Favourite quote #2: “Monsters exist. But …”
Monsters exist. But they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking question.
Primo Levi (1919 – 1987), an Italian, was a chemist from Turin. As a Jew and anti-fascist, he wound up spending the last year of WWII in Auschwitz. Of the hundreds dispatched to the camp in the same convoy as him, he was apparently one of only 20 to make it out alive. His survival hinged in part on the fact that he was in the infirmary with scarlet fever when the Red Army was approaching Auschwitz, and so was spared the death march the bulk of the prisoners were forced to undertake by the SS. After the war, he continued his work as a chemist, but also with time grew to become one of Italy’s premier, most innovative writers.
I knew none of this when I first read the quote, but I just took note of it because I appreciated how well it explains the grand-scale atrocities of Nazi Germany and in specific the concentration camps. Now I know a little of his story, his words make even more sense.
Even in the decades immediately after the war, there existed Holocaust negationism (i.e. denial of the fact of the Holocaust). Levi was determined that the horrors of the war should not be forgotten, and so, amongst other related activities, he spent much of his life writing about the concentration camps and what went down so that such things would not and could not be swept under the carpet and forgotten.
His possibly most famous work, If This Is a Man, is about his time in Auschwitz and is now on my reading list. I plan to read it at a time when I’m feeling brave.