Berlin Diaries vs. Survival in Auschwitz
The two books Berlin Diaries by Marie Vassiltchikov and Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi both chronicle World War II from two different perspectives. They are both personal accounts from each authors actual experiences. The two books have different formats, points, facts, and actualities. For example, Berlin Diaries is in actual diary format, and Survival in Auschwitz is in story format. I found that Berlin Diaries was harder to read because of the format, where Survival in Auschwitz was easier to follow. Also both stories were taken from two very different points of view. Marie Vassiltchikov was a Russian aristocrat that fled Russia and was seeking refuge in Germany. Primo Levi was an Italian Jew who was captured by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp. Vassiltchikov was free, she lived a restricted life, but she still had her freedom. Levi was a prisoner; he lived a captive slave life and had no liberties or freedoms. This difference seems to be the most consequential. They led such different lives. Levi was the absolute bane of the Nazi existence, as they were to him. In contrast, Vassiltchikov actually worked for the Nazis; granted to have the freedom that she did, thats where she had to work. But still, Vassiltchikov had freedom, how much more different could one get from being a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, as Levi was. There are so many points to this major
contrast that it almost encompasses the entire concept of comparing and contrasting he two.
While there could not be anything more opposite than having freedom and being a prisoner, there were still other differences that had no regard to Vassiltchikov and Levis actual living conditions. Missy (Vassiltchikov) originally was fleeing the Russian army. They would have killed her for being an aristocrat. Primos danger was always from the Nazis. His Jewish race was his mark of death. As mentioned above, Missy was a Russian aristocrat; Primo was from the working class of Italy. Generally their demographic backgrounds could not get much different either. Religion was also a major and blinding difference. Also as mentioned above Primo was a Jew and Missy was Christian. This difference is what separated them further in Missys freedom and Primos captivity.
Another difference that played a huge role in each book was the actual placing of each story. Missy wrote her diaries as she traveled through out Germany and Europe. She experienced bombing, cities being destroyed and the actual war right in front of her. Primo on the other hand, may have been right in the middle of the wars causes, but he never saw the fighting and the bombs like Missy did. Missy may have had freedom, but she was out in the middle of the battlefield. It is a hard realization to have that Primo could be in a huge Nazi labor camp and not ever really experience World War II from the actual war perspective. He was the war, but never really saw it. He lived a war but it was a different war; his was internal, dangerous and just as life threatening as being on the front lines, but it was almost like all the other fighting was non-existent to his daily battle of life.
Another tremendous difference was the format of each book. Berlin Diaries was just that, a diary. Missy wrote what was happening as it was happening. She had no time to reflect on her experiences, she only took account for things as they happened. Survival in Auschwitz was written in retrospect to the war. Primo wrote it as a memoir and had years to reflect on his experiences. He wrote it to read like a story. One can follow his daily life and get a picture of what this hell on earth called Auschwitz was really like. It gives a vivid account of what life, as a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi labor camp, would be like. Berlin Diaries, since it was a diary, makes it harder to get that picture of life. Missy is often concerned with her thoughts and personal life while she is right in the middle of getting bombed. It might seem very petty at times, but those bombs were her life. She was not trying to make a story out of it. She was only writing how she lived. If one were to live in the middle of the battlefield during a war, one would still live their life. She could not have realized at the time that she was right in the middle of something that was changing the world as she knew it. How could anyone know that what is happening to him or her right now is history? To them, it is just their life. If Primo were to write Survival in Auschwitz as it were happening, the book would be completely different.
The differences between these two books that are about the same war have many differences; however they have some parallels and similarities as well. The first major similarity is that they are about the same war. They have the same causes and the same factors effecting the same period in time. The Nazis are present in both books, and are viewed negatively in both. Their lives were drastically changed by the same war. They may have been in different situations, but the same reasons put them in those situations. They were from such different backgrounds, but brought down by the same thing. Everything was relative.
Both Primo and Missy were living out of necessity; they had nothing of their former lives. Their personal belongings and loved ones were gone. Their lives were brought down to devastation and bare survival. They were lacking the means to live as they had always known. They had no control over their environment or how they lived. They struggled to live each day. One major parallel for them was food. They were both starving, Primo was starving as a form of torture, and Missy was just being severely rationed; but none the less they were both starving. Both of them wrote about food constantly, they obsessed over it. Food or any kind of sustenance was the main concern of both Missy and Primos lives.
Also they both lived each day in fear of their lives. Primo was in constant fear of getting selected to go to the gas chamber or just dying of starvation. Missy feared getting caught by the Soviet army, getting killed by bombing and the Nazis. She was involved in some things that if she were caught, she would definitely be killed. Both Missy and Primo spent their lives in constant transition from one living arrangement to another as well. Primo was always being shifted from one barracks to another to the infirmary to another barracks. Missy was always leaving one small apartment to another tiny apartment, from city to city. They both had to deal with having no home, no identity and no place of comfort. While everything that happened to Primo may have been a form of torture inflicted on him by the Nazis, and Missys devastation was just due to the war raging along, both still suffered.
As one can see, these two books about World War II can be looked at on different levels of comparison and contrast. It may seem at first that they are only similar on the surface, but once one looks deeper into each story they have a number of similarities. They have parallels on every level of human life and survival when faced with desperation and devastation. To look at World War II through these two perspectives gives the reader a much more accurate and realistic picture of the war than any history book ever could. Both Survival in Auschwitz and Berlin Diaries give a complete real life sense to a war that can often seem unreal or unbelievable in modern times.