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In 1943, sixteen-year-old Paul Steinberg was arrested in Paris and deported to Auschwitz. A chemistry student, Steinberg was assigned to work in the camp's laboratory alongside Primo Levi, who would later immortalize his fellow inmate as "Henri," the ultimate survivor, the paradigm of the prisoner who clung to life at the cost of his own humanity. "One seems to glimpse a human soul," Levi wrote in Survival in Auschwitz, "but then Henri's sad smile freezes in a cold grimace, and here he is again, intent on his hunt and his struggle; hard and distant, enclosed in armor, the enemy of all."
Now, after fifty years, Steinberg speaks for himself. In an unsparing act of self-examination, he traces his passage from artless adolescent to ruthless creature determined to do anything to live. He describes his strategies of survival: the boxing matches he staged for the camp commanders, the English POWs he exploited, the maneuvers and tactics he applied with cold competence. Ultimately, he confirms Levi's judgment: "No doubt he saw straight. I probably was that creature, prepared to use whatever means I had available." But, he asks, "Is it so wrong to survive?"
Brave and rare, Speak You Also is an unprecedented response to those dreadful events, bringing us face-to-face with the most difficult questions of humanity and survival.
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Paul Steinberg was born in Berlin in 1926 and imigrated to France at the age of seven. Deported to Auschwitz in 1943, he was the only member of his family to survive the war. After liberation, Steinberg returned to Paris, where he lived until his death in 1999.
In If This Is a Man, Primo Levi describes Henri, a fellow inmate at Auschwitz, as a strategist of survival: flattering, stealing and endlessly manipulating the kapos and other prisoners for his own survival. Levi's empathy is challenged as Henri instills in Levi "a slight sense of defeat" and the fear that Levi has been "not a man to him, but an instrument in his hands." Now, 40 years later, SteinbergDthe "Henri" of Levi's bookDhas written his own memoir, which is both an answer to the other man's work and an explanation of his life and actions. Written in spare, highly unsentimental prose not unlike Levi's, balancing stark, horrific descriptions of life in the camps with self-critical meditations on the very purpose of writing such a memoir, Steinberg's book stands as a shocking rejoinder to Levi. Detailing his arrestDhe was a brilliant 16-year-old student in France when he was deported to AuschwitzDand his life at the camp, Steinberg describes himself as crossing the "gulf that separates adolescence... and adulthood" by deciding to "become a player in the game": "that cold and calculating creature singled out by Levi." Unrelenting in his descriptions of his plans for survivalDbefriending and sharing choice food with a brutal camp kapo, using violence against an elderly Jewish inmate to reinforce Steinberg's own position of security, and lying about being JewishDthe author is unapologetic for how he survived. With brutal honesty and frightening self-examination, Steinberg dissects himself and forces readers to reexamine what morality means in the face of unremitting horror.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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