Despite the conditions in which they found themselves, a few concentration camp prisoners did act morally; a few did "do the right thing" in their treatment of others regardless of their...
Despite the conditions in which they found themselves, a few concentration camp prisoners did act morally; a few did "do the right thing" in their treatment of others regardless of their circumstances. How does Levi explain these exceptions to the rule? What made it possible for these few to "act morally"?
Levi explains these "exceptions to the rule" by referencing the internal and entrenched moral compass of the individuals who stood formidably against the onslaught of suffering and degradation in the camps.
In the book, Levi discusses the case of Elias, a five-foot-tall dwarf who was built like a tank. Elias' face had looked "like a battering ram, an instrument made for butting." A "bestial" vigor had emanated from Elias unconsciously and readily. He survived the camps by stealing; as a thief, he demonstrated the "instinctive astuteness of wild animals." He was never caught. Levi maintains that Elias survived acute bodily suffering because of his physical endurance; as for mental suffering, Levi asserts that Elias survived because of his "insanity." In discussing Elias, Levi argues that, without some sort of moral compass, an individual was not likely to survive catastrophic circumstances without mental fragmentation:
For those who have no sound inner resources, for those who do not know how to draw from their own consciences sufficient force to cling to life, the only road to salvation leads to Elias: to insanity and to deceitful bestiality. All the roads are dead-ends.
Another example of a man who was able to act morally, despite the horrific circumstances, was Lorenzo. According to Levi, Lorenzo was an Italian civilian worker who brought him, without fail, "a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months." Lorenzo also gave Levi a vest, wrote a postcard on his behalf to Italy, and returned to give him a reply to the postcard. Levi maintains that Lorenzo did all these things without hope of a reward.
The prisoners who were able to act morally, despite their own great suffering, were like Lorenzo. They reached deep within and purposed to remember all that they had been before they came to the death camps. They were able to act morally because they refused to part with the image of humanity within them, even when debilitating circumstances spurred their temptation to surrender it. These prisoners helped Levi believe that "there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving."