Primo Levi

The Periodic Table

The return of that "pt" had thrown me into a state of violent agitation. To find myself, man to man, having a reckoning with one of the "others" had been my keenest and most constant desire since I had left the concentration camp. It had been met only in part by letters from my German readers: they did not satisfy me, those honest, generalized declarations of repentance and solidarity on the part of people I had never seen, whose other face I did not know, and who probably were not implicated except emotionally. The encounter I looked forward to with so much intensity as to dream of it (in German) at night, was an encounter with one of them down there, who had disposed of us, who had not looked into our eyes, as though we didn't have eyes. Not to take my revenge: I am not the Count of Montecristo. Only to reestablish the right proportions, and to say, "Well?" If this Muller was my Muller, he was not the perfect antagonist, because in some way, perhaps only for a moment, he had felt pity, or just only a rudiment of professional solidarity. Perhaps even less: perhaps he had only resented the fact that the strange hybrid of colleague and instrument that after all was a chemist frequented a laboratory without the Anstand, the decorum, that the laboratory demands; but the others around him had not even felt this. He was not the perfect antagonist: but, as is known, perfection belongs to narrated events, not to those we live. p. 215

I admitted that we are not all born heroes, and that a world in which everyone would be like him, that is, honest and unarmed, would be tolerable, but this is an unreal world. In the real world the armed exist, they build Auschwitz, and the honest and unarmed clear the road for them; therefore every German must answer for Auschwitz, indeed every man, and after Auschwitz it is no longer permissible to be unarmed. p. 223

One could see that he wore the uniform with revulsion; his choice of me must not have been dictated solely by practical considerations. He talked about Fascism and the war with reticence and a sinister gaiety that I had no trouble interpreting. It was the ironic gaiety of a whole generation of Italians, intelligent and honest enough to reject Fascism, too skeptical to oppose it actively, too young to passively accept the tragedy that was taking shape and to despair of the future; a generation to which I myself would have belonged if the providential racial laws had not intervened to bring me a precocious maturity and guide me in my choice. (63)