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Auschwitz Trilogy #1-2

If This Is a Man • The Truce

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'With the moral stamina and intellectual poise of a twentieth-century Titan, this slightly built, dutiful, unassuming chemist set out systematically to remember the German hell on earth, steadfastly to think it through, and then to render it comprehensible in lucid, unpretentious prose. He was profoundly in touch with the minutest workings of the most endearing human events and with the most contemptible. What has survived in Levi's writing isn't just his memory of the unbearable, but also, in The Periodic Table and The Wrench, his delight in what made the world exquisite to him. He was himself a magically endearing man, the most delicately forceful enchanter I've ever known' - Philip Roth.

453 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1987

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About the author

Primo Levi

173 books1,719 followers
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 concentration camp complex (record number: 174,517) before the camp was liberated by the Red Army on 18 January 1945. Of the 650 Italian Jews in his transport, Levi was one of only twenty who left the camps alive.

The Primo Levi Center, dedicated "to studying the history and culture of Italian Jewry," was named in his honor.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 939 reviews
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68k followers
July 4, 2020
The Idolatry of Power

Levi reports a recurrent dream that he and many others had in the camp: He is at home among close family and friends to whom he is speaking about his life in the camp; but no one is listening. A realisation perhaps that his experiences, the intensity of his suffering, are not merely inhuman but ultimately uncommunicable or at best inexpressible. No one who hasn't been present could appreciate the extent of loss of oneself, the reduction of a person to a consciousness of utter hopelessness, pure pain in its infinite variations of distress, hunger, exhaustion.

Nevertheless these two books are protests against this very hopelessness of the incomprehensible. In this they are paradoxical. How can his cool description of the atrocities that he endured do anything but provoke despair for humanity while simultaneously demanding admiration of Levi's immense personal humanity?

There is no heroism here - no one could willingly undergo such torture - but there is some sort of life-persistence (it cannot be accurately called courage) as pure as the pain that it accompanies. The fundamental instinct to survive as it confronts what is an absolute, opposing power, a universe composed of only these two essentials.

The camp becomes then a sort of theological enactment of the idolatry of power. Theological because absolute power is how God is defined in all Western religions; idolatrous because if this is so, the only response possible is relentless (and ultimately futile) participation in the hope of stealing the smallest bit of this power in order to survive.

The camp creates, or merely shows, an ontological reality from which there is no escape so long as power is the essence of being. Getting and keeping power is all there is. To refuse participation - if indeed that verb isn't too active a description of the act of withdrawal - is to become an unresponsive 'musselman', one merely awaiting death.

This is a system of enacted metaphysical nihilism. The title of the piece therefore becomes ironic. It could equally aptly be 'If This Is God'. Could it be that our idea of God as absolute power creates the idolatrous ideal of the deification of man through power; and through that ideal fosters the camp as its apotheosis?

Mankind as the object of infinite power to which submission (in form but not an impossible substance) is required. To become part of this society is to accept death; to refuse is to merely accept a quicker death. Which could be called more courageous?

If there is any hope within the hopelessness of the universe that Levi describes, and he makes this our universe if we can overcome the indifference of his dream-characters, can it be other than the rejection of the quest for power, the ability to coerce, by those who are without power as well as those who have it?

Of what use is Levi's witness unless we appreciate not just his condition in the camp but our own as trapped by a system of power that we impose and have imposed on us? What would the world be like if God were weak, weak to the point of complete passivity to human action? (This is, I suggest precisely the point of John Caputo's theology which is also reviewed on GR; see The Weakness of God: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
Profile Image for Sofia.
Author 4 books120 followers
August 20, 2009
It is hard for me to translate my experience of this book to words. It's not that my feelings are ambiguous, or even that I can't find the right words; my problem is that it created such an emotional and intellectual response from me, that I'm finding it difficult to know where to start, or how much of it really belongs in a review.

This is actually two books in one: "If This is a Man" recounts Primo Levi's experience of entering and living on one of the Auschwitz concentration camps, and "The Truce" follows his struggle to return home after leaving the camp. Levi writes in a remarkably contained, almost dispassionate way, which, as he explains in the afterword, is not only a consequence of his analytical and scientific mind, but also an attempt to create a valuable and valid witness account, unaffected by strong emotions.

Primo Levi was twenty-four years-old when he entered the camp (or Lager, as it was known), which is how old I am at the moment, so I couldn't help comparing myself to him, and wondering how I would have reacted to what he and countless others went through. It's difficult to imagine. The whole of the "If This is a Man" book is filled with innumerable examples of the horrific events that took place, but the one that most profoundly affected me was the "treatment" they received on the day of their arrival. Here is a group of human beings, torn from their normal lives and homes, slowly being transformed into something that is only a shadow of themselves, at best. In a matter of days, what defines them as human is reduced to nothing. This was a deliberate effect from the Nazi's part, since it was easier to perpetrate unspeakable horrors to beasts, to shadows, than to something you could recognize as a human being. It's an honest, deep-felt and terribly empathic description of what he felt and what he saw in the eyes of others, and it's chilling to the bone.

After this first part, "The Truce" is almost a relief. Although also filled with a lot of suffering and miserable conditions, it is nothing compared to what went on before, and like Levi, I felt myself recovering, almost forgetting the most gruesome details of what I had just read before.

I guess that's the way the human mind works, and I really believe that, were it not from the survival's stories and the effort on the different nations' part to keep the concentration camps as a testament of those times, humanity would, sooner or later, forget what happened, or at least remember it like we remember the Inquisition, or the Napoleon Wars. Bloody events, but events that lack the human, individual side that is necessary for true empathy and understanding. World War II will remain as a terrible scar in history of the World, but the collective memory will dwindle, and we need books like this to remind us, those who weren't there, who didn't go through it or anything like it, of how low humankind can go, and has been, and will in all probability go again.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,179 reviews9,241 followers
November 24, 2009
“However this war may end, we have won the war against you. None of you will be left to bear witness, but even if someone were to survive, the world would not believe him. There will be perhaps suspicions, discussions, research by historians, but there will be no certainties, because we will destroy the evidence together with you. And even if some proof should remain and some of you survive, people will say that the events you describe are too monstrous to be believed – they will say they are the exaggerations of Allied propaganda and will believe us, who will deny everything, and not you.”

This is such a stunning statement. Levi puts it into the mouth of a contemptuous SS officer speaking to a Jewish kapo some time in 1943. Reading it in the 1980s I was thinking well, at least Primo Levi and all the other great writers and historians have made sure that this greatest of horror stories has been documented and believed. Reading the same speech 20 years later, I'm not so sure. Now we have many people telling us well, you know, the Holocaust was just one amongst many - they happen all the time. Which is not so, and misunderstands, even from well-meaning motives. And tragically the Holocaust is inextricably bound into the DNA of the creation of the state of Israel, so that Israel is accused of using the Holocaust to prop up its own ultra-defensiveness and expansionism. (Remember the "Eleventh Commandment" : "Thou shalt not grant Hitler any posthumous victories.")And so this infests the whole pro-Palestinian rhetoric which has a vile tendency to shade over towards Holocaust denial (our current but by no means only example being Ahmedinejad).

Just another grand example of the hideous knots us human beings love to tie whilst living on a beautiful little planet on the edge of a galaxy, itself one of millions of others, spinning in the glistering vastness of this universe.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,482 followers
February 24, 2020
Primo Levi's first-hand account of the horrors of Auschwitz in 1944 and then the story of his return to Italy in 1945 are absolutely essential reading. The writing is beautiful and also brutal. I feel this is the gold standard for all memoirs about surviving the unsurvivable. A must-read if you truly want to attempt to understand what happened in the camps and how hard it was to come back afterwards.

This volume consists, in fact, of two books otherwise titled Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening when sold separately.

The first book, If This Is A Man is the harrowing story of his capture, the journey to Auschwitz, his life in the camp and how he survived until the Liberation of 29 January 1945 by the Russians. It is all described with a detached humanism, never flinching at the violence, but with a gift of description and analogy. Primo Levy arrived at Auschwitz and was transferred by truck to a worksite, Buna-Monowitz.
[ Note that Auschwitz was not one specific place but actually several: Auschwitz I (with the Arbeit Macht Frei sing) was the central processing and original camp built on a pre-existing Polish military camp, starting in 1943 the much larger (400 hectares vs 30 hectares for Auschwitz I) Auschwitz-Birkenau was built with four massive crematoria (and two smaller original ones used to "perfect" the dosage of Zyclone B), the IG Farber chemical factory at Buna-Monowitz, and 50 other smaller work camps. One needs to understand how critical slave labor was to the economy of the Third Reich to fully appreciate the scale of what was attempted in and near the Polish town of Oświęcim (transformed into the more pronounceable Auschwitz by the Nazis).]
While the truck bumped along the Polish roads between Auschwitz I and Buna (about 10 kilometers away - absolutely nothing left today), the soldier asked them courteously one by one, in German and pidgin language, if [they had] and money or watches to give him, seeing that they would not be useful to use any more. This is no order, no regulation: it is obvious that it is a small private initiative of our Charon. The matter stirs us to anger and laughter and brings relief. (p. 27)

Once in the Lager (the German word for the camp that Levy uses), We have learnt that everything is useful: the wire to tie up our shows, the rags to wrap around our feet, waste paper to (illegally) pad out our jacket against the cold. We have learnt, on the other hand, that everything can be stolen, in fact, is automatically stolen as soon as attention is relaxed; and to avoid this, we had to learn the art of sleeping with our head on a bundle made up of our jacket and containing all our belongings, from the bowl to the shoes. (p. 39)

During his first week, he meets and befriends Steinlauf, an ex-sergeant of the Austro-Hungarian Army, Iron Cross of the '14-'18 war who teaches him a lesson of survival: that precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last - the power to refuse our consent. (p. 47). I found this one of the most powerful passages of this remarkable book.

He describes the endless nights of terror thus: The dream of Tantalus and the dream of the story are woven into a texture of more indistinct images: the suffering of the day, composed of hunger, blows, cold, exhaustion, fear and promiscuity, turns at night-time into shapeless nightmares of unheard-of violence, which in free life would only occur during a fever. One wakes up at every moment, frozen with terror, shaking in every limb, under the impression of an order shouted out by a voice full of anger in a language not understood. (p. 68). One wishes that this was fiction, but, of course, it is the real, lived experience of Primo described with such startling realism, written in the year following his return to Italy.

One of the most piquant chapters (which lent its name to another book by Primo Levy, The Drowned and the Saved describes those like Primo that survive but also the vast majority of inmates who did not. The name in camp for the endless masses of people that were visibly unable to cope and were certain to die was "musselman" or literally "muslim":
On their entry into the camp, through basic incapacity, or by misfortune, or through some banal incident, they are overcome before they can adapt themselves; they are beaten by time, they do not begin to learn German, to disentangle the infernal knot of laws and prohibitions until their body is already in decay, and nothing can save them from selections or from death by exhaustion. Their life is short, but their number is endless; they, the Muselmänner, the drowned, form the backbone of the camp, of non-men who march and labour in silence, the divine spark dead within them, already too empty to really suffer. One hesitates to call them living: one hesitates to call their death death, in the face of which they have no fear, as they are too tired to understand.
They crowd my memory with their faceless presences, and if I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would choose this image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man, with head dropped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of thought is to be seen.
(p. 96).

Levy is luckily assigned as a "chemist" to clean the doomed factor at Buna. It was created to create synthetic rubber for the German army (because after the Afrikacorps of Rommel was defeated in '42, they lost all access to African rubber plantations), but in fact never produced as much as an ounce of rubber (while killing probably 60-70k people in the process). But the Germans are deaf and blind, enclosed in an armour of obstinacy and of wilful ignorance. (p. 147)

Of course, the camp was bombed by the advancing Russians and the Germans put to flight. Levy was saved because he was sick and in the infirmary. His friends that were force-marched out of camp with the SS towards Germany all died (over 30% of the 60,000 during the Death Marches never made it to the next camp marching in pajamas in sub-zero weather without shoes.) During the bombing, those who were safe in the infirmary bolted themselves inside: Two huts were burning fiercely, another two had been pulverized, but they were all empty. Dozens of patients arrived, naked and wretched, from a hut threatened by fire: they asked for shelter. It was impossible to take them in. They insisted, begging, threatening in many languages. We had to barricade the door. They dragged themselves elsewhere lit up by the flames, barefoot in the melting snow. Many trailed behind them streaming bandages. (p. 163)

With painful precision, he describes the desperation after the Nazis left and the survivors had to scrounge for food to eat, and wood to light fires to melt the dirty snow for water. Of the over 100,000 prisoners in Auschwitz, only 7000 were still alive (many critically ill or seriously injured) when the Russians arrived on Jan 27, 1945.

The next section, The Truce describes Primo's long strange journey from Auschwitz, into Ukraine and Russia and then finally across Hungary and Germany back to Italy. It took nearly ten months for him to get back, all the time fighting for his survival day in and day out. It is full of adventure and colorful characters. It demonstrates that after Liberation, things did not suddenly go from awful to wonderful for the few survivors. There was a continuous struggle to keep hope alive to get back home. Primo was somewhat lucky, because he had family to go back to. Many were completely lost having no family left at all. On arriving and seeing his family again, the memories of hell are still there. I am alone in the center of a grey and turbid nothing, and now, I know what this thing means, and I also know that I have always known it; I am in the Lager once more, and nothing is true outside the Lager. All the rest was a brief pause, a deception of the senses, a dream; my family, nature in flower, my home. Now this inner dream, this dream of peace, is over, and in the outer dream, which continues, gelid, a well-known voice resounds: a single word, not imperious, but brief and subdued. It is the dawn command of Auschwitz, a foreign word, feared and expected: get up, 'Wstawàch'.

This is the most powerful book I read about the Holocaust and is perhaps the best way, before visiting one of the camps and in particular Auschwitz, to understand and imagine the horror of life there.

Fino's Reviews of Books about the Holocaust
If This Is A Man/The Truce by Primo Levy
The Periodic Table by Primo Levy
The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levy
The Night by Elie Wiesel
Auschwitz by Laurence Rees
The Tatooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris
Travel to Krakow to visit Auschwitz:
Krakow:City Guide [Blue Guides]
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,793 followers
February 3, 2018
This pair of books are the Italian Primo Levi's autobiographical account of his time in the Auschwitz complex of camps in If this is a Man which was written soon after his return to Italy. It is as harrowing as The Truce, covering his liberation and roundabout return to Italy, is cheering. That journey undertaken at a time when Europe was covered in refuges and displaced persons. First task - find shoes you can walk in, second task - find a market.

Completely captivating and heart wrenching writing.
Profile Image for Elena.
128 reviews6 followers
January 5, 2008
This book is beyond any possible rating. It is, I believe, the book that says the definitive word about holocaust and about human cruelty. After this, nothing else can be said and no explanation can be given to what men can do to other men.
Profile Image for Pink.
537 reviews498 followers
August 18, 2013
This isn't really a book that can be rated. However, since that's how we catalogue our books here on Good Reads, I'm giving it 4 stars - not 5, but just because I wouldn't want to read it again and I can't honestly say it's one of my favourite ever books. Otherwise it's 10 stars.

I was going to start this review with quotes from the book. However, after telling my Mother how good it was when she called round this afternoon, she appears to have left with it. I text her that its like living in Auschwitz, not being able to put anything down without it being stolen. Obviously a direct comparison with life in the camp.

So how do you review a book like this? If you pick it up, or think of picking it up, or even decide not to try it, I think that decision is based on the content. A book about a concentration camp survivor is never going to be light reading and some people don't want to tackle such heavy topics. Understandably so.

If you choose to read this, then you know what sort of book you're getting into from the outset. You're reading because you want to learn more. Yet what if it doesn't interest you? The introduction of my edition said something along the lines of there being a danger that people not only forget, but become complacent when talking about the holocaust. Everyone in this day and age knows what occurred and so much has been said about the war and concentration camps, that I think we become immune to the horror. We know what happened, we know that many died, we know it was horrific. So why read about it? In Primo Levi's words -

“It is neither easy nor agreeable to dredge this abyss of viciousness, and yet I think it must be done, because what could be perpetrated yesterday could be attempted again tomorrow, could overwhelm us and our children. One is tempted to turn away with a grimace and close one's mind: this is a temptation one must resist"

Yes this book is one man's memoir of 11 months spent in Auschwitz and the follow up story of his long journey home, but it is more than this. Primo Levi purposely wrote with an impassioned voice, so that he could document a true account of conditions, without seeming emotionally biased. He wrote 'If This is Man' within the first year of returning home. Why he decided to write and how he was able to do this, is amazing in every sense of the word. He was not a writer, but a chemist, yet the writing style in this book is extraordinarily beautiful and eloquent. If you have read it, I suspect that you found it tough going at times, it's not a book that can be skipped through in one sitting.

If you haven't read it, for whatever reason. Here's some points that I hope encourage you to pick it up

- The chapters are nice small bite sized chunks
- While harrowing in content, it is not gratuitously graphic
- The writing style is beautiful
- There are interesting facts about camp life, not usually documented
- Characters are well written and fascinating

The second part of the book, Levi's return journey, is an aspect that I had not read about before. I knew that many people were stranded in camps after the war, but the journey home, documented in The Truce, was of a more mammoth undertaking than I had considered. In fact for many of the miraculous survivors, this next stage was even more hellish than the camps.

This book was gruelling to read at times. It was also fascinating, educating, heartbreaking and absorbing, to name but a few adjectives. I would recommend the first story - If This is Man - to everyone who is human. To those who want to know more, continue by reading The Truce.

I want to end with my favourite and most thought provoking passage from the book. I found the quote on GoodReads and 'liked' it, which doesn't seem to quite do it justice -

“It is lucky that it is not windy today. Strange, how in some way one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesimal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and it is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup, so that even today you find the strength to reach the evening. Or it is raining, windy and you have the usual hunger, and then you think that if you really had to, if you really felt nothing in your heart but suffering and tedium - as sometimes happens, when you really seem to lie on the bottom - well, even in that case, at any moment you want you could always go and touch the electric wire-fence, or throw yourself under the shunting trains, and then it would stop raining.”
― Primo Levi, If This Is a Man / The Truce
Profile Image for Noel.
44 reviews109 followers
March 30, 2023

I’ve read some criticisms of Levi faulting him for how soberly and objectively he writes about the Holocaust. (Someone wrote something to the effect of wanting to wallow in his sorrow.) I’ve been reading quite a lot about the catastrophes of the twentieth century lately and they got me thinking about why I even do it. Could I be unconsciously seeking a cathartic experience? To identify with a catastrophe, and experience the sinister forces that exist within me—and not only within others? It’s actually quite remarkable, when you think about it, that someone who went through what Levi did could write about the Holocaust this way. Levi doesn’t speak with the voice of the victim, with hatred or a thirst for revenge, but with that of the witness, the witness to an unspeakable history. He writes soberly and objectively, as he has to to be credible—and besides, this is too serious for tears.

Instead of giving a sequential account of events in the camp, Levi’s chapters are largely self-contained. This timelessness allows him to explore the essential elements of life, not only as a chronicler but also as a novelist, a short-story writer, and a poet; and is of course an essential fact of camp life itself: “hours, days, months spilled out sluggishly from the future into the past, always too slowly, a valueless and superfluous material, of which we sought to rid ourselves as soon as possible.”

Levi’s entry into timelessness is marked by the famous inscription over the entrance gate to the Auschwitz death camp: “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work gives freedom”). Of course, the real though invisible inscription is the one over the gate to Dante’s hell: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

But while Dante passes lower and lower through the various circles of Hell, Levi and the other prisoners fall all the way to the lowest Hell at the very beginning. And after that, there’s no further advancement, only an absurd repetition of that first entry into Hell. “Every day, according to the established rhythm, Ausrücken and Einrücken, go out and come in; work, sleep and eat; fall ill, get better or die.” The innumerable prohibitions, the “infinite and senseless” rites (such as the “control of buttons on one’s jacket, which had to be five”)—all the more senseless because the SS guards are often invisible; camp administration is largely turned over to the prisoners themselves. Behind electrified barbed wire, prisoners are trained in absolute obedience and submission. Levi recounts an episode that occurs soon after his arrival at the camp: he reaches out a window to quench his thirst with an icicle. An SS guard immediately snatches it away from him. “Warum?” Levi asks. The guard answers: “Hier is kein warum.” (“Here there is no why.”)

In the early days after his arrival in Auschwitz, Levi gets his first lesson in moral survival from Steinlauf, a former sergeant in to Austro-Hungarian army (who will eventually be selected for the gas chamber), furious that Levi thinks it’s a waste of energy to try to wash “without soap in dirty water”:

“[P]recisely because the Lager [camp] was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last – the power to refuse our consent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die.”

Levi isn’t entirely convinced because, in this Inferno, he can’t accept a system created by others—especially since it’s this rigidity of principle that underlies the camp itself. But Steinlauf’s lesson stays with him, even after he’s forgotten the words.

Perhaps the most surprising (and even most disturbing) thing about Levi’s writing is his conception of the Holocaust as a scientific experiment, governed by the struggle for existence and the “survival of the fittest”—in the sense that Jews are pitted against each other in a zero-sum game in which solidarity is virtually impossible, not in the sense that those who survived are any worthier of survival than those who don’t, which Levi would certainly reject. In fact, he suggests the exact opposite, that those who survived do so largely by sinking their teeth into the flesh of others. In an inversion of Dante’s moral hierarchy, Levi divides prisoners into two categories: “the saved,” those who, like Levi, through luck or skill or both, never reach bottom, and “the drowned” (i.e., the damned), called Muselmänner:

“To sink is the easiest of matters; it is enough to carry out all the orders one receives, to eat only the ration, to observe the discipline of the work and the camp. Experience showed that only exceptionally could one survive more than three months in this way. All the musselmans who finished in the gas chambers have the same story, or more exactly, have no story; they followed the slope down to the bottom, like streams that run down to the sea. On their entry into the camp, through basic incapacity, or by misfortune, or through some banal incident, they are overcome before they can adapt themselves; they are beaten by time, they do not begin to learn German, to disentangle the infernal knot of laws and prohibitions until their body is already in decay, and nothing can save them from selections or from death by exhaustion. Their life is short, but their number is endless; they, the Muselmänner, the drowned, form the backbone of the camp, an anonymous mass, continually renewed and always identical, of non-men who march and labour in silence, the divine spark dead within them, already too empty to really suffer. One hesitates to call them living: one hesitates to call their death death, in the face of which they have no fear, as they are too tired to understand.

“They crowd my memory with their faceless presences, and if I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would choose this image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man, with head dropped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen.”

Those crushed by the camp machinery are eradicated as if they’d never existed at all, and are in a way worse off than Dante’s damned souls. Levi is caustic, but he has to be to get his point across: that the human spirit can be easily demolished whenever dehumanization occurs on a massive scale, as shown by the way the Nazis destroyed souls as well as bodies. This has serious implications for the Holocaust survivor, who no doubt feels himself to be a repository of the thoughts and memories of those who didn’t make it. Those who have the “truest” vision of the Holocaust are those who don’t and can’t communicate it. The survivor speaks for them, because someone has to speak, but since there are no thoughts or memories to be communicated, he can only point to the terrible power that transforms the human into the nonhuman.

If the souls of the drowned are destroyed, the souls of the saved are corrupted—especially if they collaborated in some way. To adapt to Hell (e.g., through slyness or cunning) is to lose yourself in Hell, to belong to Hell, and in a way, to also be drowned, even if you make it to liberation (in fact, most of the saved will not). Virtually no one can escape the dehumanizing effects of the camp:

“The personages in these pages are not men. Their humanity is buried, or they themselves have buried it, under an offence received or inflicted on someone else. The evil and insane SS men, the Kapos, the politicals, the criminals, the Prominents, great and small, down to the indifferent slave Häftlinge [prisoners], all the grades of the mad hierarchy created by the Germans paradoxically fraternized in a uniform internal desolation.”

For Levi, our humanity isn’t something to take for granted, as if it were a god-given gift, but rather, something to be striven for, attained, and maintained through ceaseless struggle against stereotyping, scapegoating, and passivity in the face of evil.

Dante the pilgrim gives way to Homer’s Odysseus in the second book The Truce, a comic-picaresque account of his slow journey back into the world of the living. And what finally emerges is a sense of how fragile our humanity is, and how, like most fragile things, it’s worth the effort it takes to preserve it. But the ending annihilates everything that precedes it:

“I am sitting at a table with my family, or with friends, or at work, or in the green countryside; in short, in a peaceful relaxed environment, apparently without tension or affliction; yet I feel a deep and subtle anguish, the definite sensation, of an impending threat. And in fact, as the dream proceeds, slowly or brutally, each time in a different way, everything collapses and disintegrates around me, the scenery, the walls, the people, while the anguish becomes more intense and more precise. Now everything has changed to chaos; I am alone in the centre of a grey and turbid nothing, and now, I know what this thing means, and I also know that I have always known it; I am in the Lager once more, and nothing is true outside the Lager. All the rest was a brief pause, a deception of the senses, a dream; my family, nature in flower, my home. Now this inner dream, this dream of peace, is over, and in the outer dream, which continues, gelid, a well-known voice resounds: a single word, not imperious, but brief and subdued. It is the dawn command of Auschwitz, a foreign word, feared and expected: get up, ‘Wstawàch’.”

* * *

Ultimately, Levi survives because as a chemist, he can produce rubber for the Nazi war machine, and because he falls ill with scarlet fever and is left to die in the infirmary as the retreating Germans lead the “healthy” prisoners on a death march toward Germany.
Profile Image for Vikas Singh.
Author 4 books277 followers
January 9, 2021
A moving first-hand account of the Auschwitz survivor. Primo Levi, the chemist from Turin was one of the three from group of 650 who survived. This is actually two books- The first (If this is a man) describes his experiences while at Auschwitz while the second (The Truce) is his journey back home after being liberated. As a reader you will be numbed reading his hellish experience and the systematic degradation human beings were subjected to. Through a Q&A section in the end he tries to address some of the question’s readers may have after having read the book. The book will disturb you and force you to question- How could this really happen?
Profile Image for Georgia  Zarkadaki .
403 reviews99 followers
February 10, 2017
Διάβασα μόνο το "If this is a man/Εάν αυτό είναι ο ανθρωπος". Το βρήκα εξαιρετικό. Γραμμένο με σκοπό να ενημερώσει, να μιλήσει στον αναγνώστη για την ζωή στο στρατόπεδο συγκέντρωσης και όχι για να σοκάρει και να κερδίσει την συμπάθεια μας. Η γραφή είναι πολύ καλή, βρισκεις συχνά λυρικές προτάσεις κρυμμένες μέσα σε παραδοσιακά γραμμένες παραγράφους.

Συμπάθησα πολύ τον συγγραφέα. Μου άρεσε πολύ η στάση του να δικαιολογεί κάποιες πράξεις των φυλακισμένων λέγοντας πολύ σοφα πως κανεις δεν μπορεί να μιλήσει για ηθικες πράξεις στην αντίθετη πλευρά του συρματος.

Το προτείνω.
Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews868 followers
February 15, 2012
Philip Roth called this "One of the century's truly necessary books". Primo Levi's description of surviving in the arbeitlager at Auschwitz-Buna is the story of human tenacity and the determination to find a way to survive in the face of incomprehensible and overwhelming odds. Reading this book and books such as Fateles by Imres Kerstz give an incomparable picture of the atrocities commited in Germany and Poland by the Nazis. These activities were facilitated in part by a Europe which couldn't or wouldn't understand. If this is a Man is a fantastic book and one that really did need to be written, not only so it could be read but because Levi needed to write it in part to come to terms with what happened to him.

However, I was possibly more fascinated by the little told story of what happened in Europe after the truce was called and liberation came to the death camps. It is difficult to imagine the chaos in Central Europe as hundreds of thousands of sick, malnourished and poverty stricken prisoners of all nationalities were left stranded thousands of miles from home. The reptriation process must have been phenomenal, especially with all lines of communication and many transport networks completely destroyed as a result of the war. Primo Levi uses "The Truce" to describe how difficult it was to return home and makes a strong case demonstrating surviving the arbeitlager was just the first step in a longer battle for liberation.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,697 reviews1,478 followers
July 5, 2012
This book includes the two books Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening by Primo Levi. The American and European publications have employed different titles. The book ends with an excellent "Afterword". This too is written by the author. I recommend this edition.

This book is quite different from other holocaust books, by its very lack of emotion. It is a clear statement of what exactly happened to the author, both in the camp (If This is a Man) and afterwards on his travels home to Turin, Italy (The Truce). In the "Afterword" the author answers questions that readers have repeatedly asked. His answers are clear, concise and right to the point. This is a perfect ending to the book since you see how the author reasons after living through the experiences described. He knew exactly where he stood on every question. His wisdom impressed me.
Profile Image for Vicky "phenkos".
144 reviews94 followers
May 4, 2017
One of the most important books in post-war literature. It's vital to keep in mind what happened in Auschwitz because Nazism is not dead and buried, far-right groups spring up everywhere nowadays. Unbelievable as this may seem, some people have either forgotten or never cared to find out. I read this in conjunction with Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (which I haven't finished) where Arendt describes the reasons why Jews were singled out by the Nazis. Another important book!
Profile Image for arcobaleno.
629 reviews143 followers
December 5, 2013
Ne pas chercher à comprendre
Quanto è avvenuto non si può comprendere, non si deve comprendere, perché comprendere è quasi giustificare… Ma se comprendere è impossibile, conoscere è necessario.

Non trovo parole adeguate per esprimere il mio commento a questa testimonianza di Primo Levi. Colpisce la razionalità di questo grande Uomo, che non indugia in giudizi e accuse, non usa toni recriminatori né accattivanti, non cerca pathos. Non è necessario. Applica il semplice metodo scientifico, cui la sua mente è abituata: fa riaffiorare nella sua memoria i fatti essenziali, li libera da quelli inutili e ce li presenta, con linguaggio semplice ma curato.
Dice lui stesso nelle note in appendice (pag. 330):
Nello scrivere questo libro, ho assunto deliberatamente il linguaggio pacato e sobrio del testimone, non quello lamentevole della vittima né quello irato del vendicatore: pensavo che la mia parola sarebbe stata tanto più credibile ed utile quanto più apparisse obiettiva e quanto meno suonasse appassionata; solo così il testimone in giudizio adempie alla sua funzione, che è quella di preparare il terreno al giudice. I giudici siete voi.

Quello che si legge entra e strugge. E non si dimentica.

Profile Image for Arjen.
160 reviews88 followers
November 16, 2009
Impressive recount of a Jewish prisoner's days in Auschwitz and his journey home. I liked the dry, observant style. The author does not show hate for his tortures, just describes the facts. The reader is the judge.

The passage which made the biggest impression on me is where Levi talks about the camp musicians, playing the same songs everyday when the slaves go out to and come back from work. Levi writes that even years later, hearing these innocent songs made the blood freeze in the bodies of the survivors.

To me that is a great example of the relativity of life. The song in itself is not evil, the composer is not evil, even the musicians playing the songs in the camp are not evil. But still all the lingering horrors of the camp will be connected to and unleashed by a simple, harmless melody.
Profile Image for Smiley .
774 reviews18 followers
July 30, 2014
Reading this epic-like memoir, his first-hand accounts as one of the prisoners-of-war detained in a camp at Auschwitz as a legacy of World War II by Primo Levi was stunningly descriptive, inhumane and hopeful. My background reading was that I nearly finished reading its first part, "If This is a Man," depicting his arrest in late 1943 and his life along the ruthless route to the notorious camp at Auschwitz where he survived because the authority there needed his expertise as a chemist. Then I quitted after reading a few pages (Chapter 13 October 1944) a decade ago due to lack of motive. Till around New Year's Day, a GR friend notified me she liked my review on another of his equally-famous memoir, "The Periodic Table," and kindly urged me to read this one for his unimaginable hardships and persistence. At last I found the paperback, tried reading each episode under each title and switched to the hardcover I bought last week.

Moreover, it was a pity I couldn’t substantially recall what I had read in “If This is a Man,” since my reflection might be quite fragmentary and reading again on page 149 (hardcover), Chapter 13 till the end didn’t help me recall anything read and quitted after such a long time. Therefore, I would like to focus my review on the second part, “The Truce,” depicting his unthinkably tough and surrealism-like journey back home in Italy. First, it has since been agreed that Primo Levi naturally described people, things, camps, etc. per se, in other words, as objectively as possible. It might be done out of his character, his educated mind and possibly his god-like compassion. If you prefer reading short and long paragraphs of descriptions with innumerable good words and sense of humor, this book is for you.

I couldn’t help wondering what he meant by this sentence: “… It (the announcement of their return) came in the theatre and through the theatre, and it came along the muddy road, carried by a strange and illustrious messenger.” (p. 416) I would leave you to read how they knew it in the theatre in the book itself; the following three excerpts would reveal my point, the first being a complete paragraph, the second and the third being partial:

The next morning, while the Red House was already buzzing and humming like a beehive whose swarm is about to leave, we saw a small car approach along the road. Very few passed by, so our curiosity was aroused, especially as it was not a military car. It slowed down in front of the camp, turned and entered, bouncing on the rough surface in front of the bizarre façade. Then we saw that it was a car all of us knew well, a Fiat 500A, a Topolino, rusty and decrepit, with the suspension piteously deformed.

It stopped in front of the entrance, and was at once surrounded by a crowd of inquisitive people. An extraordinary figure emerged, with great effort. It went on and on emerging; it was a very tall, corpulent, rubicund man, in a uniform we had never seen before: a Soviet General, a Generalissimo, a Marshal. …

This celestial messenger, who travelled alone through the mud in a cheap ancient ramshackle car, was Marshal Timoshenko in person, Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko, the hero of the Bolshevik revolution, of Karelia and Stalingrad. After his reception by the local Russians, which was singularly sober and lasted only a few minutes, he emerged once more from the buildings and chatted unaffectedly with us Italians, …; he told us that it was really true; we were to leave soon, very soon; “War over, everybody home”; … (pp. 417-419)

Just imagine how he has marvelously described such a 'strange and illustrious messenger'. I think it’s hard not to appreciate reading these superbly descriptive pages from one of the most important writers in the twentieth century.

Second, right at the beginning of the first story, "The Thaw," he has told us something horribly inhuman of which we may never dream; however, we have to keep reading with pity and sorrow from this excerpt:
... Thus all healthy prisoners were evacuated, in frightful conditions, in the direction of Buchenwald and Mauthausen, while the sick were abandoned to their fate. One can legitimately deduce from the evidence that originally the Germans did not intend to leave one man alive in the concentration camps; but a fierce night air raid and the rapidity of the Russian advance induced them to change their minds and flee, leaving their task unfinished.
In the sick bay of the Lager at Buna-Monowitz eight hundred of us remained. Of these about five hundred died from illness, cold and hunger before the Russians arrived, and another two hundred succumbed in the following days, despite the Russians' aid.
... (p. 217)

Third, we can read his innumerable episodes on his plight as one of the detainees in search of their route back home; miraculously, he had never lost hope, he simply persisted day in day out hoping to return home. For instance, he has described how he got lost in the woods and fortunately, coolly made it in getting out of such a deceiving labyrinth as told in this excerpt:

... The first time I penetrated it, I learnt to my cost, with surprise and fear, that the risk of "losing oneself in a wood" existed not only in fairly tales. I had been walking for about an hour, orienting myself as best I could by the sun, which was visible occasionally, where the branches were less thick; but then the sky clouded over, threatening rain, and when I wanted to return I realized that I had lost the north. ...
I walked on for hours, increasingly tired and uneasy, almost until dusk; and I was already beginning to think that even if my companions came to search for me, they would not find me, or would only find me days later, exhausted by hunger, perhaps already dead. ... So I continued in the prolonged twilight of the northern summer, until it was almost night, a prey now to utter panic, to the age-old fear of the dark, the forest and the unknown. Despite my weariness, I felt a violent impulse to rush ..., and to continue running so long as my strength and breath lasted.
Suddenly I heard the whistle of a train: this meant the railway was on my right, ...Following the noise of the train, I arrived at the railway before nightfall; then I kept to the glinting railway lines, ..., and reached safety, first at Starye Dorogi, then at the Red House.
... (pp. 377-378)

Therefore, we couldn't help feeling like we're watching a horror or suspense film and imagining how we could make it and be lucky like him. In brief, this memoir is worth reading due to its testament narratives and episodes unique in horrible details unthinkable to humankind, and the best we can do is that we need to pray and hope, those who know and have power please help, that such atrocities won't and shouldn't happen anywhere again on earth.
Profile Image for Кремена Михайлова.
607 reviews179 followers
October 6, 2016
Не трябваше да бързам да се отделям толкова бързо от книгата, защото все още погледът ми е премрежен от горчивите сълзи от последните страници, главата ми е замаяна от тази Одисея през немислимото; от умението на Примо Леви да разказва и да ангажира читателя – не с изгаряща омраза въпреки всичко (и въпреки цитата по-долу), а с неизкоренима хуманност и с въпроси, въпроси, въпроси за човечеството. Преди всичко тази книга е и за големите срещи между хората - не непременно трайни приятелства поради естеството на годините (безмилостно вихрене на смъртта и разпръсване на оцелелите по света).

А първата част – действителното пребиваване (престой ли, какво да кажа…) в Освиенцим – остана назад в дните (всичко, което сме чели и гледали за концлагерите, разказано отново с неповторимия глас на Примо Леви); парадоксално, по-съкрушаващите преживявания за мен започнаха от момента на бягството на нацистите от концлагера (дали защото се бях стегнала преди това като форма на самозащита, дали защото действително все пак сме чели толкова много за това концентрирано зло).

От тук нататък, от момента на освобождаването, само цитати. Аз продължавам да си плача (но и да се нахраня, не с присвоени трохи).
(След бягството ��а нацистите в лагера остават само болните до пристигането на руснаците (а колко бушувах срещу тях като четох Св. Алексиевич преди месец); после ще търся да прочета още накъде са повели „здравите“ лагерници пеша през януари, за да ги използват още за работна ръка, и колко малко от тях са оцелели.)

„Струваше ни се, а и така беше, че нищото, изпълнено със смърт, в което се въртяхме от десет дни като угаснали звезди, бе намерило здрава опорна точка, ядро около което да се сгъсти: четирима въоръжени хора, но не въоръжени срещу нас; четирима посланици на мира с груби и детски лица под големите кожени калпаци.
Не помахваха за поздрав, не се усмихваха – изглеждаха потиснати не само от състрадание, но и от смутена сдържаност, която запечатваше устата им и приковаваше погледа им върху мрачната гледка. В него се четеше същия срам, който ни беше известен, срамът, който ни заливаше след селекциите и всеки път когато трябваше да присъстваме или да понесем някакво безчестие – срам, който немците не познаха, срамът, който праведният изпитва за чуждата вина и угризението, че такава вина съществува, че се е сместила безвъзвратно в света на нещата, и че добрата му воля се е оказала нищожна или недостатъчна за отбрана.
Така че за нас дори часът на свободата удари тежко и приглушено и изпълни душите ни едновременно с радост и с мъчително чувство на срам, поради което ни се искаше да измием съвестта и спомените си от мръсотията, утаена в тях; и на мъка, защото чувствахме, че не може да се случи нищо тъй добро и тъй чисто, та да заличи миналото ни; че белезите на оскърблението ще останат завинаги у нас и в събитията, на които всеки бе присъствал, и в местата, където това бе ставало, и в спомените, които щяхме да разказваме. Защото – и това е ужасната привилегия на нашето поколение и на моя народ – никой по-добре от нас не беше успял да изпита неизличимата природа на оскърблението, която се разпространява като зараза. Глупаво е да се мисли, че човешкото правосъдие може да я заличи. То си остава неизчерпаем извор на зло: прекършва тялото и душата на затъналите, изпепелява ги, прави ги низки; петни като безчестие насилниците, остава вечно като омраза у оцелелите, пъпли по хиляди начини против волята на всички, като жажда за отмъщение, като морално отстъпление, като отрицание, като умора, като отказ.“

„Хурбинек, който бе на три години и може би бе роден в Освиенцим, не бе виждал дърво: Хурбинек, който се бе борил като мъж до последен дъх, за да си осигури достъп в света на хората, от който го бе прогонила една зверска власт, безименният Хурбинек, носещ на ръчичката си татуировката на Освиенцим, умря в първите дни на март 1945, свободен, но неизкупен. От него не остана нищо: за себе си той свидетелства чрез тези мои думи.“

Това сигурно е недопустимо да се копира тук и където и да е, но в момента на прочита твърдо реших да го включа, макар и скрито.

„От шестстотин и петдесетте, колкото бяхме тръгнали, се връщахме трима. А какво бяхме загубили през тези двадесет месеца? Какво щяхме да намерим вкъщи? Колко в нас бе похабено, изпепелено? По-богати ли се завръщахме, или по-бедни. По-силни или по-кухи? Това не знаехме, но знаехме, че на прага на домовете ни, за добро или за зло, ни чакаше изпитание, което отсега ни вдъхваше страх. Чувствахме във вените ни да тече, заедно с изнемощялата ни кръв, отровата на Освиенцим. Откъде щяхме да почерпим сили, за да продължим да живеем, за да съборим преградите и изтръгнем плевелите, които никнат бързо по време на всяко отсъствие, около всеки пуст дом, около всяко празно гнездо? Скоро, още утре, ще трябва да влезем в бой с непознати врагове, във и извън нас, а с какви оръжия, с каква енергия, с каква воля? Чувствахме се стари сякаш бяхме на векове, подтиснати от едногод��шни жестоки спомени, празни, безжизнени. Прекараните напоследък месеци на скитничество, макар и тежки, сега ни се струваха като някакво примирие – отрязък от време, изцяло на наше разположение, предвиждан, но неповторим дар на съдбата.“
Profile Image for Negin.
596 reviews151 followers
January 28, 2018
This is a powerful story of Primo Levi who was imprisoned in Auschwitz. I’m giving it 3 stars, since I felt that his writing style was confusing and tedious.

I believe that this is the first holocaust account that I have read that has been written from an objective, rather detached and unemotional point of view, or at least the first that I can remember. I know that if I had gone through all those horrors, there is no way in God’s green earth that I could have felt the same way. No way.

Some of my favorite quotes:
"One of the most important things I had learnt in Auschwitz was that one must always avoid being a nobody. All roads are closed to a person who appears to be useless, all are open to a person who has a function, even the most fatuous."

“I am constantly amazed by man's inhumanity to man.”

Profile Image for Drilli.
240 reviews24 followers
April 29, 2022
Difficile, se non quasi impossibile, commentare questo libro. Perché cos'altro c'è da dire che non abbia già scritto Primo Levi stesso?

In Se questo è un uomo si testimonia com'è possibile annientare tutto ciò che di umano c'è in un uomo: sentimenti, empatia, dignità, coraggio, desideri, speranze... Tutto ciò che resta è un guscio pieno solo di paura, che risponde a stimoli e ordini, e che tenta di restare in vita semplicemente perché è l'istinto che glielo impone. Ciò che viene mostrato in questo romanzo sembra impossibile, nel corso della lettura a tratti si ha la tentazione di pensare che sia solo un'incredibile distopia... ma non è così: tutto ciò che è scritto è accaduto, è la brutale e assurda realtà della Storia.

Considerate se questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta per mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no.

Ne La tregua, poi, ci viene ricordato che il dolore e la morte non si sono arrestati il 27 gennaio 1945.
La libertà, l’improbabile, impossibile libertà, cosí lontana da Auschwitz che solo nei sogni osavamo sperare era giunta: ma non ci aveva portati alla Terra Promessa. Era intorno a noi, ma sotto forma di una spietata pianura deserta. Ci aspettavano altre prove, altre fatiche, altre fami, altri geli, alte paure.
Dopo l'abbandono dei Lager non c'è stato un semplice e diretto ritorno a casa e alla vita; ci sono state la lotta contro la malattia, la fame, il freddo, e le infinite peripezie del viaggio, complicate all'inverosimile da una ridicola burocrazia e dalle misere condizioni in cui versava l'Europa tutta al termine del conflitto. Ma, insieme al viaggio, assistiamo anche al lento e gradualissimo riappropriarsi della propria umanità: superando un ostacolo alla volta, affrontando un passo dopo l'altro, ritornano le speranze, i desideri, i sentimenti, i rapporti.

E il modo in cui Primo Levi ci racconta tutto questo - senza astio o rancore, senza pietismi o sentimentalismi, ma spinto dalla pura e semplice necessità di raccontare, mostrare, testimoniare - riesce a rendere ancora più incisiva l'esperienza di lettura. E' una prosa - qui come in altre sue opere - che trovo splendida: è pulita, limpida, eppure nulla è lasciato a caso, ogni parola è scelta con cura e attenzione, col risultato che nulla è mai superfluo, ma sempre carico di significato e destinato a lasciare un segno in chi legge. Una scrittura che ho trovato straordinaria già in Se questo un uomo, e che raggiunge l'apice ne La tregua - opera successiva di 12 anni e «più letteraria» per ammissione dell'autore stesso.
In questa seconda opera, in particolare, incontriamo numerosi personaggi che vengono di volta in volta descritti con incredibile sensibilità e vividezza: possono bastare anche poche righe per farceli restare nella mente e nel cuore, nel corso di un racconto che è sempre più corale, pagina dopo pagina - a ricordarci che non è la Storia di un singolo o di pochi, ma destino comune di milioni di individui.

E' un libro che va letto, riletto, meditato e soprattutto... mai dimenticato.
Profile Image for Antonia.
247 reviews65 followers
September 16, 2020
Here is one of the most important books I have ever read. Philip Roth called Primo Levi “a magically endearing man, the most delicately forceful enchanter I’ve ever known”. Roth, as many others, including myself, truly admired the strength and composure Primo Levi possessed to write his recollections of his time being a prisoner at Auschwitz. Although he lived in hell, meters away from gas chambers, and witnessed a growing decay of humanity, Primo Levi never reduced to hatred. On this particular matter he says:”I believe in reason and in discussion as supreme instruments of progress, and therefore I repress hatred even within myself: I prefer justice. Precisely for this reason, when describing the tragic world of Auschwitz, I have deliberately assumed the calm, sober language of the witness, neither the lamenting tones of the victim nor the irate voice of someone who seeks revenge”. You will rarely hear me say that, but this book I consider a must. Perhaps the only thing we could all do for the undeserved sufferings of the accused, tortured and murdered victims of the Holocaust is to read their stories, to become familiar with the possibility of human evil and avoid it at any cost.
“Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we will have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains."

“Imagine how a man who is deprived of everyone he loves, and at the same time of his house, his habits, his clothes, in short, of everything he possesses: he will be a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint, for he who loses all often easily loses himself. He will be a man whose life or death can be lightly decided with no sense of human affinity, in the most fortunate of cases, on the basis of pure judgement of utility. It is in this way that one can understand the double sense of the term ‘extermination camp’, and it is now clear what we seek to express with the phrase: ‘to lie on the bottom’. “
Profile Image for Tom.
3 reviews
September 9, 2011
I was bought this as a Christmas present from a friend and was told simply: "No one should go on without heaving read this book". Now, I've read a few books on concentration camps (and have also visited Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland) and wasn't convinced that another account of this atrocity should be on my 'to read' list.

I did, however, give it a go and I'm so glad I did. From start to finish Primo kept me drawn in by his fantastic use of language and the way he can put a very human face to a very inhuman act. He clearly shows that what happened was evil without having to resort to describing the brutalities and dark goings-on of that period at that place. It's more a document of the society that formed within the camps, the everyday lives of the people there and an almost humorous look into the psychology of the inmates.

The second half of the book: The Truce, is a tale of the liberation of the camps by the Russians and his journey back to Italy. This part is just as compelling as the first with the same running theme, a man trying to find his way whilst being bombarded with obsticles at every corner. It's fasinating to read how he managed to find shelter in the most unlikely of places, and how he would bargain his clothes for a chicken in villages he stumbles upon.

The greatest feat that Levi achieves is to allow the reader to relate to situations that occur, even though the subject matter isn't anywhere near as awful as it is in this book.

To say 'this book changed my life' is a cliche that I, myself, hate just as much as everyone else, but I can't think of any other appropriate phrase to sum up this book. To quote my friend: "No one should go on without having read this book".
Profile Image for Vasilis Philologist.
112 reviews39 followers
December 29, 2019
Ένα αντιπροσωπευτικό δείγμα του πώς ένα πονημα χωρίς ιδιαίτερες εκφραστικές και υφολογικές αρετές, μπορεί να μετουσιωθεί σε ένα κλασικό αριστούργημα. Ένα βιβλίο με στρωτή, δωρική γλώσσα, χωρίς ωραιοποιημένες περιγραφές και καλλιέπεια έκφρασης, ακροβατεί ανάμεσα στο χρονικό, τη μαρτυρία, το ημερολόγιο, το μυθιστόρημα και το δοκίμιο, συμπυκνώνοντας πολυεπίπεδα νοήματα σε κάθε ξεχωριστή φράση.

Με απίστευτα ψύχραιμη ματιά (πολλώ δε μάλλον για κάποιον που έζησε το Άουσβιτς εκ των έσω) προκαλεί πόνο χωρίς να το επιδιώκει, γεννά την οργή στον αναγνώστη χωρίς να καταφεύγει σε εξάρσεις και συναισθηματικές κορώνες. Ενας άνθρωπος που θα είχε κάθε λογο να εξαπολύσει ένα δριμύ «κατηγορώ» για το Ολοκαύτωμα, μας δίνει μια σπάνια αντικειμενική οπτική, σαν να υπήρξε ενας εξωτερικός παρατηρητής.

Σε λίγες σελίδες προλαβαίνει να μας προβληματίσει για τον βιολογικό ντετερμινισμό και το πώς διατήρησαν ή όχι τα βασικά στοιχεία του χαρακτήρα τους οι κρατούμενοι των στρατοπέδων συγκέντρωσης, ή πώς αντίστοιχα παραδόθηκαν στην επίκτητη κόλαση των κρεματορίων, απεκδυόμενοι κάθε ανθρώπινο χαρακτηριστικό.

Η ανθρωπογεωγραφία, η εθνολογική κατανομή, η κοινωνική ιεραρχία του Άουσβιτς, γίνονται μερικά μόνο από τα βέλη στη φαρέτρα του κορυφαίου Ιταλού, ο οποίος παραδίδει σε όλες τις επόμενες γενιές ένα πραγματικό λογοτεχνικό διαμάντι
Profile Image for Antonio Rosato.
889 reviews32 followers
April 5, 2016
Due colossali opere racchiuse in un unico libro che altro non è che la sconvolgente e struggente testimonianza, raccontata in prima persona, del ritorno a casa di Primo Levi (e del suo peregrinare in giro per l'Europa) dai campi di concentramento nazisti. Bisogna leggerlo per capire (almeno in parte e per quanto possibile) come può un uomo privato di tutto, anche e soprattutto della sua dignità, riuscire a perdonare i suoi carnefici e a fare ogni sforzo affinché non venga dimenticato ciò che è stato fatto quando il genere umano ha smarrito il lume della ragione...
Profile Image for Sahel's.
111 reviews14 followers
February 2, 2017
Before reading this, I had read Night by Elie Wiesel. I love both of these novels as they are somehow one but on totally different perspctives.

The great thing was that, near the end of the novel when Wiesel was in the hospital and there was an order of camp evacuation Wiesel had gone along with the other camp prisoners and somehow regretted having done so because the hospital would have been found by the Russians. On the other hand, Levi here is exactly the person who has remained in the hospital and yet writes of the people who had gone with the march and does not know what happened to them later and even writes that somebody might write about it later on!!
Profile Image for Faith McLellan.
176 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2013
The second or third or fourth time I have read it. One of the most important works of the 20th century. Still stunned by how people keep on going, in the face of a bottomless abyss. Exhilarating, inspirational, full of an unfathomable spirit.
Profile Image for Vasko Genev.
304 reviews63 followers
June 16, 2018
Края на книгата направо те втриса.

Струва ми се излишно да добавям, че нито един от фактите не е измислен.
Примо Леви

Да разрушиш човека е трудно - почти толкова, колкото да ��о създадеш.
Ето ни покорни пред вашия поглед, от наша страна няма никаква заплаха за вас, ни опити за бунт, нито предизвикателни слова, нито дори един осъждащ поглед.

И така през 1935 година мъжът й бил откаран от Гестапо и повече не чула нищо за него. Мъката й била голяма, но трябвало да се яде и тя продължила работата си в магазина до тридесет и осма, когато Хитлер, “der Lump” произнесъл по радиото прословутата си реч, с която обявил, че желае войната. Тогава тя се възмутила и му писала. Писала му лично, "До господин Адолф Хитлер, Райхсканцлер, Берлин", изпращайки му дълго писмо, в което настоятелно го съветвала да не започва война, защото много хора ще измрат, като извън това му доказвала, че ще я загуби, защото Германия не може да победи целия свят - това било ясно и на децата. Подписала се, прибавила и адреса си. После останала да чака;
Пет дни по-късно дошли кафявите ризи и под претекст за обиск, ограбили и изпотрошили всичко в магазина и в къщата й.

Борихме се с всички сили да не дойде зимата. Вкопчвахме се във всеки топъл час, при всеки залез се опитвахме да задържим слънцето още малко, но всичко беше напразно. Слънцето безвъзвратно потъваше в плетеница от мръсна мъгла, от заводски комини и жици, докато една сутрин дойде и зимата..
Ние знаехме какво значи това, защото бяхме тук миналата зима, а новите скоро щяха да го научат. През месеците от октомври до април, на всеки десет души седем щяха да умрат. Който не умираше, щеше да страда всяка минута, всеки ден; от преди изгрев слънце до раздаването на вечерната чорба трябваше да държи мускулите си напрегнати, да подскача от крак на крак, да кръстосва ръце под мишници, за да издържи на студа. Трябваше да дава от хляба си, за да си набави ръкавици или да губи часове от съня си, за да кърпи старите. Понеже нямаше да можем да ядем на открито, трябваше да се храним в бараката, прави, като всеки разполагаше с една педя от пода, защото бе забранено да се облягаме на леглата. На всички ни щяха да се отворят рани на дланите, а за да получим бинт щяхме всяка вечер да стоим с часове на снега и вятъра пред лечебницата.
Тъй като нашият глад съвсем не беше онова чувство на човек, пропуснал едно ядене, така и начинът, по който студувахме изискваше друга дума. Ние казваме "глад", казваме "умора", "страх", "болка", казваме "зима", но това са други неща. Това са думи свободни, създадени и използвани от свободни хора, които живеят, радват се и страдат в своите домове. Ако лагерите бяха продължили да съществуват по-дълго, щеше да се роди един нов, суров език; такъв език е нужен, за да се обясни какво значи да се мъчиш цял ден на вятър, под нулата, само по риза, долни гащи и раирани затворнически дрехи от док - гладен, уморен, съзнаващ близкия си край.
Тъй както угасва една надежда, така и тази сутрин настъпи зимата.

Човек се уморява не само от радостта, страха и мъката, но и от очакването. Оцелели до 25 януари, прекъснали от осем дни връзките си с онзи свиреп свят, който все пак беше цял един свят, повечето от нас бяха твърде немощни дори да очакват.

Не вярваме в най-очевидния и прост извод: че по природа човек е брутален, егоист и глупав в поведението си, когато му е отнета всяка цивилизована надстройка, както, че затворникът е човек без задръжки. По-скоро мислим, че в случая единственото заключение е следното: пред мъчителната нужда и физическото страдание много социални навици и инстинкти са обречени на мълчание.

Представете си сега един човек, комуто със загубата на любимите хора са отнели дома, навиците и дрехите - абсолютно всичко, което притежава. Такъв човек ще бъде изпразнен от съдържание, осъден на страдание и нужда, лишен от достойнство, неспособен да разсъждава, понеже често се случва оня, който е загубил всичко, да загуби и себе си. За такъв човек е лесно да се решава дали да живее или да умре, защото той вече не принадлежи към човечеството; в най-добрия случай го преценяват само с оглед на това доколко е полезен. Тогава ще се разбере двоякото значение на термина "Лагер за масово унищожение", ще стане ясно и какво искам да кажа с израза "да лежиш на дъното".

На маршировката сутрин и вечер, когато затворниците отиваха или се връщаха от работа, никога не липсваха есесовци. Кой можеше да им отрече правото да присъствуват на тази хореография, ставаща по тяхна воля, на танца на угасналите хора, които идваха от мъглата и изчезваха в нея отряд след отряд? Какво по-конкретно доказателство за тяхната победа?

Дотук пътувахме с пломбирани вагони; видяхме да отвеждат на смърт нашите жени и деца; превърнати в роби, стотици пъти отивахме и се връщахме с маршова стъпка към безропотния си труд, с изпепелени души, преди още да е настъпила анонимната ни смърт. Ние нямаше да се върнем. Никой не трябваше да излезе оттук и да занесе на света, заедно със знака, жигосан върху плътта ни, лошата вест, какво човек е дръзнал да стори на човека тук, в Освиенцим.

Всички проявявахме животинско нетърпение да натъпчем стомаха си с топлия буламач, но никой не искаше да е пръв, защото на първия се падаше най-рядката чорбица. Както винаги, Капо ни се присмиваше и ругаеше за нашата лакомия, но внимаваше да не разбърква чорбата, защото гъстото на дъното му се падаше по право. После настъпваше дълбокото, целебно блаженство на отпускането, на топлината в стомаха и на разгорялата се печка в бараката. С пестеливи и точно отмерени движения пушачите свиваха тъничка цигара; дрехите ни, прогизнали от кал и сняг, задимяваха край зачервената печка - и се разнасяше воня на кучкарник и стадо.
По мълчаливо съгласие никой не говореше - в миг всички заспиваха, притиснати един до друг, някои изведнъж се накланяха напред, но бързо и рязко се изправяха. Иззад току-що спуснатите клепачи нахлуваха сънища, обичайните сънища: че сме си вкъщи, в чудна, гореща баня; че сме си вкъщи, седнали на масата; че сме си вкъщи и разказваме за този наш безнадежден труд, за вечния ни глад, за това как спим като роби.

При залез изсвири сирената за прекратяване на работа, и тъй като поне за няколко часа всички бяхме сити, не избухнаха свади, станахме добри, не стана нужда Капо да ни бие; отпуснахме се в мисли по нашите майки и жени, което не ни се случваше често. За няколко часа можехме да бъдем нещастни като свободните хора.

Хапех силно устни, защото знаех от опит, че причиняването на малка странична болка спомага за мобилизиране на последните резерви от енергия. Това знаеха и Капо; някои ни биеха, едва ли не приятелски, когато мъкнем товари и ударите им бяха предружени с увещания и насърчения, както постъпват каруцарите с добрите коне.

Господин Унфердорбен знаеше за Мавъра много повече неща от нас. Научихме, че Мавъра не е (или не е само) един стар лунатик: Вързопът си имаше своето обяснение, както и животът на скитащия старец. Вдовец от много години, имал дъщеря, една-единствена, вече петдесетгодишна и парализирана на легло; никога нямало да оздравее. Мавъра живеел за тази си дъщеря; пишел й всяка седмица писма, които нямало да стигнат до нея, само за нея работил цял живот, така че потъмнял като орехово дърво и станал твърд като камък. Само за нея Мавъра скитал по света и събирал всичко, което му попаднело под ръка, всеки предмет, които криел и най-малката възможност да послужи или да бъде разменен.
До Старие Дороги не срещнахме други живи същества.

Знаеха ли "те" за Освиенцим, за ежедневната и мълчалива касапница, на една крачка от техните врати? Ако са знаели, как са могли да ходят по улиците, да се връщат вкъщи и да гледат децата си в очите, да пристъпват прага на църквата? Ако ли не, за тях трябваше да бъде задължение да чуят, да научат от нас, от мен, всичко и веднага. Чувствах, че номерът, татуиран на ръката ми, смъди като рана.
Profile Image for Lilirose.
483 reviews55 followers
May 13, 2019
Se questo è un uomo - *****

Ci sono libri sui quali mi trovo in difficoltà a fare qualunque commento, perchè mi sembra di non rendere giustizia alla loro grandezza; è particolarmente vero per Se questo è un uomo dato che non si può tradurre a parole l'intensità di quest'opera, importantissima non solo come testimonianza sugli orrori della shoah ma anche dal punto di vista umano e letterario: non c'è rabbia in queste pagine, solo urgenza di raccontare; l'attenzione più che sulle atrocità (comunque sempre presenti e vive nella sua memoria e nelle nostre coscienze) è concentrata sull'animo umano, messo a nudo con una lucidità spietata ma mai cinica.
Insomma si potrebbe parlare all'infinito di questo libro e di tutto quello che ha significato e continua a significare, ma forse è ancor meglio restare in silenzio e lasciare che parli da se.
Una lettura imprescindibile, di sicuro uno dei libri della mia vita.
Profile Image for David Thrale.
71 reviews
October 31, 2014
How can I even think that I can pass judgement on this in a literary sense? It would be wrong.

Quite simply the rawest and most moving book I have ever - and probably will ever - read. Not just because of the personal experiences that Primo describes, but also for the inconceivable way in which he rises above the inconceivable evil.

The end of the books contains a list of the questions he was often asked after writing the book and his answer that he doesn't hate Germans because that is the root of the evil that he endured, is incredible. A truly great man.

An absolute must-read.
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