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Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel: Similarities and Differences in Telling About the Holocaust
The Holocaust was a horrific time in history; and those who survived it, will never forget it. Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi are two survivors of the Holocaust and both have made the decision to educate and write about the Holocaust. Wiesel and Levi are two different people, with different lives before the war. But, while in concentration camps they shared similar horrors. Levi and Wiesel transcribed the horror of the Holocaust into literary form with style and emotion that differed between the authors, resulting in the novel Night and Survival in Auschwitz.
Wiesel begins his memoir as a boy, telling about his life before concentration camps. He tells of the escalation of events eventually leading to the loss of all rights and pride among Jews. ?Moshe returns to Sighet with an almost unbelievable story: all the Jews with whom he was deported have been massacred. The villagers react with disbelief; they disregard him as a madman.? (Napierkowski, 243). Wiesel depicts the denial among his neighbors; How could something so horrible actually happen in such a day and age? First, their possessions were taken. Next, their homes were taken and everyone was put into congested ghettos. Eventually, all Jews were shipped off to camps
where reality hit. On the other hand, Levi jumps right into his account from the arrival at the camp. The reader doesn?t have the same chance to cope with the loss of a normal life as in Night, and feel remorse for the narrator. ?It has been suggested that Levi?s love of science and his training as a chemist explain his disposition to observe, describe, and analyze under the most appalling circumstances.? (Brombert) Levi?s account lacks the amount of emotion compared to Wiesel?s. Levi does seem to analyze and report, rather than pull the reader into the reality of the horror as Wiesel does. Levi does not indulge in self-pity; instead he exercises curiosity and takes in everything around him.
A major difference between the two authors is the age and life they were in when they came to the camp. Wiesel was a young boy when he and his family were taken to the concentration camps. Young minds differ greatly from adult minds. Wiesel, like most young people, doesn?t understand how such horrible things can happen. He becomes very hateful. Levi has experienced minor horrors of life. He knows the pains of life, and knows that many times there is nothing that can be done about it. Levi accepts what has happened, observes, and analyzes it. He seems to have a better way of coping with what?s happening, due to his maturity. ?He felt compelled to denounce the horrors perpetrated, but preferred to understand rather than judge.? (Brombert). Levi?s depiction may even be more accurate than the dramatized, children?s version. It is hard to remember accurately things that happened, no matter how terrible or painful. Sometimes this terror and pain may even contribute to the alteration of fact. Another difference is that Wiesel grew up in a community of Jews. He says that the war made him more tolerant for people. Before the war he didn?t know any non-Jews. Levi lived
in an Italian community. He was unfamiliar with Jewish lore. He could be considered uneducated in Judaism. Regardless of his practice, Levi was shipped off anyway. Levi and Wiesel had enormous cultural differences, but shared a very similar experience.
In Night, ?Wiesel uses the rhythms, the verbal energy, imagery, and conventions of the Bible to challenge, accuse and deny God.?(Napierkowski, 248). He questions God when he sees that God does not stop the pain and misery around him. He becomes angry with God and eventually his faith in God and humanity is consumed. ?Without the war, [he] would never have questioned any of [his] beliefs.? (Kakutani). Unlike Wiesel, Levi
is generally optimistic. It seems that this stance does not come to grips with the irrational. However, Levi did not remain silent as Wiesel did.
Levi and Wiesel both experienced the same guilt when they came out alive. Wiesel remained silent. Levi wrote to educate in hopes of preventing another Holocaust. ?He saw it as a sacred duty to tell the story of those who had reached the bottom of abjection?? (Brombert). When Wiesel broke his silence, he wrote for the same reason. ?I write for those who are not here? (Wiesel, in interview with Brittner). But the deaths in those camps so far outnumber the surviving authors. There were so many feelings and emotions burning in those flames that these survivors can not begin to express all of them.
The Holocaust was a very traumatizing event and the people that experienced it dealt in different ways. Peoples dreams and expectations were shattered and dissappointment of optimism became universal from Wiesel?s point of view. The Holocaust should be remembered and taught so that this knowledge might help prevent a
reoccurrence. Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel told their account of the camps from different perspectives. The reader?s thoughts and emotions are reflective of the authors? perspectives.