Survivors lived in the shadow of the camps. Many had lost loved ones inside. They also suffered from long-term illnesses and injuries, as well as agonizing memories. Survivors dealt with this burden in different ways, as the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi explains. Levi, one of the most penetrating voices among survivors until his apparent suicide in 1987, also reflects on camp memorials like Auschwitz.
I returned to Auschwitz twice, in 1965 and in 1982. […]
I didn’t feel anything much when I visited the central camp. The Polish government had transformed it into a kind of national monument. The huts have been cleaned and painted, trees have been planted and flowerbeds laid out. There is a museum in which pitiful relics are displayed: tons of human hair, hundreds of thousands of eyeglasses, combs, shaving brushes, dolls, baby shoes, but it remains just a museum – something static, rearranged, contrived. To me, the entire camp seemed a museum.[…]
tormented by nightmares
I did, however, experience a feeling of violent anguish when I entered Birkenau camp, which I had never seen as a prisoner. Here nothing has changed.[…]
Face-to-face with the sad evocative power of those places, each of us survivors behaves in a different manner, but it is possible to describe two typical categories. Those who refuse to go back, or even to discuss the matter, belong to the first category, as do those who would like to forget but do not succeed in doing so and are tormented by nightmares.[…] The second category is composed, instead, of ex-political prisoners, or those who possessed at least a measure of political preparation, or religious conviction, or a strong moral consciousness. For the survivors, remembering is a duty. They do not want to forget, and above all they do not want the world to forget, because they understand that their experiences were not meaningless, that the camps were not an accident, an unforeseen historical happening.
Source: P. Levi, If This Is a Man, The Truce (London, 1994), pp. 389–90