- Primo Levi was an Italian Jew born in Turin, Italy, in 1919. At age twenty-four, he was part of a political resistance group that was caught by the fascist militia. When interrogated, he disclosed that he was a Jewish Italian citizen rather than explaining his political affiliation because he feared torture and certain death. He was sent to a vast detention camp in Fossoli, near Modena.
- After SS troops inspected the detention camp, they announced the deportation of all Jews. The SS troops sent the Jews to a work camp near Auschwitz called Monowitz. Here, Levi is reduced to a number and experiences the severe horrors of the Holocaust: extreme starvation, fatigue, illness, uncertainty, and terror.
- Levi remained at the work camp until January 1945. The SS troops knew that a Russian bombing was imminent and decided to take all of the “healthy” prisoners on a death march to the next camp. Levi, who had caught scarlet fever, was left behind. The bombings caused the Germans to flee the camp. Levi, along with other prisoners, managed to survive the bombings and ultimately escape the deserted camp.
Even though Levi believed he would have been executed for announcing his political resistance, would he had fared better had he not disclosed his religion to the fascist militia?
How is Levi able to refuse to consent to his treatment by the SS troops? How is he able to keep a clear mind and possess the will to survive against all odds?
I find it most interesting how lucky Levi was during his imprisonment in the work camp. He was not only sent to the infirmary after a foot injury, which meant forty days free of work, but he only got ill once, contracting scarlet fever right before the death march, and he survived the bombings by the Russian allies. Statistically, Levi was one of the very few that survived from his original group.
I find your point interesting, as well. It is apparent that along with his fortitude, resilience, and optimism, Levi was also extremely lucky. His legacy is one that will probably live on forever, for his story is truly remarkable.
It was interesting to read a firsthand account from an Italian Jew, because my mind typically jumps to Polish Jews in the context of the Holocaust, overlooking the other Jewish populations. As you mentioned, Levi was extremely lucky. In particular, he was extremely fortunate to have some knowledge of the German language while imprisoned in Auschwitz. This knowledge of German and ability to communicate was part of what allowed him to work in the laboratory, escaping the physically grueling work conditions the other prisoners were forced to do.