Tuesday, September 22, 2009

no heart so hardened that Henri cannot breach it

Primo Levi's great book, Survival in Auschwitz, at one point depicts a range of four kinds of typical survivors - those who are in some way adaptable to the strange Babel of languages in the camp, to its bizarre and complex social and economic hierarchies, and its subtle constant rewriting of behaviorial rules, the breaking of which could lead to instant death. One guy whom Primo knew at the camp, a cunning, beautiful young man whose great talent was that he could create pity in others (even hardened criminal Kapos and even members of the SS), was someone Levi called "Henri." Later, after this mean survived the war, went on with his life, heard about Levi's mostly negative account of him, he showed himself and wrote his own account. His name, it turns out, is Paul Steinberg. His book appeared in 2000 (years after Primo killed himself). Speak You Also. In October 2000 Martin Arnold published a piece in the New York Times about it, and here is a link to it.