Who was Primo Levi?


Primo Levi (1919-1987) was an Italian chemist deported to Auschwitz in February 1944 after being captured during activities as a partisan. Of the 650 people on his transport, only 96 were not sent to the gas chambers immediately on arrival: of the 96 registered in the camp, only three survived.

After a year in Auschwitz III-Monowitz, Levi was liberated in January 1945 by the Red Army. He was not taken on the final death marches because the Nazis believed he and the others left behind would die of illness, malnutrition and disease before the Red Army arrived.

Following liberation, Levi spent time recuperating on the site of the Auschwitz camp before making the long journey back to his home in Turin, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Following his return, Levi wrote an account of his experiences in Auschwitz, published under the title If This is a Man in 1947, though the book initially received little attention. It was reissued in 1958, and its success led to a second book in 1963: The Truce, describing his recuperation and return to Turin. He went on to write many more books, finishing with The Drowned and the Saved in 1986. Shortly after finishing that book, in which he wrote some of his most soul-searching analysis of his survival, he died in circumstances which suggested he may have killed himself.

Key Terms:

Auschwitz III-Monowitz: was a forced labour camp attached to the Bunawerke chemical factory established in October 1942 and lasting until the liberation of the Auschwitz camps in January 1945. From November 1943, It was the administrative center for the Auschwitz sub-camps in mines and factories across southern Poland.

Prisoner labour, notably including the survivor-witnesses Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, was mainly used in building the factory for the German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben. The site today is empty, though the factory remains: the machinery was shipped to the USSR postwar, but later replaced by the Polish government.

If This is a A Man: was published in the US as Survival in Auschwitz: The Truce had the US title The Reawakening.

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