The Gray Zone


TheGray Zone

TheGray Zone

Inthe book &quotDrownedand the saved,”the author Primo Levi presents a concept of Gray zone in chapter two.The chapter explores the events of ambiguities in morality that tookplace in camp environments in the Nazi death camps. According to Levi(1988), the concentration of the Nazis into the camps was not only anexecution of a population but also a dehumanizing project. Throughthe chapter, Levi presents an experience of human relationships inthe dehumanizing camps and the relation of their predicament with theworld. The discussion in this paper will illustrate that Levi usesthe term “” to present the ambiguities of humanrelationships in the Nazi concentration camps.

Theterm “” means the state where the moral rectitude ismade impossible because of the bad conditions that the campspresented to the prisoners. Due to the impossibility of moralrectitude, the living conditions in the camps changed from being theexperience of solidarity to that of existence through survival. Theaim of the chapter is to present how quickly moral ambiguity arises.Therefore, Levi (1988) uses the term “” to describethe intersection of the control and destitution. The “The GrayZone” explores the middle point between the togetherness that wasexperienced by prisoners to the violence that fellow prisoners useover each other in order to gain control. The control and powerexerted by some prisoners is rewarded by better conditions from thecaptors.

The“” begins when the captors realize the need todivide the humanity in the camps through the use of fellow prisoners.The zone starts when the captors form “Special Squads” ofprisoners who use violence to maintain the crematoria at the camps(Levi, 1988). These are the examples of Camp Kapos which was formedby these prisoners that collaborated with the captors. The gray zonedevelops to be a dehumanizing experience to the extent that theauthor repeatedly requests the reader to forgive the participants ofthe zone. The motivation behind the gray zone was the privileges thatprisoners who acted violently received.

Thegray zone ended in 1943 when the atrocities that were inflicted onprisoners by the sonderkomandos and the kapos were minimal. It endsaw the ending of the power that many privileged prisoners could notdraw the privileges. However, some of the kapos and sonderkomandoswere still drunk with power. According to Levi (1988), some of thekapos like Rumkowski were greatly dazzled with prestige and full ofpower that they had forgotten that they were also prisoners and wereall living in a ghetto.

Levicomes up with the term “” to describe the variousgroups of prisoners and the privileges they experienced. The livesthey led and the tasks they performed showed a division between them,a division that led to an intersection between the privileged and theunprivileged. The term therefore presents the point where a prisonerfelt the pain of the conditions and breaking to collaborate with thecaptors against the others.

Asa result, the “” concept is based on analyzing thetwo sides the privileged and the unprivileged prisoners to presenttheir differences. Throughout the chapter, Levi presents thedifferences through the activities that prisoners did in the camps.For example, one of the groups performed the lowly regarded functionslike washing equipment, sweeping, as messengers and keeping vigil atnight. This group used to perform these roles for the captors forvery few privileges like extra soup as Levi describes in his book(Levi, 1988). This group of prisoners was considered to be harmlessand not different from the prisoners who were totally unprivileged.

Theother example that Levi gives to describe the “” inthe chapter is the Kapos, the group of prisoners that became enemiesto fellow prisoners. According to Levi (1988), the Kapos were readyto commit any ruthless or violent act on their subject as a way ofgaining control or punishment for any transgression. Sometimes, theKapos carried atrocities against the prisoners without any motives(Levi, 1988). The kapos could beat any prisoner at any one time andeven kills them, an eventuality that was not seen as unusual. Themain thing that motivated these divisions and actions was survivalamong the prisoners. While each would want to survive, only theprivileged groups lived better than the others.

Thechapter “” presents the human relationships thatexisted in the Nazi concentration camps. The chapter describes thedehumanizing experience that the prisoners faced in the hands oftheir captors, leading to a quest for survival. To survive, Levidescribes how some of the prisoners sought for privileges bycollaborating with the captors to dominate and torture fellowprisoners. As a result, the chapter circles into a gray zone wherethe intersection between the solidarity of prisoners and the desirefor power and control converges. Therefore, the chapter presents thetwo sides of prisoners, the privileged and the unprivileged and howthey associated in a gray zone.


Levi,P. (1988).TheDrowned and the Saved.New York: Vintage International