Primo Levi’s reflection on humanity in crisis: Survival in Auschwitz (If This is a man)

Primo Levi’s memoir, Survival in Auschwitz (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, translated by Giulio Einaudi), is not just about the author’s survival in the notorious Nazi concentration camp, but above all about the survival of his humanity after enduring such a grueling process of dehumanization. Published in 1947 under the Italian title If This is a Man (Se questo e un uomo), the author doesn’t claim to offer new information in this autobiographical book. Nor does he wish to level fresh accusations against the Nazis. Written in a calm, observational tone, Survival in Auschwitz sets out “to furnish documentation for a quiet study of certain aspects of the human mind” (9).

Thoughtful and thought-provoking, the narrative constitutes a reflection on the power—and limits—of forgiveness. In an interview published by the New Republic on February 16, 1986, Levi announces that he…

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