Primo Levi on the Liberation of Auschwitz

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  Norman Geras offers this remarkable passage from Primo Levi’s The Truce.

“At the beginning of The Truce, Primo Levi tells of his own moment of liberation in January 1945, when the Russians – for him, ‘four young soldiers on horseback’ – arrived at Auschwitz:

‘They did not greet us, nor did they smile; they seemed oppressed not only by compassion but by a confused restraint, which sealed their lips and bound their eyes to the funereal scene. It was that shame we knew so well, the shame that drowned us after the selections, and every time we had to watch, or submit to, some outrage: the shame the Germans did not know, that the just man experiences at another man’s crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have availed in defence.

So for us even the hour of liberty rang out grave and muffled, and filled our souls with joy and yet with a painful sense of pudency, so that we should have liked to wash our consciences and our memories clean from the foulness that lay upon them; and also with anguish, because we felt that this should never happen, that now nothing could ever happen good and pure enough to rub out our past, and that the scars of the outrage would remain within us forever, within the memories of those who saw it, and in the places where it occurred and in the stories that we should tell of it. Because, and this is the awful privilege of our generation and of my people, no one has ever been able to grasp better than us [translation modified here – NG] the incurable nature of the offence that spreads like a contagion. It is foolish to think that human justice can eradicate it.'”

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