In his theorising of collective memory, Maurice Halbwachs writes 'it is in society that people normally acquire their memories. It is also in society that people recall, recognise and localise their memories'. The Holocaust, like the Rwandan genocide, or the atrocities committed in the Congo under King Leopold II, exceeds the bounds of traditional historical archives and methodologies. Even gathering information about numbers dead has proven difficult.
As Halbwachs demonstrates, our understanding of the scope of the atrocities of the Holocaust is informed by cultural documents, such as Primo Levi's Auschwitz Report. Levi's book narrativises the intergenerational exchange of personal, collective, and cultural trauma, prompting a dialogic engagement with the war. Articles such as the Auschwitz Report have laid the groundwork for events such as Holocaust Memorial Day.
The following extract is from the introduction to the Auschwitz Report and written with Leonardo De Benedetti, an Italian Jew interred with Levi at Aushwitz. To quote De Benedetti, the extract demonstrates how 'every story of survival in Auschwitz is a story of extraordinary circumstance', by revealing the minutiae of how the camps functioned, Levi and De Benedetti provide empiricist detail that legitimates the narrative accounts of Holocaust survivors to chilling effect.