by Primo Levi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
Mangled feet, cursed earth,
the long interminable line in the gray morning
as Buna smokes corpses through industrious chimneys...
Another gray day like every other day awaits us.
The terrible whistle shrilly announces dawn:
"Rise, wretched multitudes, with your lifeless faces,
welcome the monotonous hell of the mud...
another day’s suffering has begun!"
Weary companion, I know you well.
I see your dead eyes, my disconsolate friend.
In your breast you bear the burden of cold, deprivation, emptiness.
Life long ago broke what remained of your courage.
Colorless one, you once were a real man;
a considerable woman once accompanied you.
But now, my invisible companion, you lack even a name.
So forsaken, you are unable to weep.
So poor in spirit, you can no longer grieve.
So tired, your flesh can no longer shiver with fear...
My once-strong man, now spent,
were we to meet again
in some other world, beneath some sunnier sun,
with what unfamiliar faces would we recognize each other?
Buna was the largest Auschwitz sub-camp, with around 40, 000 foreigners “workers” who had been enslaved by the Nazis. Primo Levi called the Jews of Buna the “slaves of slaves” because the other slaves outranked them. Despite Buna’s immense size and four years of activity, according to Levi it never produced a kilo of its intended product: synthetic rubber. Levi described Buna as “desperately and essentially opaque and gray.” He said not a blade of grass grew within the compound because its soil had been impregnated with the “poisonous juices of coal and petroleum” so that nothing was alive but machines and slaves, with the former “more alive” than the latter. Levi also related hearing a Buna Kapo say that the only way Jews could leave Auschwitz was “through the Chimney” of the crematorium. It is possible that the companion being addressed in “Buna” is Primo Levi himself, recognizing what he had been reduced to. Keywords/Tags: Primo Levi, translation, Holocaust poem, Auschwitz, Buna, mud, chimney, smoke, crematorium, corpses, bodies, death, ******, starvation, gray, colorless, invisible, nameless, slave, slaves, slave labor, horror, hell