Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Voice of Memory: Primo Levi Interviews 1961-1987

 The Voice of Memory: Primo Levi Interviews 1961-1987
Edited by Marco Belpoliti and Robert Gordon
NY: The New Press, 2001

(204-205) We must remember that these faithful followers, among them the diligent executors of inhuman orders, were not born torturers, were not (with a few exceptions) monsters: they were ordinary men. Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions, like Eichmann; like Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz; like Stangl, commandant of Treblinka; like the French military twenty years later, slaughterers of Algeria; like the Khmer Rouge of the late seventies, slaughterers of Cambodia.

(232) So now I'd like to ask you some questions: can you tell me why, why we go to war, why (because this is war too) we crucify our enemies, as the Romans did and the Nazis after them, why, although we've had a brief half-century of sanity, of respect for prisoners of war, it lasted so briefly and now we've returned to the cruelties of before?

(244) I understood that it was foolish to talk of evil Germans: the system was demonic, the Nazi system was capable of dragging everyone down the road of cruelty and injustice. The good and the not so good. It was extremely hard to break out of, you had to have heroic strength. What I don't understand is why the same things did not happen in Italy: in short, is there such a thing as a home-grown demon, intrinsic to Germany, which makes the demonic at home in Germany? Recently I was interviewed by Ferdinando Camon on this subject, in a written interview, and he bought up the question of the demonic side that is intrinsic to Lutheranism. I don't know about such things, it's something I don't understand.

It's the herd instinct that is frightening.

The herd instinct, yes. The consent, the always saying yes.

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