In the aftermath of the Shoah, different nations embraced different narratives of the tragedy. Today, though, the world needs to hear all of these complementary messages.
Almost inconceivably, the two most acclaimed Holocaust writers were imprisoned in the same Auschwitz sub-camp, Monowitz, at the same time. Some survivors even remembered them occupying the same block. There, they suffered the same unspeakable deprivations, the deadly cold, disease, hunger, and dehumanization. In that insanely polyglot place, they both learned the lifesaving lingua franca—German—and miraculously passed through selections. And even after liberation, when tens of thousands still died, they somehow endured.
Yet, despite all their shared horrors, Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi emerged with profoundly different versions of the Holocaust’s meaning and lessons. Their memoirs made them national icons, not only because of the compelling voices in which they were told, but even more so because of what their audiences were willing to hear.