National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice, Volume 9 (2013)


Copyright 2013 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


In the preface to Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi says he wrote the book because he felt “the need to tell our story to ‘the rest’, to make ‘the rest’ participate in it” (9). Levi’s intentions in writing his essential Holocaust testimony are worth reflecting on for a moment.

“The need to tell”: what is this need? Is it a need to tell so that others will know what happened inside a death camp? Is it the need to warn others so that they will be vigilant in guarding against conditions that could allow another Holocaust to occur? Is there a more fundamental need underlying this one, a need as basic as the need for food and shelter? Do we all feel a need to tell our stories, whether they happen to be ordinary or extraordinary, common or unique—stories of our loves and losses, stories of our lives at work and at the gym, at the doctor’s office and on vacation? Telling our stories to each other: is this how we define, project, sustain, and protect ourselves? If there’s a teller, must there also be a listener? What does it take to be able to listen to another’s story, especially if it’s a horrific story, a painful story, a story that might implicate the listener in the action or inaction that contributed to the teller’s suffering?