the book just irked about why God has let these terrible things happen to believers that worship him. I think that anyone that has something this devastating happen to them questions the God they believe in whether they admit it or not. He seems to believe in God but be very upset at him for what he believes God is not doing to save them.
Survivor testimony is extremely crucial to have a full understanding of the Holocaust because the Holocaust was not seen through one person’s eyes, it was seen through millions. What I mean by this is that not every Holocaust survivor’s story is the same. This is because every camp was different, and the survivors came from all walks of life around parts of Europe. Some were in the concentration camps as slave labor, some were left to starve and freeze to death, some emigrated out of Europe before things got really bad, and some were constantly on the run to avoid being forced into concentration camps. A prime example of this is the difference of how Primo Levi thought of the Holocaust and Elie Wiesel thought of it. Primo Levi had a very hard time believing in God throughout these atrocities, while Elie Wiesel did as well but seemed to end up with more of a religious opinion of God. If we did not have survivor testimonies, we may never have known all of the aspects of the Holocaust. For example, the people of the United States did not really understand the events that went down during the Holocaust until after the war had ended and the Nuremburg trials started. This is because the media coverage of the Holocaust was not that great during the war. Therefore, without survival testimony there would be many more unanswered questions left. These survivor testimonies took place in multiple different ways through the past years. There have been autobiographies written by Holocaust survivors themselves, and there have been books and videos that were created by children and grandchildren of survivors that have had these testimonies passed down to them. The most famous collection of survivor testimonies to this day is the Shoah Foundation that was headed by Steven Spielberg. His goal was to find every living Holocaust survivor and interview them so that we have a fully documented story on each and every person that had survived the Holocaust. It contains more than 55,000 videos of survivor testimonies and over 115,00 hours of footage stored in their archives. It even has a list of over 1.95 million names available to search for.
- Wiesel, E., Perry, J., & Natchez, J. (2002). Night: Elie Wiesel. New York: Spark Pub.
- Levi, P., & Levi, P. (1986). Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Summit Books.