Primo Michele Levi (1919 –1987) was a chemist, writer, “Italian citizen of Jewish race,” and Holocaust survivor. He was picked up by the Gestapo in 1943 on the way to joining a group of resistance fighters. Survival in Auschwitz first appeared in English under the title, If This Is a Man.
Many people–many nations–can find themselves holding, more or less, wittingly, that ‘every stranger is an enemy.’ For the most part this conviction lies deep down like some latent infection; it betrays itself only in random, disconnected acts, and does not lie at the base of a system of reason. But when this does come about, when the unspoken dogma becomes the major premiss in a syllogism, then at the end of the chain is the Lager [concentration camp]. –from the author’s preface
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Dawn came on us like a betrayer; it seemed as though the new sun rose as an ally of our enemies to assist in our destruction. The different emotions that overcame us, of resignation, of futile rebellion, of religious abandon, of fear, or despair, now joined together after a sleepless night in a collective, uncontrolled panic. The time for meditation, the time for decision was over, and all reason dissolved into a tumult, across which flashed the happy memories of our homes, still so near in time and space, as painful as the thrusts of a sword.
Lorenzo, an Italian civilian worker brought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward…because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for a reward….
I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today… and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me …that there still existed a just world … a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving….
“Survival in Auschwitz is a stark prose poem on the deepest suffering of man told without self-pity, but with a muted passion and intensity, an occasional cry of anguish, which makes it one of the most remarkable documents I have ever read.” –David Caute, New Statesman
“In Levi’s writing, nothing is superfluous and everything is essential.” –Saul Bellow
“… to any young person who wishes to go into the social … field, I say bring with you all that you can that softens life, all the poesy; all the sympathetic interpretation.” –Jane Addams, 1911
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