Survival in Auschwitz (If This is a Man) by Primo Levi

In February, I read Primo Levi’s If This is a Man (US title: Survival in Auschwitz). Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish man, was captured toward the end of World War II, shortly after he had joined a partisan resistance group. He was transported to Auschwitz, where he would labor and suffer deprivation for almost a year until the end of the war. His book describes the experience of Auschwitz – the grind of dehumanization, the systemic cruelty, the harsh conditions. The book most comes alive when the prisoners themselves become more alive – after the camp has been deserted by the camp command. Though the weak and starving prisoners have to fend for themselves, the desertion of their oppressors allows some of the prisoners’ humanity to re-emerge again after months of degradation. The book was published in 1947 in Italian, and in German and English in 1959. In the wikipedia entry for Primo Levi, it notes that he diligently attended Holocaust remembrance events and would tell his story in schools. He saw revisionist history at work, trying to diminish or deny the horror of the Holocaust, and his book serves as a testimony refuting those efforts. Though a chemist by trade, If This is a Man also shows that Primo Levi was just as much a writer, able to capture Auschwitz in all its brutal aspects. I’m curious to read the book he wrote about his long, harrowing return to his home after leaving Auschwitz.

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2 responses to “Survival in Auschwitz (If This is a Man) by Primo Levi

  1. piningforthewest

    I’ve had all of his books in the house for years (Jack read them) but I haven’t been brave enough to read them so far, I thought they might be a bit depressing I find it so sad that Primo Levi took his own life many years after the war.

    • It’s a small book that took me a long time to read. The inhumanity that Primo Levi and the other prisoners experience in Auschwitz is just unrelenting.

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