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Ethics after Auschwitz?

Primo Levi’s and Elie Wiesel’s Response

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Carole J. Lambert

Ethics after Auschwitz? Primo Levi’s and Elie Wiesel’s Response demonstrates how, after their horrific experiences in Auschwitz, both Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel could have deservedly expressed rage and bitterness for the rest of their lives. Housed in the same barracks in the depths of hell, a dark reality surpassing Dante’s vivid images portrayed in The Inferno, they chose to speak, write, and work for a better world, never allowing the memory of those who did not survive to fade. Why and how did they make this choice? What influenced their values before Auschwitz and their moral decision making after it? What can others who have suffered less devastating traumas learn from them? «The quest is in the question», Wiesel often tells his students. This book is a quest for hope and goodness emerging from the Shoah’s deepest «night».

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Introduction 1

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0 couldn’t always do it in life, he could and did do it in writing‛ (82). Indeed, Levi affirms: From my very first book, If This Is a Man, I have wanted my writings, even if the name on the front cover is mine, to be read as collective works, as a voice that represented other voices. And even more than that, I wanted them to be an opening, a bridge between us and our readers, especially if they were young. It is very agreeable for us ex-deportees to sit round a table and tell each other of our far-off adventures, but it serves little purpose. As long as we are alive, it is up to us to speak, but to other people, to those who were not yet born, so that they know ‘how far it can go.’ (Black 96) Wiesel also feels committed to link the dead with the living: ‚We must serve as living, integral links between the dead and the future generations so as to save the dead from death and the others from forgetfulness‛ (Abrahamson, Against II 385). He candidly explained to a student at the University of Oregon in 1975, ‚I write to explore my own self as much as I write in order to help you explore yourself. I believe that basically, and ontologically, there is only one person in the world. That is the beauty, really, of our teaching: there is only one person. That means the ‘I’ in me and the...

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