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Encyclopedia > Primo Levi
Primo Levi

Primo Levi
Pseudonym: Damiano Malabaila (used for some of his fictional works)
Born: July 31, 1919(1919-07-31)
Turin, Italy
Died: April 11, 1987 (aged 67)
Turin, Italy
Occupation: Chemist, memoirist, short story writer, novelist, essayist
Nationality: Italian
Writing period: 1947-1986
Genres: Memoir, essays, speculative fiction, poetry, Holocaust literature, historical fiction
Subjects: Science, The Holocaust
Debut works: Memoir: If This is a Man (1947), Short story collection: Natural Histories (1966), Poetry: The Bremen Beer Hall (1975) Essays: Other People's Trades (1985)

Primo Michele Levi (July 31, 1919April 11, 1987) was a Jewish Italian chemist, Holocaust survivor and author of memoirs, short stories, poems, and novels. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... A pseudonym (Greek: , pseudo + -onym: false name) is an artificial, fictitious name, also known as an alias, used by an individual as an alternative to a persons legal name. ... is the 212th day of the year (213th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1919 (MCMXIX) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display the full calendar). ... For other uses, see Turin (disambiguation). ... is the 101st day of the year (102nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1987 (MCMLXXXVII) was a common year starting on Thursday (link displays 1987 Gregorian calendar). ... For other uses, see Turin (disambiguation). ... This article is about work. ... In English usage, nationality is the legal relationship between a person and a country. ... A literary genre is one of the divisions of literature into genres according to particular criteria such as literary technique, tone, or content. ... As a literary genre, a memoir (from the French: mémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning memory) forms a subclass of autobiography, although it is an older form of writing. ... Essay, a short work that treats of a topic from an authors personal point of view, often taking into account subjective experiences and personal reflections upon them. ... Speculative fiction - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ... This article is about the art form. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... Look up historical fiction in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Part of a scientific laboratory at the University of Cologne. ... “Shoah” redirects here. ... If This is a Man is a book by the Italian author Primo Levi. ... is the 212th day of the year (213th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1919 (MCMXIX) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display the full calendar). ... is the 101st day of the year (102nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1987 (MCMLXXXVII) was a common year starting on Thursday (link displays 1987 Gregorian calendar). ... For other uses, see Jew (disambiguation). ... There are many famous Holocaust survivors who survived the Nazi genocides in Europe and went on to achievements of great fame and notability. ...

He is best known for his work on the Holocaust, and in particular his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. If This Is a Man (published in the United States as Survival in Auschwitz) has been described as one of the most important works of the twentieth century.[1] For other uses, see Holocaust (disambiguation) and Shoah (disambiguation). ... Auschwitz (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was the largest of the Nazi German concentration camps. ... Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich, commonly refers to Germany in the years 1933–1945, when it was under the firm control of the totalitarian and fascist ideology of the Nazi Party, with the Führer Adolf Hitler as dictator. ... If This is a Man is a book by the Italian author Primo Levi. ...



Early life

Levi was born in the Crocetta in Turin on July 31, 1919 at Corso Re Umberto 75 into a liberal Jewish family. His father Cesare worked for the manufacturing firm Ganz and spent much of his time working abroad in Hungary, where Ganz was based. Cesare was an avid reader and autodidact. Levi’s mother Ester, known to everyone as Rina, was well educated, having attended the Instituto Maria Letizia. She too was an avid reader, played the piano and spoke fluent French[2]. The marriage between Rina and Cesare was arranged by Rina’s father[3]. On their wedding Rina’s father, Cesare Luzzati, gave Rina the apartment at Corso Re Umberto where Primo Levi was to live for almost his entire life. For other uses, see Turin (disambiguation). ... is the 212th day of the year (213th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1919 (MCMXIX) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display the full calendar). ... For other uses, see Jew (disambiguation). ... The Ganz electric works in Budapest is probably best known for the manufacture of tramcars, but was also a pioneer in the application of three-phase alternating current to electric railways. ...

In 1921 Primo’s sister Anna Maria was born. Primo was to remain close to his sister all his life. In 1925 he entered the Felice Rignon primary school in Turin. A thin and delicate child, he was shy and thought himself ugly, but he excelled academically. His school record includes long periods of absence during which time he was tutored at home at first by Emilia Glauda and then by Marisa Zini, daughter of philosopher Zino Zini[4]. Summers were spent with his mother in the Waldensian valleys southwest of Turin where Rina rented a farmhouse. His father remained in Turin partly because of his dislike of the rural life, but also because of his infidelities[5]. A primary school in ÄŒeský Těšín, Poland. ...

In September 1930 he entered the Massimo d'Azeglio Royal Gymnasium a year ahead of normal entrance requirements[6]. In class he was the youngest, the shortest and the cleverest as well as being the only Jew. It is not surprising therefore that he was bullied[7]. In August 1932, following two years at the Talmud Torah school in Turin, he sang in synagogue for his Bar Mitzvah. In 1933, as was expected of all young Italian schoolboys, he joined the Avanguardisti movement for young Fascists. He avoided rifle drill by joining the ski division, and then spent every Saturday during the season on the slopes above Turin[8]. As a young boy Levi was plagued by illness, particularly chest infections, but he was keen to participate in physical activity. In his teens he and a few of his friends would sneak into a disused sports stadium and conduct athletic competitions. Talmud Torah is the Public free school for poor and orphaned boys, who are there given an elementary education in Hebrew, the Scriptures (especially the Pentateuch), and the Talmud (Halakah), and are thus prepared for the Yeshibah. ... A synagogue (from ancient Greek: , transliterated synagogÄ“, assembly; ‎ beit knesset, house of assembly; Yiddish: or Template:Lanh-he beit tefila, house of prayer, shul; Ladino: , esnoga) is a Jewish house of worship. ... When a Jewish child reaches the age of maturity (12 years and one day for girls, 13 years and one day for boys) that child becomes responsible for him/herself under Jewish law; at this point a boy is said to become Bar Mitzvah (בר מצו&#1493... Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) was an Italian Fascist youth organization functioning, as an addition to school education, between 1926 and 1937 (the year it was absorbed into the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio, GIL, a youth section of the National Fascist Party). ... Italian fascism (in Italian, fascismo) was the authoritarian political movement which ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. ... In the United States, a drill team is a marching unit that performs military style maneuvers in parades, at air shows, football half-time shows, and other ceremonies. ... A shaped, twin-tip alpine ski. ...

In July 1934 at the age of 14, he sat his exams for the Massimo d'Azeglio liceo classico, a Lyceum (sixth form) specialising in the classics and was admitted in the autumn. The school was noted for its well-known anti-Fascist teachers, amongst them Norberto Bobbio, and for a few months Cesare Pavese, also an anti-Fascist and later to become one of Italy's best-known novelists.[9] Levi continued to be bullied during his time at the Lyceum although he was now in a class with six other Jews[10]. On reading Concerning the Nature of Things by Sir William Bragg it was during this time that Levi decided that he wanted to be a chemist[11]. Levi matriculated from the school in 1937 despite being accused of ignoring a call-up to the Italian Royal Navy the week before his exams were due to begin. As a result of this incident, and possibly some antisemitic bias in the marking, Levi had to retake his Italian paper. At the end of the summer he passed his exams and in October he enrolled at the University of Turin, to study chemistry. The registered intake of eighty hopefuls spent three months taking lectures in preparation for their colloquio or oral examination when the eighty would be reduced to twenty. The following February Levi graduated onto the full-time chemistry course. Liceo classico is a secondary school type in Italy. ... A Lyceum can be an educational institution (often a school of secondary education in Europe), or a public hall used for cultural events like concerts. ... For other uses, see Classics (disambiguation). ... Members of the Dutch Eindhoven Resistance with troops of the US 101st Airborne in Eindhoven in September 1944. ... Norberto Bobbio (October 18, 1909 – January 9, 2004) was an Italian philosopher of law and political sciences and an historian of political thought. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Sir William Henry Bragg (July 2, 1862 - March 10, 1942) was an English physicist, educated at King Williams College, Isle of Man, and Trinity College, Cambridge. ... A chemist pours from a round-bottom flask. ... The Italian Regia Marina (literally: Royal Navy) dates from the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after Italian unification. ... The University of Turin (Italian Università degli Studi di Torino, UNITO) is the university of Turin in the Piedmont region of north-western Italy. ...

Although Italy was a Fascist country, and antisemitism took place, there was little real discrimination towards Jews in the 1930’s. Historically one of the most assimilated Jewish societies, the gentile Italians, up until the outbreak of hostilities, either ignored or subverted any racial laws which they saw as being imposed by the Germans. This all changed in July 1938 when the Fascist government introduced racial laws which, amongst other things, prohibited Jewish citizens from attending state schools. Jewish students who had begun their course of study were permitted to continue it, but new Jewish students were barred from entering university. It was therefore fortuitous that Levi had matriculated a year early, otherwise he would not have been permitted to take a degree. This box:      Antisemitism (alternatively spelled anti-semitism or anti-Semitism) is discrimination, hostility or prejudice directed at Jews. ... Italian fascism (in Italian, fascismo) was the authoritarian political movement which ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. ...

In 1939 Levi began his love affair with hiking in the mountains[12]. His friend Sandro Delmaestro taught him how to hike and they spent many week-ends in the mountains above Turin. He found the physical exertion, the risk and the battle with the elements gave him an outlet for all the frustrations in his life. In June 1940 Italy declared war against Britain and France, and the first air raids on Turin began two days later. Levi’s studies continued during the bombardments, and an additional strain on the family was imposed when his father became bedridden with bowel cancer. Two hikers in the Mount Hood National Forest Eagle Creek hiking Hiking is a form of walking, undertaken with the specific purpose of exploring and enjoying the scenery. ... Strategic bombing is a military strategem used in a total war style campaign that attempts to destroy the economic ability of a nation-state to wage war. ... Diagram of the stomach, colon, and rectum Colorectal cancer includes cancerous growths in the colon, rectum and appendix. ...

However because of the antisemitic laws, and the increasing intensity of prevalent Fascism, Levi had difficulty finding a supervisor for his graduation thesis which was on the subject of Walden inversion, a study of the asymmetry of the carbon atom. Eventually taken on by Dr. Nicolo Dallaporta he graduated in the summer of 1941 with full marks and merit, having submitted additional theses on X Rays and Electrostatic Energy. His degree certificate bore the remark, "of Jewish race". The racial laws also prevented Levi from finding a suitable permanent position after he had graduated. In chemistry Walden inversion is the inversion of configuration of a chiral centre in a molecule in a chemical reaction. ... For other uses, see Carbon (disambiguation). ...

In December 1941 Levi was approached and clandestinely offered a job at an asbestos mine at San Vittore. The project he was given was to extract nickel from the mine spoil, a challenge he accepted with pleasure. It was not lost on Levi that should he be successful he would be aiding the German war effort which was suffering nickel shortages in the production of armaments[13]. The job required Levi to work under a false name with false papers. In March 1942 whilst he was working at the mine Levi’s father died. San Vittore is a municipality in the district of Moesa, in the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. ... General Name, symbol, number nickel, Ni, 28 Chemical series transition metals Group, period, block 10, 4, d Appearance lustrous, metallic and silvery with a gold tinge Standard atomic weight 58. ...

In June 1942, due to the deteriorating situation in Turin, Levi left the mine and went to work in Milan. He had been recruited through a fellow student at Turin University who was now working for the Swiss firm of A Wander Ltd on a project to extract an anti-diabetic from vegetable matter. He could take the job because the racial laws did not apply to Swiss companies. It soon became clear that the project had no chance of succeeding, but it was in no one's interest to say so[14]. For other uses, see Milan (disambiguation). ...

In September 1943, after the Italian government under Marshal Pietro Badoglio signed an armistice with the Allies, the former leader Benito Mussolini was rescued from imprisonment by the Germans and installed as head of the Italian Social Republic, a puppet state in German-occupied northern Italy. Levi returned home to Turin to find his mother and sister who had taken refuge in their holiday home La Saccarello in the hills outside Turin. They all then embarked to Saint-Vincent in the Aosta Valley where they could be hidden. Being pursued by the authorities they moved up the hillside to Amay in the Colle di Joux. Amay was on the route to Switzerland being followed by Allied soldiers and refugees trying to escape the Germans. The Italian resistance movement became increasingly active in the German-occupied zone. Levi and a number of comrades took to the foothills of the Alps and in October joined the liberal Giustizia e Libertà partisan movement. Completely untrained for such a venture, he and his companions were quickly arrested by the Fascist militia. When told he would be shot as a partisan or deported as a Jew he confessed to being Jewish and was then sent to an internment camp for Jews at Fossoli near Modena. Pietro Badoglio (September 28, 1871 - November 1, 1956) was an Italian soldier and politician. ... Mussolini redirects here. ... The daring rescue of Benito Mussolini by German special forces in World War II. ... Anthem Giovinezza (The Youth)¹ Capital Salò Language(s) Italian Religion Roman Catholicism Government Republic Head of State Benito Mussolini Historical era World War II  - Established September 23, 1943  - Disestablished April 25, 1945 ¹ External link The Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI) was a Nazi puppet state led by... The Aosta region of Italy Saint-Vincent is a town and comune in the Aosta Valley region of north-western Italy. ... The Aosta Valley (Italian: Valle dAosta, French: Vallée dAoste, Arpitan: Val dOuta) is a mountainous Region in north-western Italy. ... Partisans parading in Milan The Italian resistance movement was a partisan force during World War II. // After Italys capitulation on 8 September 1943, the Italian resistance movement became massive. ... JUSTICE AND LIBERTY(1929-1945). ... MVSN can mean several things: 1. ... Partisans parading in Milan The Italian resistance movement was a partisan force during World War II. It became massive after the capitulation of the Italian Royal Army on September 8, 1943. ... Modena (Mòdna in Modenese dialect) is a city and a province on the south side of the Po valley, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. ...


On February 11, 1944, the inmates of the camp were transported to Auschwitz in twelve cramped cattle trucks. Levi spent eleven months there before the camp was liberated by the Red Army. Of the 650 Italian Jews in his shipment, Levi was one of only twenty who left the camps alive. The average life expectancy of a new entrant was three months. is the 42nd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1944 (MCMXLIV) was a leap year starting on Saturday (link will display full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Auschwitz (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was the largest of the Nazi German concentration camps. ... For other organizations known as the Red Army, see Red Army (disambiguation). ...

Levi survived because of a conjunction of circumstances. He knew some German from reading German publications on chemistry; he quickly oriented himself to life in the camp without attracting the attention of the privileged inmates; he used bread to pay a more experienced Italian prisoner for German lessons and orientation in Auschwitz; and he received a smuggled soup ration each day from Lorenzo Perrone, an Italian civilian bricklayer. His professional qualifications were also useful: in mid-November 1944 he was able to secure a position as an assistant in the Buna laboratory that was intended to produce synthetic rubber, and therefore avoided hard labour in freezing temperatures outdoors. Shortly before the camp was liberated, he fell ill with scarlet fever and was placed in the camp's sanatorium. This was a fortuitous development: in mid-January 1945 the SS hurriedly evacuated the camp as the Red Army approached, forcing all but the gravely ill on a long death march that led to the death of the vast majority of the remaining prisoners. Levi's illness spared him this fate. Penal labour or penal servitude is a form of unfree labour. ... SS redirects here. ... For the use of this term in the software development industry, see death march (software development). ...

Although liberated on 27 January 1945, Levi did not reach Turin until 19 October of that year. After spending some time in a Soviet camp for former concentration camp inmates, he embarked on a long and arduous journey home in the company of former Italian prisoners of war from the Italian Army in Russia. His long railway journey home to Turin took him on a circuitous route from Poland, through Russia, Romania, Hungary, Austria and Germany. is the 27th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1945 (MCMXLV) was a common year starting on Monday (link will display the full calendar). ... is the 292nd day of the year (293rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... CCCP redirects here. ...

Writing career


Levi was almost unrecognisable on his return to Turin. Malnutrition oedema had bloated his face, sporting a scrawny beard and wearing an old Red Army uniform he arrived back at Corso Re Umberto. The next few months gave him an opportunity to recover physically, re-establish contact with surviving friends and family and to start looking for work. However Levi was understandably suffering from psychological trauma. Having been unable to find work in Turin he started to look for work in Milan. On his train journeys he started to tell people he met stories about his time at Auschwitz. At a Jewish New Year party in 1946 he met Lucia Morpurgo who offered to teach him to dance. Levi fell in love with Lucia. At about this time he started writing poetry about his experiences in the Lager.

On January 21, 1946 he started work at DUCO, a Du Pont Company paint factory, outside Turin. As the train service out to the factory was so limited Levi stayed in the factory dormitory during the week, which gave him the opportunity to write undisturbed. It was here that he started to write down the first draft of If This is a Man[15]. Every day he would scribble down notes on train tickets and scraps of paper as memories came to him. At the end of February he had ten pages detailing the last ten days between the German evacuation and the arrival of the Red Army. For the next ten months the book took shape in his dormitory as he typed up his recollections each night.

On December 22, 1946 the manuscript was complete. Lucia, who now reciprocated Primo’s love, helped him to edit it to make the narrative flow more naturally[16]. In January 1947 Primo was taking the finished manuscript around publishers, but the wounds he was describing were still too fresh and he had no literary experience to give him a reputation as an author.

Eventually Levi found a publisher, Franco Antonicelli, through a friend of his sister’s[17]. Antonicelli was an amateur publisher, but as an active anti-Fascist he was supportive of the idea of the book. At the end of June 1947 Levi suddenly left DUCO and teamed up with an old friend Alberto Salmoni, to run a chemical consultancy from the top floor of Salmoni’s parent’s house. Many of Levi’s experiences of this time found their way into his later writing. They made most of their money from making and supplying stannous chloride for mirror makers[18], delivering the unstable chemical by bicycle across the city. The attempts to make lipsticks from reptile excreta and a coloured enamel to coat teeth were turned into short stories. Accidents in their laboratory filled the Salmoni house with vile smells and corrosive gases.

In September 1947 Primo married Lucia and a month later on the 11th October If This is a Man was published with a print run of 2000 copies. In April 1948, with Lucia pregnant with their first child, Primo decided that the life of an independent chemist was too precarious and agreed to go and work for Federico Accatti in the family paint business which traded under the name SIVA. In October 1948 Levi’s first child, his daughter Lisa, was born.

Although life was definitely improving there were still painful incidents in his life, particularly when one of his friends from Auschwitz was in trouble or had died. Lorenzo Perrone was the man to whom Levi owed most. His story is well told in If This is a Man, but without Lorenzo bringing Primo soup every day, at great personal risk, Levi was unlikely to have survived the Lager. After the war Lorenzo could not cope with the memories of what he saw and descended into living rough and alcoholism. Levi made several trips to rescue his old friend from the streets, but in 1952 Lorenzo died as a result of the lack of care he took of himself[19].

In 1950, having demonstrated his ample chemical talents to Accatti he was made Technical Director at SIVA[20]. As SIVA’s principal chemist and trouble shooter Levi travelled abroad. He made several trips to Germany and carefully engineered his contacts with senior German businessmen and scientists. Wearing short sleeved shirts he made sure they saw his prison camp number tattooed on his arm, and he engaged them on the depravity of the Nazis and the lack of redemption sought by most Germans, many of whom at that time had been involved in the exploitation of slave labour.

He was also involved in organisations pledged to remembering the horror of the camps. In 1954 he visited Buchenwald to mark the 9th anniversary of the camps liberation from the Nazis. There were many such anniversaries over the years and Levi dutifully attended them to tell and retell his memories. In July 1957 his son Renzo was born, almost certainly named after his saviour Lorenzo Perrone.

Despite a positive review by Italo Calvino in L'Unità, only 1,500 copies of If This is a Man were sold. Levi had to wait till 1958 before Einaudi published it, in a revised form. Italo Calvino, on the cover of Lezioni americane: Sei proposte per il prossimo millennio Italo Calvino (October 15, 1923 – September 19, 1985) (pronounced ) was an Italian writer and novelist. ... LUnità is an Italian newspaper, published by Democrats of the Left. ... Year 1958 (MCMLVIII) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ...

In 1958 Stuart Woolf, in close collaboration with Levi, translated If This is a Man into English and it was published in the UK in 1959 by Orion Press. Also in 1959 Heinz Riedt, also under close supervision by Levi[21], translated it into German. As one of Levi’s primary reasons for writing the book was to get the German nation to realise what had been done in its name, and to accept at least partial responsibility, this translation was perhaps the most significant.


Levi began writing The Truce early in 1961 and it was published in 1963, almost 16 years after his first book, and the same year it won the first annual Premio Campiello literary award. It is often published in one volume with If This Is a Man, as it covers his long return from Auschwitz. Levi's reputation was growling. He regularly contributed articles to La Stampa, the Turin newspaper. He wished to be known as a writer about other subjects. The Premio Campiello is a prestigious Italian literary prize awarded every year. ... La Stampa is one of the best-known and most widely sold Italian daily newspapers, published in Turin and distributed in Italy and in other nations in Europe. ...

Also in 1963 came his first major bout of depression. At the time he had two young children, a responsible job at a factory where accidents could and did have terrible consequences, he travelled, became a public figure, and yet the memory of what happened less than twenty years earlier still burned in his brain. Today we recognise the link between stress and depression, but then it was not the case. Also the drugs available to him, several of which he was prescribed over the years, had variable efficacy and side effects.

In 1964 he collaborated on a radio play based upon If This is a Man with RAI, and in 1966 with a theatre production. He published two volumes of science fiction short stories under the pen name of Damiano Malabaila which explored ethical and philosophical questions as well as imagining the impact upon society of inventions which many would consider beneficial, but which, he saw, would have serious implications. Many of the stories from the two books Storie naturali (Natural Histories) published in 1966 and Vizio di forma (Structural Defect) published in 1971 were later released in English as The Sixth Day and other Tales.

In 1974 he arranged to go into semi-retirement from SIVA in order to allow him more time to write, as well as removing the burden of responsibility for managing the paint plant[22].


In 1975 a collection of Levi’s poetry was published under the title L’osteria di Brema (The Bremen Beer Hall, published in English as Shema:Collected Poems).

He also wrote two other highly praised memoirs, Lilit e altri racconti (in English as Moments of Reprieve) was published in 1978 and Il sistema periodico (The Periodic Table) in 1975. Moments of Reprieve deals with characters he observed during imprisonment. The Periodic Table is a collection of short pieces, mostly episodes from his life but also two fictional short stories that he wrote before his time in Auschwitz, all related in some way to one of the chemical elements. At London's Royal Institution on 19 October 2006 it was voted “the best science book ever written”.[23]

Levi retired as a part-time consultant at the SIVA paint factory in 1977 to devote himself full-time to writing. Like all of his books La chiave a stella (1978) (published in the US in 1986 as The Monkey's Wrench and in the UK in 1987 as The Wrench) is problematical to categorise. In some reviews it is described as a collection of stories about work and workers told by a narrator, Faussone, resembling Levi himself. Others have called it a novel as each story told has common characters throughout and a chronological narrative. Based upon the Fiat run town in Russia called Togliattigrad, it shows the engineer, or rigger to be precise, as a hero on whom others depend. The underlying philosophy is that to have pride in ones work is necessary for a fulfilled life. The Piedmontese rigger Faussone, travels the world as an expert in erecting cranes and bridges. This work aroused criticism from left wing critics, because he did not write about the working conditions on the assembly lines at FIAT[24]. However, it brought him a wider audience in Italy and The Wrench won the Strega Prize in 1979. Amici della Domenica The Strega Prize (Premio Strega) has been awarded annually since 1947 for the best work of prose fiction by an Italian author and first published between 1 May of the previous year and 30 April. ...

In 1984 his only novel, If Not Now, When? (in Italian, Se non ora, quando) was published. It traces the fortunes of a group of Jewish partisans behind German lines during World War II as they seek to continue their fight against the occupier and survive. With the idea of reaching Palestine, to take part in the construction of the Jewish national home there clearly their ultimate objective, the partisan band reaches Poland and then German territory before the surviving members are officially received in territory held by the Western allies as displaced persons. Finally, they succeed in reaching Italy, on their way to Palestine. The novel won both the Premio Campiello and the Premio Viareggio. The book had its origin in Levi’s train journey home, narrated in The Truce. At one point in the journey a band of Zionists hitch their own wagon to the refugee train. Levi was impressed by their strength, resolve, organisation and sense of purpose. This article is about the year. ... Jewish partisans were fighters in irregular military groups participating in the Jewish resistance movement against Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. A number of Jewish partisan groups operated across Nazi-occupied Europe, some comprised of a few escapees from the Jewish ghettos or concentration camps, while others... This article is about the geographical area known as Palestine. ... The book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896) by Theodor Herzl. ... A displaced person (sometimes abbreviated DP) is the general term for someone who has been forced to leave his or her native place, a phenomenon known as forced migration. ... The Premio Campiello is a prestigious Italian literary prize awarded every year. ... The Viareggio Literary Prize is a prestigious Italian literary award, started in 1930, and is named after the Tuscan city of Viareggio. ...

Levi became a major literary figure in Italy. The Truce became a set text in Italian schools. His books were regularly translated into many other languages. In 1985, he flew to America for a speaking tour of twenty days. The trip, on which he was accompanied by Lucia, was very draining for him. In the Soviet Union his early works were not acceptable to censors because of their portrayal of the Soviet soldiers as human and disorderly, rather than heroic. In Israel, a country formed partly by refugees who escaped from Germany and Poland through Italy to Palestine along the same railway route as Levi, Levi's works were not translated until after his death.

In March 1985 he wrote the introduction to the re-publication of the autobiography[25] of Rudolf Höß who was commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940 to 1943. In it he writes "It's filled with evil.....and reading it is agony". Not to be confused with Rudolf Hess. ...

Also in 1985 a volume of essays, previously published in La Stampa, were published under the title L’altrui mestiere (Other People’s Trades). Levi used to write these stories and hoard them away, releasing them to La Stampa at the rate of almost one a week. The essays ranged from book reviews, ponderings about strange things in nature to fictional short stories. In 1986 his book I sommersi e I salvati (The Drowned and the Saved), was published. In it he tried to analyse why people behaved the way they did at Auschwitz, and why some survived whilst others perished. In his typical style he makes no judgments, he only presents the evidence and asks the questions. As an example, one of his essays in this book examines what he calls “The Grey Area” those Jews who did the Germans dirty work for them and kept the rest of the prisoners in line. What made a concert violinist behave as a callous task master?

Also in 1986 another collection of short stories, previously published in La Stampa, was assembled and published as Racconti e saggi (some of which were published in the English volume The Mirror Maker).

At the time of his death, in April 1987, he was working on another selection of essays called The Double Bond which took the form of letters to "La Signorina"[26]. These essays are very personal in nature. Approximately five or six chapters of this manuscript exist. Carole Angier, in her biography of Levi, describes how she tracked some of these essays down, but that others were being kept away from public view by Levi’s close friends, to whom he distributed them, and they may even be destroyed.

In March 2007 Harper's Magazine published an English translation of Levi's story Knall, about a fictitious weapon that is fatal at close range but harmless more than a meter away. It originally appeared in his 1971 book Vizio di forma, but was published in English for the first time by Harper's.

A Tranquil Star, a collection of seventeen stories translated into English by Ann Goldstein and Alessandra Bastagli [1][2] was published in April 2007.

There are several reasons why Levi’s semi-autobiographical work is admired so much. One of the reasons is that it is so readable, but to get to this stage some of the events had to be edited in order to make the narrative flow. Levi was primarily concerned with getting the true story across and if this required amalgamating two people into one character, then he would do so. This did not undermine the authority of his work which is still one of the most accurate and chilling testimonies of a Jewish slave labourer under the Nazis.

Views on Nazism and Antisemitism

What drove Levi to write If This Is a Man was a desire to bear witness to the horrors of the Nazis' attempt to exterminate the Jewish people. He read many accounts of witnesses and survivors and attended meetings of survivors, becoming in the end a symbolic figure for anti-fascists in Italy.

Levi visited over 130 schools to talk about his experiences in Auschwitz. He was shocked by revisionist attitudes that tried to rewrite the history of the camps as less horrific, what is now referred to as Holocaust denial. His view was that the Nazi death camps and the attempted annihilation of the Jews was a horror unique in history because the aim was the complete destruction of a race by one that saw itself as superior; it was highly organized and mechanized; it entailed the degradation of Jews even to the point of using their ashes as materials for paths.[27] Richard Harwoods Did Six Million Really Die? Holocaust denial is the claim that the mainstream historical version of the Holocaust is either highly exaggerated or completely falsified. ...

With the publication in the late 1960s and 1970s of the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the world became aware that the Soviet regime used camps (gulags) to repress dissidents who might be imprisoned for as much as twenty years. There were similarities with the Lager; the hard physical work and poor rations. Levi rejected, however, the idea that the Gulag Archipelago and the system of the Nazi Lager (German: Vernichtungslager; see Nazi concentration camps) were equivalent. The death rate in the gulags was estimated at 30% at worst, he wrote, while in the Lager he estimated it was 90-98%.[28] The aim of the Lager was to eliminate the Jewish race. No one was excluded. No-one could renounce Judaism; the Nazis treated Jews as a racial group rather than a religious one. Many children were taken to the camps, and almost all died.[29]The purpose of the Nazi camps was not the same as that of the Soviet gulags, Levi wrote in an appendix of If this is a Man, though it is a "lugubrious comparison between two models of hell".[30] Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (Russian: , IPA:  ; born December 11, 1918) is a Russian novelist, dramatist and historian. ... The Gulag Archipelago. ... Piles of bodies in a liberated Nazi concentration camp in Germany Prior to and during World War II, Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (Konzentrationslager, abbreviated KZ or KL) throughout the territories it controlled. ...

Levi himself, along with most of Turin's Jewish intellectuals, was not religiously observant. It was the Fascist race laws and the Nazi camps that made him feel Jewish. Levi writes in clear almost scientific style about his experiences in Auschwitz, showing no lasting hatred of the Germans. This has led some commentators to suggest that he had forgiven them, though Levi denied this.


Levi died on April 11, 1987, when he fell from the interior landing of his third-story apartment in Turin to the ground floor below, leading to speculation that he had killed himself. Elie Wiesel said at the time that "Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years later." is the 101st day of the year (102nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1987 (MCMLXXXVII) was a common year starting on Thursday (link displays 1987 Gregorian calendar). ... Eliezer Wiesel KBE (commonly known as Elie Wiesel, born September 30, 1928)[1] is a Romanian-born French-Jewish novelist, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. ...

Principal biographers (Angier, Thomson) agree with the coroner's verdict that Levi committed suicide. In his later life Levi indicated he was suffering from depression: factors may have included responsibility for his elderly mother and mother-in-law, living in the same apartment, concerns for his own health and memory, and genetic disposition. For other uses, see Suicide (disambiguation). ...

However, Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta has made a detailed case [3] that the conventional assumption of Levi's death by 'suicide' is not well justified by either factual or inferred evidence. Levi left no suicide note, and no other clear indication of an intended attempt on his own life; documents and testimony, rather, indicate immediate and ongoing plans at the time of his death. The likelihood of an accident is itself bolstered by clear circumstantial evidence.

The importance of Levi's manner of death is historical in that his work, much of which openly personal in content, is commonly interpreted as a powerful affirmation of life in the face of organised forces of war and brutality: thus whether he died by accident or by intent has been seen to imply a final comment on the validity of his own essentially affirmative message. Wiesel's interpretation has to date been accepted: whether this is factually based or a romanticised premise requires further research.

What remains beyond question are the lucidity, positivity and humanism of his works, which stand, in principle, independent from the circumstances of his death.

Popular culture references

  • A quotation from Levi appears on the sleeve of popular Welsh rock band The Manic Street Preachers second album, Gold Against the Soul. The quote's origin is from Levi's poem "Song of Those Who Died In Vain". In an interview for the TV programme "The Soup" in 1993, Manics guitarist Richey Edwards said that "Primo Levi was a beautiful person."
  • "Primo on the Parapet" is a song by Peter Hammill dedicated to Primo Levi. The refrain says:

Here's a toast to Primo, let's learn not to forget. Here's a toast to Primo, forgive but don't to forget. The Manic Street Preachers are a Welsh rock band, one of the biggest in Britain for a period in the late 1990s, known for their early wild exploits; the mysterious disappearance and alleged suicide of Richey James Edwards (Richey James, as he preferred to be known); and for a progression... Gold Against the Soul is the second album by Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers released on June 20, 1993. ... Richey James Edwards Richey James Edwards is the missing member of the Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers. ... Peter Joseph Andrew Hammill (born 5 November 1948) is an English singer-songwriter, and a founding member of progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. ...

  • An Israeli rock band named itself Primo Levy. [4]
  • David Blaine has Primo Levi's concentration camp number, 174517, from Auschwitz tattooed on his left forearm.
  • A song by the German band Heaven Shall Burn is called If This Is a Man in honour of Primo Levi's book.
  • In the Academy Award winning 2003 film by Denys Arcand, Les Invasions Barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), the main character expresses outrage at the apparent apathy of the Roman Catholic Church during World War II toward the Holocaust: "Que votre Pie XII soit resté assis sur son cul dans son Vatican doré pendant qu'on amenait Primo Lévi à Auschwitz [...] C'est abject, c'est immonde!!" which translates to: "Pius XII sitting on his ass in his gilded Vatican, while Primo Levi was taken to Auschwitz... It's despicable! Hideous!". Later in the same film, a French edition of If This Is A Man (Si c'est un homme) is prominently shown on the same character's bookshelf.

David Blaine (born David Blaine White on April 4, 1973 in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.) is an American illusionist and stunt performer. ... Although he never won an Oscar for any of his movie performances, the comedian Bob Hope received two honorary Oscars for his contributions to cinema. ... Year 2003 (MMIII) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Georges-Henri Denys Arcand, C.C., C.Q. born June 25, 1941 in Deschambault, Quebec, Canada is an Academy Award winning film director, screenwriter and producer. ... The Barbarian Invasions (French: Les Invasions barbares) is a French Canadian comedy/drama film directed by Denys Arcand. ... Catholic Church redirects here. ... Combatants Allied powers: China France Great Britain Soviet Union United States and others Axis powers: Germany Italy Japan and others Commanders Chiang Kai-shek Charles de Gaulle Winston Churchill Joseph Stalin Franklin Roosevelt Adolf Hitler Benito Mussolini Hideki Tōjō Casualties Military dead: 17,000,000 Civilian dead: 33,000... For other uses, see Holocaust (disambiguation) and Shoah (disambiguation). ... Auschwitz, in English, commonly refers to the Auschwitz concentration camp complex built near the town of Oświęcim, by Nazi Germany during World War II. Rarely, it may refer to the Polish town of Oświęcim (called by the Germans Auschwitz) itself. ... The Venerable Pius XII, born Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Eugenio Pacelli (Rome, March 2, 1876 - October 9, 1958) served as the Pope from March 2, 1939 to 1958. ...


Title Year Type English language translations
Se questo è un uomo 1947 and 1958 Memories If This Is a Man (US: Survival in Auschwitz)
La tregua 1963 Memories The Truce (US: The Reawakening)
Storie naturali (as Damiano Malabaila) 1966 Short stories The Sixth Day and Other Tales
Vizio di forma 1971 Short stories Mainly in The Sixth Day and Other Tales. Some stories are in A Tranquil Star
Il sistema periodico 1975 Short stories The Periodic Table
L'osteria di Brema 1975 Poems In Collected Poems (Primo Levi)
Lilìt e altri racconti 1978 Short stories Part 1: Moments of Reprieve. Some stories from Parts 2 and 3 are in A Tranquil Star
La chiave a stella 1978 Novel The Wrench (US: The Monkey's Wrench)
La ricerca delle radici 1981 Personal anthology The Search for Roots: A Personal Anthology
Se non ora, quando? 1984 Novel If Not Now, When?
Ad ora incerta 1984 Poems In Collected Poems (Primo Levi)
L'altrui mestiere 1985 Essays Other People's Trades
I sommersi e i salvati 1986 Essays The Drowned and the Saved
Racconti e Saggi 1986 Essays The Mirror Maker
Conversazioni e interviste 1963-1987 1997 Various (posthumous) Conversations with Primo Levi and The Voice of Memory: Interviews, 1961-1987
2005 Essays (posthumous) The Black Hole of Auschwitz
2006 Factual (posthumous) Auschwitz Report
2007 Short stories (posthumous) A Tranquil Star

If This is a Man is a book by the Italian author Primo Levi. ... The Truce (Italian title: La tregun) is a book by the Italian author Primo Levi. ... A collection of short stories, originally published in Storie naturali and Vizio di forma. ... A collection of short stories, originally published in Storie naturali and Vizio di forma. ... A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories of Primo Levi is a 2007 anthology of short stories by the Italian writer Primo Levi. ... The elements that are titles of the stories. ... This is the principal English language collection of poems by the Italian author Primo Levi. ... Moments of Reprieve is a book of autobiographical character studies/vignettes by Primo Levi. ... A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories of Primo Levi is a 2007 anthology of short stories by the Italian writer Primo Levi. ... The Wrench, published in the US under the title of The Monkeys Wrench was one of Primo Levis two novels (the other being If Not Now When). ... If Not Now, When? is the English title of the Italian novelist Primo Levis 1982 novel, Se non ora, quando?. It recounts the saga of numerous members of a Jewish Resistance Movement in Nazi-occupied Russia and Poland during World War II. It is one of the key war... This is the principal English language collection of poems by the Italian author Primo Levi. ... Other Peoples Trades (Italian:Laltrui mestiere)) are forty three essays written by Primo Levi between 1969 and 1985. ... The Drowned and the Saved is a book of essays on life in the German Vernichtungslager (extermination camps) drawing on author Primo Levis own experience as a prisoner at Auschwitz. ... This is a collection of stories and essays by Italian author Primo Levi originally published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa. ... This book is a collection of essays by the Italian author Primo Levi. ... Whilst in a Russian holding camp in Katowice in 1945 Levi and de Benedetti were asked by the Russian authorities to document the living conditions in Auschwitz. ... A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories of Primo Levi is a 2007 anthology of short stories by the Italian writer Primo Levi. ...

Notes and references

  1. ^ Socialist Review, January 1997.
  2. ^ Angier p50.
  3. ^ Angier p50.
  4. ^ Angier p44.
  5. ^ Angier p62.
  6. ^ Thomson p40.
  7. ^ Thomson p42.
  8. ^ Thomson p48.
  9. ^ It often reported that Pavese was Levi's teacher of Italian. This myth is refuted strongly by Thomson (2002).
  10. ^ Thomson p55.
  11. ^ The Search for Roots p31
  12. ^ Thomson p93.
  13. ^ Angier p174.
  14. ^ Thomson p119.
  15. ^ Thomson p229.
  16. ^ Thomson p241.
  17. ^ Thomson p246.
  18. ^ Thomson p249.
  19. ^ Thomson p246.
  20. ^ Angier p487
  21. ^ Thomson p287.
  22. ^ Thomson p366.
  23. ^ The Guardian, 21 October 2006
  24. ^ Thomson p400.
  25. ^ Commandant of Auschwitz : Rudolf Höß. ISBN 1 84212 024 7
  26. ^ Angier p80.
  27. ^ The Drowned and the Saved (1986) Abacus edition (1988)p.100.
  28. ^ . Levi gives no source for these figures. Appendix to an Italian schools edition of Se questo è un uomo, section 6, reprinted in; Se questo è un uomo, La tregua; Einaudi, Torino (1989)p.340
  29. ^ Appendix to an Italian schools edition of Se questo è un uomo, section 6, reprinted in: Se questo è un uomo- La tregua Einaudi, Torino (1989) p.339 ".....nei Lager tedeschi la strage era pressoché totale: non si fermava neppure davanti ai bambini, che furono uccisi nelle camere a gas a centinaia di migliaia, cosa unica fra tutte le attrocità della storia umana."
  30. ^ (Abacus 2001 edition, p. 391)
  • Angier, Carole (2002). The Double Bond: Primo Levi: A Biography. London: Penguin. ISBN 0140165878. 
  • Anissimov, Myriam. Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist. 
  • Thomson, Ian (2002). Primo Levi. London: Hutchison. ISBN 0091785316. 
  • Vincenti, Fiora (1981). Primo Levi. Milan: Mursia. 
  • Gordon, Robert (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Primo Levi. Cambridge: Cambridge. ISBN 9780521604611. 

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Primo Levi
NAME Levi, Primo
SHORT DESCRIPTION Italian chemist, memoirist, short story writer, novelist, essayist
DATE OF BIRTH 31 July 1919
DATE OF DEATH 11 April 1987

  Results from FactBites:
Primo Levi (225 words)
Levi was born in Turin in 1919 and was trained as a chemist.
Levi's experiences in the death camp and in his subsequent travels through Eastern Europe are the subject of his two classic memoirs, If This Is A Man and The Truce (republished as Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening).
Levi retired from his position as manager of a Turin chemical factory in 1977 to devote himself full time to writing.
LitWeb.net (694 words)
Levi devoted the last forty years of his life attempting to deal with the fact that he was not killed in Auschwitz.
Levi took up his work as a chemist, living in a stately old building that his family had occupied for three generations.
Levi's alert moral consciousness blocked any hate for the oppressors, in spite of the brutality to which he was subjected.
  More results at FactBites »



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