In this Essay I will critically analyse the figure of the Muselmann in Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo. Levi identifies two very distinct categories of Haftlinge in the camp, the drowned and the saved. This concept is discussed in depth in the chapter “I sommersi e I salvati”. I will discuss Levi’s three key points in his exposition on the Muselmann; The Muselmann’s loss of time, his loss reaction, and his loss of relation. I will question if the Muselmann is still man, the Muselmann as the true witness, how one becomes a Muselmann and how one can avoid becoming a Muselmann.
Muselmann was the term given to the starved, stick-like figures of prisoners who had been broken physically and mentally by life in the camp. . The origin of the term is unknown, however the most common belief relates it to the Arabic Muslim who unconditionally submitted himself to the will of Allah. Another suggestion comes again from the German in which a mussel turns in on itself (De la Durantaye, 2009). Often labeled as a cipher (Buettner, 2011) of the atrocities that occurred out Auschwitz, the Muselmann was a destroyed man, a victim of malnutrition and gradual extermination. The Muselmann has often been described as looking like staggering corpses, like the walking dead.
The title- Se questo è un uomo invites us to consider what it is means to be a human being and question whether the Muselmann can still be considered a man. The Dictionary defines human beings as being