Primo Levi

Primo Levi

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Primo Levi


Italian-Jew writer and chemist, who gained first fame with his autobiographical story SE QUESTO È UN UOMO (If This is a
Man, 1947) of survival in Nazi concentration camps. Levi devoted the last fourty years of his life to attempts to deal with the
fact that he survived Auschwitz. Levi published also poetry, science fiction, essays, and short stories.

Levi was born in Turin. Just before the Fascist racial law of 1938 forbade Jews access to academic status, Levi started his
chemistry studies at the University of Turin and graduated in 1941. Levi wrote also for the resistance magazine Giustizia e
Libertà. When he tried to contact a partisan group he was captured in December 1943, and interned in a transit camp in
Fòssoli. Two months later he was deported to the camp ofMoniwitz-Auschwitz. From the transport of 650 people, fifteen men
and nine woman survived. Liberated by the Soviets in January 1945 Levi returned in Turin, after an eight-month odyssey. Levi
took up his work as a chemist, living in a stately old building that his family had occupied for three generations. In 1961 Levi
became the general manager of a factory producing paints. He retired in 1977 to become a full-time writer.

His prison recollections Levi wrote in the form of memoir, Se questo è un uomo. It was reprinted in an enlarged edition ten
years later. The book sold over half a million copies in Italy, was translated into eight languages and adapted for the theater and
radio. It documented how the camp deprived each individual of his and her identity and dignity, and brought about annihilation
of the internees. Levi's alert moral consciousness blocked any hate for the oppressors, in spite of the brutality to which he was
subjected. LA TREGUA (1963) was its sequel, and portrayed the wanderings that Levi and his companions followed at
Russian directive through a devasted eastern Europe.

Among Levi's other works is IL SISTEMA PERIODICO (The Periodic Table, 1975). The work uses the Russian chemist
Mendeleyev's periodical table of elements as the base of autobiographical meditations, each named for a chemical element,
where among others 'Vanadium' represents his unexpected encounter with a former official Auschwitz and 'Zinc' explorers the
fascist myth of racial purity. SE NON ORA, QUANDO? (1989) combined the emergence of Jewish consciousness and pride
with the historical documentation of action taken on the Russian front by partisan Jewish groups against retreating Nazi forces.

Levi died in Turin on April 11, 1987. His death was apparently a suicide - in his home building Levi hurled himself down the

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central stairwell. The last work he completed was the essay collection I SOMMERSI E I SALVATI (1986). In it Levi made
one last attempt to clarify his life's writing and affirms his belief in the historical uniqueness of the Holocaust, while not separating
it from the horrors in Cambodia or South Africa. The central question is according to Levi, how much of the camp is alive and
well in our time, and how long it will remain in our memories.

For further reading: Understanding Primo Levi by Nicholas Patruno (1995); At an Uncertain Hour: Primo Levi's War
Against Oblivion by Anthony Rudolf (1990); A Dante of Our Time: Primo Levi and Auschwitz by Risa Sodi (1990);
Conversations with Primo Levi by Ferdinando Camon (1989)

Selected works:

SE QUESTO È UN UOMO, 1947 - If This is a Man / Survival in Auschwitz -Tällainenko on ihminen, suom. Tapio
Hiisivaara
LA TREGUA, 1963 - The Truce / The Reawakening (suomessa muokattu kuunnelmaksi nimeltä Aselepo)
STORIE NATURALI, 1966 - The Sixth Day
VIZIO DI FORMA, 1971
L'OSTERIA DI BREMA, 1975 (republ. as Ad ora incerta) - Colelcted Poems
IL SISTEMA PERIODICO, 1975 - The Periodic Table - Jaksollinen järjestelmä
LA CHIAVE A STELLA, 1978 - The Monkey Wrench
LILIT, E ALTRI RACCONTI, 1981 - Moments of Reprieve
LA RICERA DELLE RADICI. ANTOLOGIA PERSONALE, 1981
SE NON ORA, QUANDO?, 1982 - If Not Nw, When? - Jos ei nyt, niin milloin?
L'ALTRUI MESTIERE, 1985 - Other People's Trades
I SOMMERSI E I SALVATI, 1986 - The Drowned and the Saved
RACCONTI E SACCI, 1986 - The Mirror Maker
OPERE, 1987-90 (3 vols.)
The Sixth Day, and Other Tales, 1990
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