Survival in Auschwitz

Survival in Auschwitz

by Primo Levi
Publisher: Touchstone
1st Edition, ©1996, ISBN: 9780684826806
Trade Paperback, 187 pages
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Survival in Auschwitz is a mostly straightforward narrative, beginning with Primo Levi's deportation from Turin, Italy, to the concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland in 1943. Levi, then a 25-year-old chemist, spent 10 months in the camp. Even Levi's most graphic descriptions of the horrors he witnessed and endured there are marked by a restraint and wit that not only gives readers access to his experience, but confronts them with it in stark ethical and emotional terms: "[A]t dawn the barbed wire was full of children's washing hung out in the wind to dry. Nor did they forget the diapers, the toys, the cushions and the hundred other small things which mothers remember and which children always need. Would you not do the same? If you and your child were going to be killed tomorrow, would you not give him something to eat today?"

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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Graphic descriptions of life in a concentration camp
Summary: Levi, an Italian Jew, describes life in Auschwitz with dignity and humor, two traits notably lacking in his captors.

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  One Man and the Bigger Picture of Auschwitz
Miss Pickwickian of Oregon, 4/27/2011
Primo Levi was captured in 1943 as a Jewish Italian working in the Resistance and imprisoned in the death camp of Auschwitz. This is his first book, a memoir of that year. Although not as lyrical as Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi is a very gifted writer. His book is disturbing, hopeful, and heart breaking.

There is a much larger picture in his account compared to other holocaust memoirs which is truly eye opening. Levi throws you right into the life of the Jews and Resistance with their wild confusion of languages, bartering, prison hierarchy, and mad scramble for survival. He gives vivid pictures of those who hold on to their identity, traditions, and sense of honor along side those who lose everything, including what we think of as basic humanity.

He uses an alarming amount of colons and writes in present tense eratically. Neither bothered me too much since it did have to survive translation and the present tense was powerful even when mixed with past. It was a good tool for a memoir like this. Most of his writing is quick, to the point, and poignant.

As expected, this book does have some questionable “adult” portions, but overall is very tastefully written.

The Jewish life is such a puzzle. I think it's an interesting study. Levi is proud of being Jewish, but I can't remember a single mention of God or faith. Near the ending of the book he does mention Providence and luck numerous times and hope for a miracle from the Bible. But nowhere does he mention faith or hope. How could you go through what he went through and come out human without Christ?

Primo Levi’s later books are perhaps better written and portray a more complete picture of Levi as a man and a believing Jew, but "Survival in Auschwitz" is a vital starting place for his works and look into a terrifying chapter in history.