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If This Is a Man (1947)

by Primo Levi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Auschwitz Trilogy (1)

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6,031981,609 (4.32)206
In 1943, Primo Levi, a 25-year-old chemist and "Italian citizen of Jewish race," was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. This is Levi's classic account of his ten months in the German death camp, a harrowing story of systematic cruelty and miraculous endurance. Remarkable for its simplicity, restraint, compassion, and even wit, Survival in Auschwitz remains a lasting testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit. Included in this new edition is an illuminating conversation between Philip Roth and Primo Levi never before published in book form.--From publisher description.… (more)
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» See also 206 mentions

English (72)  Italian (9)  Spanish (5)  Dutch (5)  French (3)  Catalan (2)  Swedish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (98)
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
I’ve meant to read this book by Holocaust survivor [[Primo Levi]] for years. Jews, no matter their personal beliefs, have been and seem to periodically continue to be victims of such devastating experiences as described by the author of his own time as a laborer while imprisoned in Auschwitz.

I read this book to express my solidarity with the pyschological pain and physical suffering of my people throughout history, past and present. It is a chilling, mind-blowing account of hatred and cruelty, of man’s inhumanity to man, told as one Italian Jewish man’s personal experience. Levi tells his story outright, by simply stating what he felt, thought, and saw without expressing emotion about it. If an individual wants to know what happened to those prisoners who remained alive in Auschwitz, this book is a compulsory read. I hope whoever does read it does so with compassion for the needless suffering of fellow men. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Feb 4, 2024 |
This is an account of the author’s sojourn in Auschwitz.

It is wonderfully written but horrifying.

Levi was 24 when he was captured by the Fascist Militia.

The men and women are divided. The men never see tthe women again. The men are divided into fit and unfit. They have a terrible thirst after having had nothing to drink for four days.

They have to take off all their clothes and shoes. They are “shaved and sheared”.

They are at a work-camp at Monovitz, near Auschwitz.

They have a shower in boiling water and are then given rags to wear and “broken-down" boots with wooden soles.

The water is not drinkable but they get watery soup every day.

They don’t understand what they are told and are thrust into the icy snow barefoot and naked with the clothing in their hands They run to the next hut and are finally permitted to get dressed in the rags.

They had reached the bottom. No human condition was more miserable than this.

Each man is “a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs.” “He who loses all often easily loses himself.” They had no name, only a number.

Primo is a “Häftling”. His number is 174517. The number is tattoed on his left arm.

Only by showing one’s number can one get bread and soup.

To the old hands of the camp, the numbers told everything – the period of entry into the camp, the convoy one formed a part of, and thus the nationality.

When they ask for something they are told “This is not a sanatorium.” “The only exit is by way of the chimney.” They soon learn what this means.

The camp is called the “Lager”. It is a square of about six hundred yards in length, surrounded by two fences of barbed wire, the inner one carrying a high tension current.

There are sixty wooden huts called Blocks.

There are two men in most of the bunks, which are portable planks of wood, each covered by a thin straw sack and two blankets.

The guests of the Lager are the criminals, the politicals and the Jews. They are all clothed in stripes, all are “Haftlinge”. The Jews, who form the large majority, wear the Jewish Star, red and yellow.









It is best to get a ladleful of soup from the bottom of the vat, as otherwise the soup is too watery.

Everything is liable to be stolen so they need to sleep with their head on a bundle made up of their jacket and all their possessions, including their bowl and shoes.

If one goes to the latrine or washroom, everything has to be carried along, and while one washes one’s face, the bundle of clothes has to be held tightly between one’s knees so as not to be stolen.

“Death begins with the shoes.” They can be instruments of torture which after a few hours of marching cause painful sores, which become totally infected.

Everybody walks except those who are ill. All hours of light are working hours.

Levi quickly gets numb sores on the back of his feet that will not heal.

His belly is swollen, his limbs emaciated, his face thick in the morning, hollow in the evening, Some have yellow skin, others grey.

The slab of bread “seems gigantic in your neighbour’s hand, but in your own hand so small as to make you cry”.

The floor of the washroom is covered by mud. The water is not drinkable and has a revolting smell. Often there is no water.

He is given work carrying coal sacks together with a man called “Null Achtzehn” - Zero Eighteen.

Null Achtzehn is no longer a man – he gives the impression of being empty inside. He is very young and indifferent to the point of not even troubling to avoid tiredness or blows or to search for food. He carries out all the orders he is given and when they send him to his death he will go with the same indifference.

Primo belongs to the category of “economically useful Jews”.

They have a medical examination. Afterwards a Pole says to him “Du Jude, kaput, Du schnell fertig.” (You Jew, finished, You soon ready for crematorium,)

His foot is wounded, and thus he goes to Ka-Be.

Ka-Be is an abbreviation of Krankenhaus, the Infirmary,

It is a life of limbo. It is not cold, there is no work to do, and unless you commit some fault, you are not beaten.

The bread is distributed at half-past five and one can cut it into thin slices and eat it lying down.

There is also an evening ration, served in bed.

One man gives Primo his spoon and knife as part of a group being led out with long hair and without being treated, without a shower, They are going to the crematorium.

After thirty days of Ka-Be, when his wound is practically healed, to his great displeasure, Primo is discharged,

Alfredo is his best friend, He is only 22, two years younger than Primo.

In the winter the nights are long and they are allowed a considerable interval of time to sleep.

In the winter, the men’s only purpose is to reach the Spring.

“The Lager is hunger; we ourselves are hunger. Living hunger.”

The word “Muselmann” is used to describe the weak, the inept, those doomed to selection .

The Muselmanner form the backbone of the camp, “an anonymous mass ---- of non-men who march and labour in silence, the divine spark dead within them, already too empty to really suffer”.

The men’s hunger is not the feeling of missing a meal and their way of being cold needs a new word.

“If the Lager had lasted longer, a new, harsh language would have been born; and only this language would express what it means to toil the whole day in the wind with the temperature below freezing, wearing only a shirt, underpants, cloth jacket and trousers and in one’s body nothing but weakness, hunger and knowledge of the end drawing nearer.”

The young tell the young that only the old ones will be chosen, The healthy tell the healthy that only the ill will be chosen.

The Germans and Poles go to work in rubber jackets, woollen ear-pads and padded overalls, and the English have wonderful fur-lined jackets.

In Primo’s Lager, except for a few of the privileged, they have distributed no overcoats, so they are left in their summer jackets.

Primo was chosen as one of the three Halftlinge for the chemical laboratory.

As a specialized worker, he has the right to a new shirt and underpants and must be shaved every Wednesday.

The temperature in the laboratory is wonderful – 65 degrees F.

They should suffer neither hunger nor cold this winter. This means they are not likely to fall seriously ill, nor be frozen.

But he gets scarlet fever and is sent to the Ka-Be. All the healthy prisoners are evacuated on January 18, 1945,

All the Germans leave. The towers are empty.

There was no more water or electricity; broken windows and doors were slamming in the wind.

They found two sacks with potatoes and also a cast-iron stove which they took to their hut in a wheelbarrow.

A broken window was repaired and the stove made to work, They had found wood and coal.

They had enough potatoes for two days only and had to melt the snow for water,

The Germans had left and they were free, but many men died The Russians arrived and now the prisoners had to find out how to get home.

This is a shocking account of the prisoners’ life in Auschwitz, Primo has written a sequel telling how he got home. ( )
  IonaS | Nov 27, 2023 |
Si esto es un hombre
Primo Levi
Publicado: 1947 | 200 páginas
Crónica Historia
Serie: Trilogía de Auschwitz #1

Si esto es un hombre, el libro que inaugura la trilogía que Primo Levi dedicó a los campos de exterminio, surgió en la imaginación de su autor durante los días de horror en Auschwitz, cuando la principal preocupación de los prisioneros era que, de sobrevivir, nadie creería la atrocidad de la historia vivida. Los campos de concentración y exterminio, más que resguardados por las alambradas y los guardias, lo estuvieron por su propia monstruosidad, que los hacía inconcebibles.
  libreriarofer | Nov 4, 2023 |
Libro de memorias, de memoria reciente pues se escribió un año después de sucedidos los hechos. Por tanto, vigorosamente testimonial. De una poderosa fuerza por lo que relata sin apelar al artificio expositivo. Contención: ésta palabra define el estilo, el lenguaje y el talante de “Si esto es un hombre”. Todo el relato es asépticamente descriptivo. Primo Levi se erige en testigo, incomprensiblemente imparcial o al menos aparentemente objetivo y desapasionado, de uno de los episodios más execrables que ha protagonizado el ser humano a lo largo de la historia. El autor no instila odio, no hay rencor en sus sobrias y mesuradas expresiones, ni ansias de revancha ni obsceno victimismo. Este posicionamiento infunde veracidad a todo el escrito aún cuando, algo improbable, el lector no conociera los hechos. Escrupulosamente riguroso, sólo describe lo que conoció como experiencia directa aunque posteriormente recabase más información sobre lo que pasaba en su proximidad.

En definitiva, Primo Levi no juzga porque “sólo así el testigo en un juicio cumple su función, que es la de preparar el terreno para el juez. Los jueces sois vosotros”. (Apéndice de 1976) Levi invita a la reflexión y, consecuentemente, a implicarse, a formular un veredicto; a adoptar una actitud ante las nuevas, que son viejas, formas de totalitarismo que continuamente brotan a nuestro alrededor. ( )
  GilgameshUruk | Jul 17, 2022 |
El mejor libro sobre el Holocausto? ( )
  Alvaritogn | Jul 1, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Levi, Primoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Causse, MichèleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Matteis-Vogels, FridaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miravitlles, FrancescTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riedt, HeinzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roth, PhilipAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schruoffeneger, MartineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Segre, CesareAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woolf, StuartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Voi che vivete sicuri
Nelle vostre tiepide case,
Voi che trovate tornando a sera
Il cibo caldo e visi amici:
Considerate se questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta per mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no.
Considerate se questa è una donna,
Senza capelli e senza nome
Senza più forza di ricordare
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo
Come una rana d'inverno.
Meditate che questo è stato:
Vi comando queste parole.
Scolpitele nel vostro cuore
Stando in casa andando per via,
Coricandovi alzandovi;
Ripetetele ai vostri figli.
O vi si sfaccia la casa,
La malattia vi impedisca,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi.
Dedication
First words
I was captured by the Fascist Militia on 13 December 1943.
Quotations
It seems to me unnecessary to add that none of the facts are invented.
Thus, in an instant, our women, our parents, our children disappeared. We saw them for a short while as an obscure mass at the end of the platform; then we saw nothing more.
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.
It is a Polish sun, cold, white and distant, and only warms the skin, but when it dissolved the last mists a murmur ran through our colourless numbers, and when even I felt its lukewarmth through my clothes, I understood how men can worship the sun.
Within its bounds not a blade of grass grows, and the soil is impregnated with the poisonous saps of coal and petroleum, and the only things alive are machines and slaves—and the former are more than the latter.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please distinguish between this Work, If This Is a Man, a/k/a Survival in Auschwitz (1947), and the following similarly-titled Works:
  • The anthology, If This Is a Man: Remembering Auschwitz, which includes The Truce, a/k/a The Reawakening (1963), and Moments of Reprieve; and

  • Se questo è un uomo: versione drammatica (1966), which is a dramatic version of Levi's original Work.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

In 1943, Primo Levi, a 25-year-old chemist and "Italian citizen of Jewish race," was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. This is Levi's classic account of his ten months in the German death camp, a harrowing story of systematic cruelty and miraculous endurance. Remarkable for its simplicity, restraint, compassion, and even wit, Survival in Auschwitz remains a lasting testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit. Included in this new edition is an illuminating conversation between Philip Roth and Primo Levi never before published in book form.--From publisher description.

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Book description
Se questo è un uomo è un libro di memorie di Primo Levi, pubblicato per la prima volta nel 1947. Il libro racconta l'esperienza dell'autore nel campo di concentramento di Auschwitz, dove fu deportato nel 1944.

Il libro è diviso in due parti. La prima parte, "Prima dell'alba", descrive il viaggio di Levi da Torino ad Auschwitz, e la vita nel campo durante i primi mesi. La seconda parte, "Il lager", descrive la vita nel campo nei mesi successivi, fino alla liberazione.

Se questo è un uomo è un libro importante perché è una testimonianza diretta dell'esperienza dei campi di concentramento nazisti. Levi scrive in modo lucido e asciutto, senza indulgere in retorica o sentimentalismi. Il suo racconto è un monito contro l'indifferenza e l'odio, e un invito a ricordare le atrocità del passato per evitare che si ripetano.

Se questo è un uomo è un libro difficile da leggere, ma è anche un libro importante. È un libro che deve essere letto da tutti, perché ci ricorda l'orrore dell'Olocausto e il valore della vita umana.
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