Primo Levi Readings: THE DROWNED AND THE SAVED (Mandatory RSVP)
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Michael Rothberg on the Grey Zone
Reading and discussion from The Drowned and the Saved
Michael Rothberg (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
The Nazi genocide of European Jews has frequently been described as the paradigm of modern evil. More than any other event, it seems to oppose a group of guilty perpetrators to a mass of innocent victims. The Jews, after all, were not singled out for anything they might have done, but simply for who they were. As a secular Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, Primo Levi was well situated to observe this dynamic. Yet, in his final work, The Drowned and the Saved, Levi painted a radically different picture of the Holocaust. His exploration of what he called the "gray zone" drew attention to the space between the poles of good and evil and to the moments of blurring between victims and perpetrators. Without relativizing the nature of the Nazi system, Levi upended the conventional view of the Holocaust and drew attention to the considerable degree of complicity produced within the concentrationary universe.