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The Drowned and the Saved

(Auschwitz Trilogy #3)

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  5,211 ratings  ·  297 reviews
The author tries to understand the rationale behind Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen. Dismissing stereotyped images of brutal Nazi torturers and helpless victims, Levi draws extensively on his own experiences to delve into the minds and motives of oppressors and oppressed alike. Describing the difficulty and shame of remembering, the limited forms of collaboration ...more
Paperback, 170 pages
Published February 1st 1989 by Abacus (first published 1986)
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"The drowned and the saved" is a thoughtful, lucid reflection on the Holocaust phenomenon.
Primo Levi tries to find answers for different aspects of the concentration camps. He explains the behavior of the inhabitants and of those who guard them.
This book tries to explore the psychology of this tragedy, and to offer insight in the human condition.
It is very different from his memoir Survival in Auschwitz (and his second book The Reawakening) which gave a more thorough, detailed account of
Paul Bryant
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
An unrelentingly grim series of eight essays about the concentration camp experience, recommended only for true pessimists and those who think that Primo Levi is one of the very greatest writers about the Holocaust, which I do.

One thing Primo Levi does for us is complicate things. He explains :

Without profound simplification the world around us would be an infinite, undefined tangle that would defy our ability to orient ourselves and decide upon our actions. In short, we are compelled to reduce
The Drowned and the Saved

 photo 55EA3F55-B4DB-4F16-A7A4-87FD08C63127.jpg

"The drowned and the saved" is a thoughtful, lucid reflection on the Holocaust phenomenon.
Primo Levi tries to find answers for different aspects of the concentration camps. He explains the behavior of the inhabitants and of those who guard them.
This book tries to explore the psychology of this tragedy, and to offer insight in the human condition.
It is very different from his memoir Survival in Auschwitz (and his second book The Reawakening) which gave a more
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I confess that I'm not too keen on Primo Levi's writing style: it's way too dry for me. I have a baroque taste for adjectives, adverbs and verbal ornamentation that can't be satisfied by his matter-of-factness, his well-known lack of interest in any sort of literary virtuosity. This has always prevented me from truly appreciating his books, although obviously acknowledging the historical (moral) value of his work and personal experience as a survivor of the Holocaust - more precisely, in his ...more
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, european-history
Levi's last book is about several things:

- the necessity of witnessing to what happened in the Lager (camps), even though memory is fallible. Witnessing - telling the story - is not wholly possible, because those who have the truest vision did not survive. They reached bottom, and never came back.

- the moral structure of the Lager - the gray zone in which some prisoners collaborated with the guards, which improved their position slightly and also meant they would have to inflict suffering on
Jun 21, 2013 added it
Shelves: essays
It's really too bad that the whole art-about-the-Holocaust market in the U.S. has been cornered by sentimental war-is-bad treacle in the Life Is Beautiful mode. Because Primo Levi lays it down.

What I admire most about Levi is his refusal to accept any of the easy answers that have been provided since the Shoah to "explain" the events that took place in Europe in the '30s and '40s. Instead of laying blame or bestowing forgiveness, he simply accepts historical events, and looks at how people
A lucid and thoughtful examination of lingering questions about the meanings of the Holocaust 40 years after Levi survived his internment at Auschwitz, with the focus more on understanding than blame. He is well known for his compelling narrative of his experiences in "Survival in Auschwitz" and for his excellent account of the aftermath and long interlude in Russian hands in "The Reawakening".

Here, in his last book before he died, he strives to makes sense of it all in a series of penetrating
How in the world do I rate a book like this? I guess its four stars, because I didn’t find it to be quite as engaging as Night or Man's Search for Meaning, but it was still an un-put-down-able book. I’ll be reading more of Levi’s work, without a doubt. The voices of these Holocaust survivors become ever more important as attrition takes them from us and their story becomes doubted by some.

The Drowned and the Saved is a powerful metaphor for the concentration camp experience. Those who emerged
Luis Zamarro Fraile
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Five deep 5 stars...
Primo Levi became a thinker and an intellectual after his experience as lager prisoner. He survived the Holocaust, but never acknowledged the reason why. He defined him self as a non believer and died the same way. Ironically, His books prove that he was wrong, because after all this time, the reason of his survival is undenieable: He lived to become a witness and give testimony to all of us, so we can learn, so we can avoid evilness and try to be tolerant, respectful and
This desire for simplification is justified, but the same does not always apply to simplification itself, which is a working hypothesis, useful as long as it is recognized as such and not mistaken for reality.

Here, as with other phenomena, we are dealing with a paradoxical analogy between victim and oppressor, and we are anxious to be clear: both are in the same trap, but it is the oppressor, and [they] alone, who has prepared it and activated it, and if [they] suffer[] from this, it is right
Apr 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Primo Levi is best known today as the author of ‘If This is a Man’ and ‘The Truce’, a pair of memoirs which dealt respectively with his imprisonment in Auschwitz concentration camp and his subsequent long journey home to Italy after the liberation. Often published together, those books are (rightly) often regarded as two of the most important accounts of the holocaust and the immediate aftermath of the last war in Europe. His training and long career as a chemist inspired his writing and he also ...more
I felt compelled to read this (and other Holocaust literature) after the travesty that was the election of Donald Trump and the re-elevation of white supremacy and the entrenchment of Republican rule at all levels of government. Because it is not hyperbole to say that it *is* happening again now. I read this to try to figure some way that it might be stopped this time. But I don't think it can...

"It took place in the teeth of all forecasts... it happened that an entire civilized people...
Mar 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone. Especially history buffs.
Shelves: ww-ii-holocaust
This is a really hard book to rate. While the subject is vitally important and Levi's descriptions are unsettling at the least, to me there was a bit of self righteousness in his tone that detracted. He is a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, and this work deals primarily with the attitudes that were prevalent before, during and after WW II.

I did not realize that this was the third of a series when I started it.

Not for everyone, nor is it the easiest of reads.

Will not likely pursue the
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
I have read this book and so far I am very happy. I loved how candid Primo Levi expressed his views. He hid his thoughts on what he thinks about the mental ability of the witnesses who saw, heard, and were tortured by Hitler in his campaign to eliminate all the jews from Germany.

He raised an issue which has been the concern of many in the legal profession and from the law enforcement agencies. Witness protection has been a matter that most legal systems have been trying to achieve both at the
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-wwii
If you study WW II, you must read this book. It answers questions both spoken and unspoken.
Conor Ahern
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, takes a chillingly evenhanded look at human nature to expose what we are capable of, and complicit in, when in the midst of extreme environments such as Nazi Germany. With an admirable lack of hatred but a searing battery of accusations, he takes German excuses of ignorance and attitudes of resignation to task, backing his analysis with his own experiences in the Lager and communiques he had with Germans following his antecedent books' publications.

This book really
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A necessary reading. I read "If this is a Man"a very long time ago and it was a difficult reading. The same with this one, mostly because they are no words that can be added coming from somebody like me who has had an easy life in a time of peace without to have had to proof true courage, disobedience in the face of totalitarian power, dignity in times of adversity. I hope nobody will ever have to live such utter horror amidst indifference, ignorance, submission or enthusiastic adhesion to ...more
Maria Carmo
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
The third of a sort of Primo Levi Trilogy about Auschwitz and the holocaust, these books are really touching and teach a lot about the way people survived (or died) not only in the camps themselves, but also even after liberation.
All sorts of "schemes" existed for those who wanted to stay alive, and the Author has a keen awareness that sometimes not all who survived were the "best" people, but those that somehow managed to find a way to stay alive.

An incredible testimony.

Maria Carmo,

Lisbon, 15
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
No literature, but rather essay-like additions to his novels about the camps. Very thorough introduction to the holocaust.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This remarkable little book was so completely wonderful and soul-crushing and fascinating and thoughtful and utterly without pretension and I am in awe of Primo Levi's talent. There doesn't seem to be much of an overarching narrative or thesis to The Drowned and the Saved; rather, it reads more as a series of reflections on survival, on guilt, on culpability, on redemption. It is not sentimental and deals without restraint on uncomfortable topics like Jewish cooperation in the Nazi project, but ...more
Jana Light
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Careful, complex, painful, and a great challenge (though certainly not the author's intent) to be the kind of person Levi was. That he suffered such horrors and came out with a sincere desire to understand what led to the Holocaust and what happened in the concentration camps, rather than giving into an easy hatred of *all* Germans, is astonishing and something I aspire to in my own significantly lighter struggles. I think "The Gray Zone" should be required reading for all ethics courses, and ...more
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-world
If you are still thinking that America is like Nazi Germany after reading William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, then there is no hope for you. But if you are a thoughtful, reflective person and sometimes wonder how it was that Germany went astray, then you might read this book. But, warning, you may find it discomfiting.


There is a letter from a German at the end of the book that makes one think. The letter writer, a German who supported the Nazi Party, explains that as
Natalie Zarowny
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This novel is different from any other that I've read on the Holocaust, and I've read quite a few. Levi told his story through narrative in "Survival in Auschwitz" but in "The Drowned and the Saved," he's taking a look back at that and his other works, and his experience in general. This book is worth reading for everyone because of Levi's articulate and well-thought out points about the Holocaust, but especially insightful for someone who's been interested in the subject in a long time and ...more
Nick Black
Jul 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazon 2008-07-26, impulse purchase upon reading the Wikipedia summary of Primo Levi.

Pretty outstanding....Levi's fire burns on every page. This guy is quickly becoming a new favorite, cherished author of mine.
Bastian Greshake Tzovaras
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An extremely important reflection of the holocaust by one of its witnesses.
Moshe Mikanovsky
A difficult read, not only due to the subject matter but some of the English, yet an important read. Levi covers some topics from his personal observations on the human condition that he learned from his time in Auschwitz.
Mary Crawford
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
These essays look at the relationships between the Jews and the Germans in the concentration camps and seeks to understand the motives behind the brutality. Primo Levi writes about his experience in Auschwitz, the difficulty in writing about it 40 years later and the shame still felt by the survivors. He challenges stereotypes and writes compellingly about how people adapt to survive. This is difficult reading that is hard to put down.

This book seems to serve as a philosophical postscript to Sr Levi's previous writings in that it refers, and adds, to subjects and themes already covered in other books. It includes some very profound insight which shows the mind of an intelligent man still struggling, even at a distance of some 30 years, to come to terms with the events of World War II, Germany and the people involved; particularly 'the Germans' the elusive, passive enemy.
The most remarkable statement of this book is that, by
May 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book. We read excerpts of it in my Holocaust history class in college and I went out and got the book to read the rest of it. The chapter on Shame is amazing, and his thoughts about a new language to really talk about the Holocaust since "cold" "thirsty" and "hungry" didn't come close to describing what they went through.

"I must repeat: we the survivors, are not the true witnesses."

"Perhaps it would be more correct to see in it an atavistic anguish whose echo one hears in the second
Tony Johnston
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
For those who don't know, Primo Levi was a Jewish chemist from Modena, deported to Auschwitz in 1944 and liberated 11 months later. He died in the 1980's.

A lot of the book is about exploring the psychology of the trauma, both personal to him but also to nations and groups. Particularly interesting was to read how people (including me) have so many misconceptions. For example, he says that the biggest shock was that on arrival it was the other inmates who were aggressive to newcomers.

Lots of
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Primo Michele Levi (Italian: [ˈpriːmo ˈlɛːvi]) was a chemist and writer, the author of books, novels, short stories, essays, and poems. His unique 1975 work, The Periodic Table, linked to qualities of the elements, was named by the Royal Institution of Great Britain as the best science book ever written.

Levi spent eleven months imprisoned at Monowitz, one of the three main camps in the Auschwitz

Other books in the series

Auschwitz Trilogy (3 books)
  • Survival in Auschwitz
  • The Reawakening
“I too entered the Lager as a nonbeliever, and as a nonbeliever I was liberated and have lived to this day.” 43 likes
“Logic and morality made it impossible to accept an illogical and immoral reality; they engendered a rejection of reality which as a rule led the cultivated man rapidly to despair. But the varieties of the man-animal are innumerable, and I saw and have described men of refined culture, especially if young, throw all this overboard, simplify and barbarize themselves, and survive. A simple man, accustomed not to ask questions of himself, was beyond the reach of the useless torment of asking himself why.

The harsher the oppression, the more widespread among the oppressed is the willingness, with all its infinite nuances and motivations, to collaborate: terror, ideological seduction, servile imitation of the victor, myopic desire for any power whatsoever… Certainly, the greatest responsibility lies with the system, the very structure of the totalitarian state; the concurrent guilt on the part of individual big and small collaborators is always difficult to evaluate… they are the vectors and instruments of the system’s guilt… the room for choices (especially moral choices) was reduced to zero”
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