Survival in Auschwitz Background

Survival in Auschwitz Background

Survival in Auschwitz is a memoir written by Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who was imprisoned in the Nazi's most infamous death camp from 1944 through to the fall of the Third Reich in late 1945. He considers himself to have been the beneficiary of enormous good fortune that he was only deported to Auschwitz after the German government had decided to keep prisoners alive longer as it appeared to have a positive effect on the efficiency of the camp and the work it put out. Levi has stated that he did not write the book just to add to the list of atrocities perpetrated there, but rather to offer a different viewpoint that shows that the "enemy" is not some strange, unfamiliar, different breed of human capable of extraordinary acts of evil, but that the "enemy" is inherent in the average man and woman in the street, who, given a particular set of circumstances, is capable of random atrocities. Survival In Auschwitz is Levi's account of the ten months he spent in the camp, witnessing and experiencing what had been hitherto unimaginable cruelty and the breaking down of men, ripping away what made them human. It is a restrained, surprisingly non-judgmental book which really lets the facts bear their own witness.

Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy, in 1919. He was arrested as a member of the anti-Fascist resistance movement and interned in a camp in northern Italy before being deported to Auschwitz in 1944. His experiences in the camp are documented in two books, Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening. He is also the author of three further books, one of which, If Not Now, When?, was awarded the Viareggio and Campiello Literature Prizes in Italy in 1982. A painfully shy young man, he attributes his shyness to the racial bigotry that was rife in Mussolini's Italy when he was a boy, and he and several Jewish friends were jeered at by "Aryan" school mates; his shyness, though, gave him a talent for observing, which enabled him to write in such detail about his time at Auschwitz.

Survival in Auschwitz is a brutal account of what really went on inside Auschwitz, and is also surprisingly honest about the random nature of survival; barring the advantage of speaking German and being in good health when entering the camp, Levi noted that survival was down to luck more than anything else. He recorded what he saw and experienced so that it would never be forgotten and so that it would serve as a warning to future generations about what can happen when good people do nothing as evil flourishes around them.

Although a chemist by profession (a profession which ultimately provided him with the key to survival in the camp) Levi is widely regarded as a natural writer because of his lively way of writing and his perceptive observations about human nature. After liberation, he became the manager of a chemical factory in his home town of Turin, until retiring in 1977 and devoting himself full time to writing. He died in 1987.

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