Survival in Auschwitz
In 1943, Primo Levi, a twenty-five-year-old…
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Why read it?
4 authors picked Survival in Auschwitz as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Like Wiesel, Levi explains his daily survival at Auschwitz and we learn about how vast and huge the camp was during its peak operation. Levi goes into the sociology of camp life and tries to explain what Auschwitz did to the mind and spirit. Importantly, he tries to help us understand what survival did to those who managed to walk away from the killing, and he is deeply thoughtful. He nudges us to ask what it means to be human after experiencing the Holocaust. I had a hard time choosing between this book and his other masterpiece, The Drowned and…
I read Survival in Auschwitz many years ago. Primo Levi was the first Holocaust survivor I had read who had given a first-hand account of life in the inferno named Auschwitz. Mr. Levi spares no detail when describing the barbarism of his Nazi keepers and their ingenious methods of cruelty. One feels his agony in the retelling. Yet, tell he did, so what the Germans did is never forgotten.
Originally published in Italian and entitled, If this be a Man. Both Wiesel and Levi were in Auschwitz III – Buna-Monowitz in 1944-1945, Wiesel as a religious boy of 15 arriving from Sighet as part of the Hungarian deportations, and Primo Levi as a trained chemist deported from Italy. Levi uses his scientific talent to depict the world he encountered, examining both the victims and their perpetrators with unforgiving accuracy. For an understanding of the women’s perspective see Carol Rittner and John K. Roth, eds., Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust.
Many written survivor accounts succumb to the temptation of literary embellishment, which can camouflage the stark reality of what occurred. Levi succeeds in engaging the convention of writing without compromising the content of memory. His philosophic analysis of what he experienced adds to the power of events recalled with disturbing honesty. This is an ideal work for understanding the similarities and differences between written and spoken testimony.
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