Primo Levi: Chemistry and the Holocaust

A R T L▼R K

41vTGy5xYuLOn the 31st of July 1919, the Italian Jewish chemist and writer Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy. A survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, he emerged after the war as one of the most incisive and candid intellects among those writers who had experienced the Holocaust. He grew up during the years preceding World War II in the relative comfort of a middle class at a time in Italy when being of Jewish ancestry had not yet become a cause of segregation and persecution. In 1937, he enrolled at the University of Turin to study chemistry, which was only one year before the promulgation of the Fascist racial laws. Along with other restrictions, the latter prohibited Jews in Italy from attending public schools. However, due to the fact that he had already begun his studies, he was allowed to remain at university until the completion of his course…

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If This is a Man by Primo Levi | Quote

Fascism

“We cannot understand it, but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Conscience can be seduced and obscured again – even our consciences. For this reason, it is everyone’s duty to reflect on what happened.”

If This is a Man by Primo Levi

Primo Levi — Surviving Auschwitz

Primo Levi

Primo Levi

The Italian Jewish chemist and author, Primo Levi [1919 – 1987], was a notable survivor of Auschwitz whose powerful writing was second to none when it came to describing his experiences. If you haven’t yet read any of his books, it’s time to add them to your list. He was liberated from the concentration camp by Russia’s Red Army in January 1945 but was not able to return to Italy until four months later. His journey took him through Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Austria, and Germany and he did not arrive in Turin until 19th October, 1945.

“You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home.
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud,
Who knows no peace,
Who fights for a crust of bread,
Who dies by a yes or no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter.
Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your houses be destroyed,
May illness strike you down,
May your offspring turn their faces from you.”
― Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz

“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.”
― Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz