Primo Levi survived the German extermination camp, Auschwitz. Reflecting on Germany in 1960, fifteen years after its defeat in World War II, Levi thinks back to the country’s embrace of Nazism. “[T]he National Socialist message found an echo precisely in the Germans’ traditional virtues, in their sense of discipline and national cohesion, their unquenched thirst for primacy, their propensity for slavish obedience.”
What has changed since the end of the war?
It is difficult to auscultate the hearbeat of a people. Anyone who travels in Germany today finds the outward appearances that I found everywhere. A growing affluence, peaceful people, large and small intrigues, a moderate subversive atmosphere; on the stands, newspapers like ours, conversations like ours on trains and in trams; a few scandals that end like all scandals. And yet in the air you sense something that you do not sense elsewhere. Anyone who takes them to task for the dreadful events of recent history rarely finds repentance, or even critical consciousness: much more often he encounters an ambiguous response, in which are intertwined a feeling of guilt, a desire for vindication, and a deliberate and impudent ignorance.
definition: to listen (especially with a stethoscope)
source: The Mirror Maker: stories and essays by Primo Levi
translated from the Italian by Raymond Rosenthal
1989. Random House, New York