Primo Levi was a chemist, and Italian Jew, who was sent to Auschwitz – yet survived the Holocaust. He eventually was able to return to his home town where he thought that he’d be greeted with concern and sympathy. Indeed, when he arrived back in Turin after the war came to an end, the people gathered round him, and they stared and shook their heads. They asked him what had happened? What on earth had he been through? He looked emancipated. He was weak, and close to death.
Yet, when Levi shared the facts about the horrors he had seen, the terror of the death camps, and the inhumanity, the people turned their backs and, one by one, they walked away.
Why? The truth was too distressing. They just couldn’t take it in. They simply couldn’t process and accept what they had heard.
So, Levi now was left to bear the trauma all alone. He felt lost and forsaken for his suffering was extreme. Yet, no one there would listen; no one seemed to really care. It was like it hadn’t happened – like the truth was just a dream.
If you’ve experienced a trauma, then this likely resonates. Of course, it’s not the death camps but it’s like a mini death. Yet, often we’re abandoned by the people who should help. They can’t deal with what’s happened, so they turn and walk away. This leaves us isolated. We’re abandoned in our grief. We try to act like normal – for the topic is taboo.
But … You can’t ignore a trauma for it eats away at you. The pain remains inside you; it wreaks havoc with your life.
Levi found his own solution – for he started noting down the fragments he remembered from the years in the death camps. He wrote things on old tickets, on discarded bit and scraps. In time, these were collated and they formed a manuscript: his first published book, If this is a Man.
I’m pretty sure this process helped preserve his sanity. We need our anguish witnessed and acknowledged in some way. We need to tell our story. All that pain must be released. For Levi, this was freeing.
Has your story been heard, too?