Mona Simpson's Bookshelf
By Primo Levi
These two short works survive as the greatest art to emerge from the preeminent human tragedy of the 20th century. The accounts of Levi's time in Auschwitz and of his legendary journey after the liberation from Auschwitz back home to Italy, through Russia, are full of psychological insight, brilliance, sorrow, laughter, and improbable joy. Here is his description of a child born in the camps: "Hurbinek was a nobody, a child of death, a child of Auschwitz... Hurbinek, who was three years old and perhaps had been born in Auschwitz and had never seen a tree; Hurbinek, who had fought like a man, to the last breath, to gain his entry into the world of men, from which a bestial power had excluded him; Hurbinek, the nameless, whose tiny forearm—even his—bore the tattoo of Auschwitz; Hurbinek died in the first days of March 1945, free but not redeemed. Nothing remains of him: He bears witness through these words of mine." In his afterword to The Reawakening, Levi wrote: "A friend of mine, who was deported to the women's camp of Ravensbrück, says that the camp was her university. I think I can say the same thing." And his work is ours.