With this month’s Influencers from Around the World we get the honor of hearing from my friend Marco Germani again. Marco has written several guest posts for Influence PEOPLE and always has something very interesting to share with us. I know you’ll enjoy Marco’s insights on Influence in the Hell of Auschwitz. I encourage you to reach out to Marco on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
Nazi death camps during the Second World War were without a doubt among the darkest moments in human history. What happened in those places, reported to us by the few who had the incredible good fortune to survive, is beyond all human logic and any rational understanding. Among the many poignant written evidences of the tragedy of the Holocaust, some can be placed alongside the literary masterpieces of our time. It is the case of the famous book “Se questo è un uomo” (If This Is a Man) by the Italian Primo Levi, which contains a remarkable attempt at a psychological analysis of the dynamics engaged among the prisoners within that scary context. I have read his book many times already and each time it doesn’t fail to touch a chord within me and to engage me in deep reflections about life and human behavior. The last time I read the book, my attention was caught by a short profile of one of Levi’s companions in misfortune, simply referred as Eng. Alfred L.
Levi writes: “L. ran in his country a very important chemical plant and his name was (and is) known in industrial circles throughout Europe. I do not know how he had been arrested, but I know he had entered the prison camp as everyone else did: naked, alone and unknown.”
Although apparently that particular situation presented no way out, L. had decided not to surrender before his time had come and, on the contrary, he implemented a precise strategy to save his life. Levi continues: “…no one had ever heard him complain. Indeed, the few words he let fall were such as to suggest resources to a powerful secret and solid organization. This was confirmed in his appearance. L. was impeccable: the hands and face perfectly clean, he had a rare dedication to wash his shirt every two weeks, without waiting for a change every two months (we note here that washing the shirt means to find the soap, find the time, find the space in crowded laundry; adapt to closely monitor, without taking off his eyes a single moment, the wet shirt and wear it, of course, still wet, at the hour of silence, when the lights go out in custody). L. had obtained essentially the entire appearance of a prominent long before becoming one: since only much later I learned that all this apparent prosperity had been earned by L. with incredible tenacity, paying each individual service and purchase with the bread of his own rations, undergoing additional inflicted hardship.”
The plan of L. was clear; through the principle of authority, he had decided to appear in the eyes of his captors as a powerful person. Someone strong, that would be saved, even if it meant standing for hours with a wet shirt in the snow with 10 C degrees below zero during appeals. Even if it meant giving up the daily ration of bread which each time, pushed only a few steps away death from starvation, for the Auschwitz prisoner. In Levi’s words: “L. knew that between being and becoming powerful the distance is short, and that everywhere, but particularly among the general leveling of the camp, being respectable is the best guarantee of being respected.”
As it usually happens, the disciplined efforts of L. finally paid off: “When Nazi established the Chemical Kommando, L. realized that his hour had come. He needed no more than his clear shirt and his gaunt but shaved face in the middle of the herd of the sordid and the slovenly to convince the Kapo and Arbeitsdienst that he was a truly saved, a prominent potential. So (who has will be given) he was undoubtedly appointed chief engineer at the Kommandos and assumed direction of the Buna lab as an analyst in the Department of Styrene.” In other words, salvation from death by exhaustion from physical work, from exposure, starvation or selections for the gas chambers.
Despite this methodical and disciplined application of the principle of authority, which saved his life, strangely Levi closes the story with words that reveal a degree of moral condemnation to what L. had implemented. “I do not know more of his story, but I think it is very likely that he escaped death, and lives his life now as a cold, firm and joyless ruler,” making it plain to the reader that the plan of L., had contemplated some kind of vile acts toward others convicted, omitted in the description made to us in the book.Marco