January 27, 2008

Holocaust Memorial Day 2008

Today is a good day. We look around like blind people who have recovered their sight, and we look at each other. We have never seen each other in sunlight: someone smiles. If it was not for the hunger!

For human nature is such that grief and pain - even simultaneously suffered - do not add up as a whole in our consciousness, but hide, the lesser behind the greater, according to a definite law of perspective. It is providential and is our means of surviving the camp. And this is the reason why so often in free life one hears it said that man is never content. In fact it is not a question of a human incapacity for a state of absolute happiness, but of an ever-insufficient knowledge of the complex nature of the state of unhappiness; so that the single name of the major cause is given to all its causes, which are composite and set out in an order of urgency. And if the most immediate cause of stress comes to an end, you are grievously amazed to see that another one lies behind; and in reality a whole series of others.

So that as soon as the cold, which throughout the winter had seemed our only enemy, had ceased, we became aware of our hunger; and, repeating the same error, we now say: "If it was not for the hunger!..."

But how could one imagine not being hungry? The Lager is hunger: we ourselves are hunger, living hunger.

—Primo Levi, If This is a Man

Primo Levi's greatness as a writer is no doubt complex, made up of several different qualities. But partly it comes, I think, from his ability to convey that, when real evil is done by people to other people, it is bottomless. Though it needs to be explained so far as we are able to, it cannot be contained by its explanation or redeemed by it.

—Norman Geras, normblog

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