Dehumanization- Chapter Four (“Ka-Be”)

10 Nov

Levi explains some processes within Ka-Be (chapter 4) that, on reflection, seems ridiculous. Outline these.

          Chapter four of Primo Levi’s If This is a Man introduces the processes that occur within the Lager’s infirmary, or “Ka-Be”. While the descriptions and processes at the infirmary are different to those in the Lager, they are still absurd. Initially, Levi outlines the harsh labor the prisoners of the Lager endure, traveling back and forth from the railway to the store. Upon one of these travels, the load Levi carries is so much that he falls and ultimately receives a wound on his foot.  Instead of receiving help, the Kapo arrives and physically violates the prisoners, including Levi, most likely for delaying their work. Levi then pays a visit to the infirmary, where the unnecessarily complicated process is introduced.
         Firstly, there are numerous rules upon entering ka-be, one of them being you are not allowed to enter with shoes. Patients then have to wait in a long line, where they have to be stripped naked by the end of it, in order for the nurses to assess them. Only those with legitimate illnesses or conditions were admitted to further examination, which Levi is granted. Thus, instead of going to work the next day, he waits in line, along with other patients, for the definitive examination. Again, they have to strip naked, and out in the cold, as well as taking two showers and counted by the guards a few times.
        Finally, after 10 hours of being on his wounded foot and 6 hours of being naked, Levi is examined by the doctor and sent to block 23, where he waits in yet another queue. The author describes that 150 bunk beds have to support 250 people. What is probably one of the most repulsing processes described in this chapter would be the “selection” of the dysentery, less ill patients, who are checked every third day. Unsurprisingly, they also have to wait in a long line, but at the end, they are put on the spot and have a minute to prove that they have diarrhea. The nurses then examine these pots of proof.
       This chapter, among others, reinforces the dehumanization that occurs at these concentration camps, which is depicted by the “selectivity” of the patients in Ka-Be. Levi makes it clear that those who are not cured or do not get better are simply killed. This whole process one has to go through when injured or sick is exhausting to the point where it raises the question, is it really worth it? In Levi’s case, it would appear that it is indeed worth it, as he is able to process and catch up with his life thus far, and is provided with an opportunity for a little rest, by a prisoner’s standards.


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