Survival or Suicide- Primo Levy’s Ambiguous Legacy

The recent NYTimes series on suicide raises poignant, timeless uncertainties in terms of prevention, intervention, survival and meaning. A less visible article from Tablet Magazine (link below), with great depth and complexity provides insight from Holocaust authors who were survivors and/or suicides from the 1940s.  I urge readers to consider the uncertainties and complexities surrounding suicide, and then derive personal insights and comments that help us all navigate the aftermath generated by the fog of war.

Here’s a sample of the brilliance reflected in the Tablet article about Primo Levi:  

his fellow writer and survivor Elie Wiesel delivered an epigrammatic coroner’s report: “Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years later.” 

But even at this moment, Levi declined to pray, because it would have violated his convictions: “The rules of the game don’t change when it’s about to end, or when you’re losing.” Not just an atheist in a foxhole, but an atheist at the door of the gas chamber: This is spiritual strength and self-reliance of a degree we ordinarily associate, ironically, with saints.

There are, then, two ways of reading Levi’s life and work. It can be the hopeful story of a man who survives the worst imaginable torture and manages to find meaning, purpose, and happiness in life. Or else, it can be a story of a man who accidentally escapes death and is so haunted by the moral nullity of survival that, decades later, he takes his own life out of guilt or despair.