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Survival In Auschwitz

(Book #1 in the Auschwitz Trilogy Series)

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Book Overview

The true and harrowing account of Primo Levi's experience at the German concentration camp of Auschwitz and his miraculous survival; hailed by The Times Literary Supplement as a "true work of art,... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

Interesting but not captivating

I found myself trying to finish the book faster just to finish it and move on. Some parts were interesting, some not, but overall I never really got into it.

Mandatory in the best way

It's been a while since I read this book. My girlfriend pulled it off my shelf of her own accord, and she's reading it now. It's one of those books that every thinking person should read. Other reviewers have conveyed its gist very well. It's not really like other Holocaust literature, as important as that school is. It's more concerned with the capability of human beings to absolutely degrade one another. Auschwitz is a stewpot in which the worst of human nature bubbles to the top and sets the bar. One would think the average camp prisoner would have put his head down numbly and hoped to get out alive. Levi somehow was able to observe and work through the ramifications of nearly every aspect of camp life, not with numbness, but with serene clarity (at least as he writes it later). Everything related in this book is literal and symbolic, mundane and profound, degraded yet fundamental. Levi doesn't spare himself, either. As he put it, to die in Auschwitz, all one had to do was play by the rules. He cheated, stole, and turned his back on his fellows in order to stay alive, and no fellow prisoner who knew the rules of Auschwitz would have held it against him. So much for uniting against one's oppressors. I should add that "The Truce" tells the story of Levi's very circuitous journey home from Poland to Italy, through a post-war Europe that was barely functional on any level. It is less bleak by far than "If This Is A Man", but the insights into human nature are similiarly profound and essential.

Heart-breaking but informative and important

A truly amazing book - I cannot promise that you will enjoy it, in fact I can almost guarantee that you will find most of it heart-breaking and painful. It is a little like watching Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing - on many levels you do not enjoy it but it enthrals you. The subject matter is so important and it is so beautifully made and eloquent that you feel compelled to watch (or read in the case of Levi). Levi tells the story of his own internment in Auschwitz - he concentrates on the details of everyday life slowing building a vivid picture of how the Nazis were intent on not just killing them but breaking their spirit, humiliating them, degrading them. He captures many moments so well that they live on in the mind, for example when he describes how the terrible regime made Jew turn on Jew. He even manages to raise a guilty smile occasionally. For example, he describes the second worst thing that could happen at night was to take out the toilet bucket as it was always full to overflowing and would spill on your feet. The worst thing was when your bunkmate took it out as they shared bunks sleeping head to toe. Levi is a fantastic writer (try the Periodic Table if you want to read something easier and more enjoyable) with a light touch. He describes his time in Auschwitz calmly, clearly, with great compassion but remarkably objectively; he gives the reader space to think and understand. A work of heart-breaking genius

If this is a man; and The Truce

Primo Levi is the most insightful, pragmatic realist of all holocaust authors. I have read more than 50 books on the subject, and his insights into what happened, human nature, the (bad) luck of the draw, and the tragedy of his experience are brilliant and by far the most articulate. Somehow, perhaps with his scientific mind, Levi was able to maintain his awareness through an experience that is utterly beyond the scope of imagination. He somehow emerges from the ashes of this horrific epoch like a literary phoenix. He doesn't dwell on the inhuman acts and suffering, although he has a perfect right to do so, but instead offers his account almost from an omniscient perspective. This book contains the best of Primo Levi, but his other writings demand to be read as well. And, if you haven't seen The Truce, starring John Turturro, you should do so. It's not a hundred percent historically accurate, but it is a great presentation.

The State of Nature

The worst atrocity Levi describes at Auschwitz is not the gassings, which he did not witness, or the periodic selections of the weak for gassing, or the beatings, or the hangings, or the routine brutality, or the starvation, or the destructive labor that was designed to work the prisoners to death. It is the moral degradation of the prisoners by their desparate need to survive in those conditions.An earlier reviewer writes, "We see property in its most base form. A spoon, a bowl, a few trinkets cleverly used, that is all a person can hold at a time." In fact, we see the absence of property. Hobbes wrote that "liberty in the state of nature is the liberty to be knocked over the head for a handfull of acorns." The Lager at Auschwitz was a state of nature. As Levi describes it, anything you possessed would be stolen by anyone the instant you took your eyes off it. Complete individuality was the only road to survival. Trust was fatal. No one could endure, however strong or lucky, unless they were ready to sacrifice any other prisoner at any time for any scrap of food, clothing, or respite from the crushing labor. In the chapter "The Drowned and the Saved," Levi portrays four successful survivors, who each, in different ways, looked out only for himself. Each was, of necessity, completely heartless. Levi, a gentle humanist, despises the type, and he could not forgive the Germans for reducing humanity to that level. Since Levi survived to tell about it, he himself must have done and been what he despised. Perhaps that contributed to his eventual suicide.

Passionate & instructive insight into the Holocaust

In a more perfect life, this book should be science fiction. Primo Levi deposits us in a world where the typical convivality that makes human society bearable has been eliminated and replaced by a horrible premise: humans may only live if they can do work useful to the state. "Survival in Auschwitz" plays the theme out. Those who are unable to work are immediately killed, using the most efficient means possible. Those who survive must find ways to maintain the illusion of usefulness with the least possible exertion. Instead of brotherhood, there is commerce, a black market where a stolen bar of soap is traded for a loaf of bread; the soap allows the owner to maintain a more healthy appearance while the bread feeds its owner for another day. We see property in its most base form. A spoon, a bowl, a few trinkets cleverly used, that is all a person can hold at a time. It's instructive to read this book as an insight into homelessness. What kind of place is this where we create humiliated zombies, shuffling behind their carts containing all their worldly possessions? How long can we let the State fight against the innate emotion that tells us that no-one should go hungry while we eat and no-one should be homeless while we have shelter? What always amazes me about the Holocaust is the sheer improbability of the story of each of its survivors. This is the horror. For every shining genius of the stature of Primo Levi, there are thousands of other amazing people, gassed and murdered in the showers filled with Zyklon-B.

Se questo è un uomo Mentions in Our Blog

Se questo è un uomo in Reads for All Ages on International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Reads for All Ages on International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 27, 2021

International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27 in 1945. For so many reasons, it is important to learn about this dark chapter in history. The books highlighted here offer a variety of perspectives and stories for all ages.

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