The Drowned and the Saved (1986)
by Primo Levi
I'm not trying to diss Primo Levi, the poet lauerate of the Holocaust, but it is unclear to me why The Drowned and the Saved is the single book of philosophical essays included in the 1001 Books list. It is no doubt due to the literary quality of Levi's writing, as well as the importance of the subject matter, but doesn't that open up the 1001 Books list to whole realms of non-fiction and philosophy that are otherwise wholly excluded?
Certainly, Levi's elaboration of the world view of the Concentration camp, the weltanschauung expands in this, his final work, to include the world of the Soviet gulag, and he really draws a universal, global perspective on the totalitarian death camp. He also thinks deeply about the groups who survived the experience, focusing on the helpers, including fellow Jews who were in charge of operating the gas chambers themselves. Think about that for a minute. That was something the Nazi's did, they made Jews operate the death chamber, Levi also points out that very, very few of these individuals actually survived, being witness to horrific crimes that were kept secret from the general population.
Levi explores the Nazi end game. In his opinion, the crazy machinations at the end of the war were a conscious effort by the Nazi regime to destroy the evidence, and in that way he both exonerates and condemns the German people as a whole. The whole end of the book is devoted to his correspondence with German readers, and he also devotes a chapter to the process of translating the book into German. Levi, of course, was from Italy, and he saw the German language translation of his works as a kind of reckoning for Germans who claimed they didn't know what was going on.
And you know, I'm not a hysteric about our current political situation. I don't think that it rises to the kind of crisis some people make it out to be. It helps ifyou actually know about the Nazi's were and what they actually did.