6: Text excerpt from Levi’s "The Periodic Table," 1975.
In the “Vanadium” chapter of The Periodic Table, Levi tells the story of his correspondence with Müller, a German businessman who had been a civilian supervisor at Buna, the Auschwitz satellite where Levi worked as a slave laborer. In 1963, Müller writes to Levi and offers an apology of sorts. He claims that he gave some prisoners food, though Levi doesn’t remember this. He also denies knowing the full extent of Auschwitz, which Levi doubts. Müller asks to meet so the two can talk in person. The excerpt here paraphrases a letter Levi considered writing to Müller, declining to meet and refusing to offer forgiveness. But before Levi can send the letter, he discovers that Müller has died.
Suggested Activity: Ask different pairs of students to improvise and act out an imaginary meeting between Levi and Müller. What would they say to each other? Would Levi change his mind about offering forgiveness after encountering the man in person? Would Müller alter his approach, and if so, would Levi then forgive him? Instruct the students to allude to specific episodes or quotes from Survival in Auschwitz in their skits. Encourage the “audience” (other students) to ask questions of the characters.
Source: Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (Jerusalem: Schocken Books, 1984), 189.