Arnon Grunberg

The worst thing


In his memoir “Speak You Also” Paul Steinberg writes: “It had all been anticipated, methodically put into place: I had the advantage of an intensive and extensive preparation for life in a concentration camp. A kind of immersion course. It’s all there: the continual displacements and readjustments, the absence of ties and enduring friendships, a hostile environment. Unable to rely on any outside support, I was trained for solitary combat."
“It seems certain that a happy, stable childhood, protected and full of affection, would have been the worst thing I could have had. But I wouldn’t claim that this is true for everyone.”

Primo Levi wrote about Steinberg in his book “If this is a Man” (in the US titled “Survival in Auschwitz”) – in this book Levi calls Steinberg “Henri”.

On the back cover of Steinberg’s book in English translation an editor wrote: 'As a chemistry student, he was assigned to work in the camp’s laboratory alongside Primo Levi, who would later immortalize him as "Henri," the prisoner who clung to his life at the cost of his own humanity in “Survival in Auschwitz”.

(I dislike the word "immortalize" in this context.)

Levi’s description of Henri makes Steinberg’s own book even more interesting, but even if one disregards this context, Steinberg’s book deserves lasting recognition.