Vladimir Zelenyi did not consider it heroic to have survived

the Revolution and its aftermath. Like other witnesses of the

demise of the Old Order, he lamented that the best

had perished and the worst had survived. But we who

have survived relatively little find it hard to believe him.

How could it be anything but heroic to have entered

Hell and not been swallowed up? To have witnessed it

with such delicate lucidity, such reserves of irony and even

equanimity? Our incomprehension and our admiration combine to simplify Zelenyi

into a needily sincere amalgam: hero, saint, witness, redeemer — survivor.

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Paraphrases from the article “The Art of Witness: How Primo Levi Survived” by James Wood.

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