If This Is a Man

Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man” has been described as one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century. It describes the year Levi spent as a prisoner in Auschwitz, the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Primo Levi was born in Turin into a middle-class Jewish family. He enrolled at the University of Turin to study chemistry Just before the Fascist racial law of 1938 forbade Jews access to academic status. Levi graduated first in his class in 1941, a year after Italy entered World War II as an ally of Germany. Levi tried to join an anti-fascist partisan group, but was arrested in December 1943. Two months later, the twenty-four-year-old Levy was deported to Auschwitz, where he was sent to the Monowitz slave labour camp to work at one of the laboratories of I.G. Farben, a company that produced synthetic rubber for the Nazi war machine. After the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in January 1945, Levi returned to Turin. He took up his work as a chemist, and published his first book, If This Is a Man, in 1947. But it was ten years later, when the book was reprinted in an enlarged edition, that it became a best-seller, with over half a million copies sold in Italy alone. In his own lifetime, Levi became a major literary figure in his country. His books were translated into many languages and one of them, The Truce, became a set text in Italian schools. Levi’s semi-autobiographical work is one of the most accurate and chilling testimonies of a Jewish slave labourer under the Nazis, while being highly readable. In spite of the brutality to which he was subjected, Levi described the terrible events objectively like an observing scientist, but also noted with compassion the heroism in the suffering. He noted that useless violence dehumanised both guards and prisoners. "Before dying the victim must be degraded, so that the murderer will be less burdened by guilt," he wrote. Levi died in Turin on April 11, 1987, at the age of 67, in what appeared to be a suicide. “One of the most important and gifted writers of our time." Italo Calvino, one of the best-known Italian writers of the twentieth century “One of the century's truly necessary books” - Philip Roth, celebrated American novelist

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Primo Levi

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