Primo Levi

Primo Levi

Primo Levi was born to Jewish parents in Turin, Italy, on 31st July, 1919. He studied chemistry at the University of Turin and graduated in 1941.

Levi moved to northern Italy to join the resistance against Benito Mussolini but was was captured in December, 1943 and sent to Auschwitz.

Levi was one of the few inmates that the Red Army found alive when they liberated the camp in 1945. After the war Levi wrote an account of his experiences in Survival in Auschwitz (1947). Other autobiographical books include The Truce (1963) and The Drowned and the Saved (1986).

Levi was the author of several acclaimed books including The Periodic Table (1975), The Monkey's Wrench (1978), If Not Now, When? (1982) and Other People's Trades (1985).

Primo Levi committed suicide in Turin on 11th April, 1987.

Primary Sources

(1) Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (1947)

Last spring the Germans had constructed huge tents in an open space in the Lager. For the whole of the good season each of them had catered for over 1,000 men: now the tents had been taken down, and an excess 2,000 guests crowded our huts. We old prisoners knew that the Germans did not like these irregularities and that something would soon happen to reduce our number.

One feels the selections arriving. Selekcja, the hybrid Latin and Polish word is heard once, twice, many times, interpolated in foreign conversations; at first we cannot distinguish it, then it forces itself on our attention, and in the end it persecutes us.

The morning the Poles had said Selekcja. The Poles are the first to find out the news, and they generally try not to let it spread around, because to know something which the others still do not know can always be useful. By the time that everyone realizes that a selection is imminent, the few possibilities of evading it (corrupting some doctor or some prominent with bread or tobacco) are already their monopoly.

The news arrived, as always, surrounding by a halo of contradictory or suspect details: the selection in the infirmary took place this morning; the percentage was seven per cent of the whole camp, thirty, fifty per cent of the patients. At Birkenau, the crematorium chimney has been smoking for ten days. Room has to be made for an enormous convoy arriving from the Poznan ghetto. The young tell the young that all the old ones will be chosen. The healthy tell the healthy that only the ill will be chosen. Specialists will be excluded. German Jews will be excluded. Low Numbers will be excluded. You will be chosen. I will be excluded.