BIOGRAPHY PRIMO LEVI – Italian chemist and writer of Jewish faith, Primo Levi is a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp during World War II. He testifies to his daily life in the camp and the horrors committed by the Nazi regime during the Shoah in his book “Si c’est un homme”.
Short biography of Primo Levi – Primo Levi was born in the Piedmont region in 1919. His fragile constitution as well as his Jewishness made him the target of mockery during his childhood. The promulgation of race laws in July 1938 by the fascist regime of Mussolini will contribute to the sidelining of the Jews in Italy, but Primo Levi continues his education. A precocious student with a passion for chemistry, he graduated from the University of Turin in 1941 with a doctorate. Despite everything, he has difficulty finding a job commensurate with his level of education. With the advent of the Italian Social Republic (1943), Primo Levi engages in the Resistance Italian, in motion Giustizia e Libertà. Infiltrated by a double agent, his detachment is denounced to the authorities. After two months spent in the Fossoli Jewish internment camp, Primo Levi was deported, along with 650 other Jews, to the Auschwitz extermination camp in 1944. He stayed there for nearly a year, before being released with the rest of the camp on January 27, 1945 by the Soviet Red Army. Traumatized by his time in the death camps, he tells his story in an autobiographical account, If it’s a man, which appeared in 1947 and which became his most famous work. He married Lucia Morpurgo the same year. In addition to his activity as a chemist, Primo Levi began a writing career in the 1960s. Many of his works focus on his personal life, such as The Truce (1963) or The Castaways and the Survivors (1986). Victim of recurring episodes of depression since the end of the war, Primo Levi keeps in mind the trauma of Auschwitz. He died of a fall on the stairs in 1987, at the age of 67.
Deeply marked by his time in the Auschwitz camp, Primo Levi began writing an autobiographical story on his return to Italy recounting the events of his personal life between 1944 and 1945. Entitled Se questo è un uomo (“If it’s a man“in French), the book appeared in 1947. It constitutes, with Anne Frank’s Diary and The night Elie Wiesel, an important testimony to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Primo Levi describes his entry into the Italian Resistance, his arrest and his deportation to the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. He makes detailed descriptions of his arrival, his relationships with other prisoners, the inner workings of the camp and his struggle for survival.. The inhuman working conditions associated with the extreme climate in winter are among the elements that marked Primo Levi the most. This oppressive environment was, according to him, revealing of theabsence of humanity with many prisoners and guards. The author believes that it was partly thanks to his studies in chemistry that he was able to benefit from certain advantages. For example, the possibility of working as a laboratory assistant in the Monowitz camp (Auschwitz III). He also knew how to surround himself with a few caring people and he tried not to attract attention to avoid trouble. However, it is mainly thanks to his luck and several combinations of circumstances that he was able to get by. Thus, he fell ill and remained in the camp a week before the liberation by the troops of the Russian Army. He thus escapes death marches, which decimates almost all the prisoners. Of the 650 people who were deported to Auschwitz in the same convoy as Primo Levi, around 20, including himself, were saved.
Although a trained chemist, Primo Levi is recognized today for his literary work. In The Truce (1963), he recounts the months following his liberation from the Auschwitz camp by the Soviets and the many vicissitudes he and other prisoners went through before being able to return to their homeland. This new autobiographical tale was a major success and really launched Primo Levi’s writing career. In 1967 he published Natural stories, a science fiction collection that questions the merits of technological advances when they are not sufficiently supervised. He reiterated the concept in 1971 with Defect of form. It pays homage to chemistry in The periodic system (1975), by taking several chemical elements from the periodic table and explaining what they inspire him. In this work, he makes many references to his personal life, his childhood, and his time in the death camps. He obtained the consecration in 1979 with the Strega award, Italian equivalent of the Goncourt Prize, for his novel The adjustable wrench. In Now or never (1982), Primo Levi uses his past in the Italian Resistance and testimonies to tell the stories of a group of European resistance fighters between 1943 and 1945. Finally, one of his last works, The castaways and the survivors (1986), takes up certain elements of “Si c’est un homme” and testifies to the importance of not perpetuating past errors. The interest of this book comes from the fact that it is an older Primo Levi who speaks and who tries to take even more perspective on the events of Auschwitz.
- July 31, 1919: Birth of Primo Levi
- Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy on July 31, 1919. From a wealthy Jewish family, he was the son of Cesare Levi, engineer in a large Hungarian transport company, and Ester “Rina” Luzzati. He has a sister, Anna Maria Levi. He spent a good part of his education at the prestigious Massimo d’Azeglio high school in Turin. He joined in 1933, like many young people of his age, the Opera Nazionale Balilla, an Italian equivalent of the Hitler Youth. Sportsman despite several health problems, he managed to enter the University of Turin and obtain a doctorate in chemistry in 1941. His father Cesare died in 1942 from colon cancer.
- April 11, 1987: Death of Primo Levi
- Primo Levi died on April 11, 1987 during a falling down the stairs of his building. The real reasons for this accident are controversial. Some believe that the author of If it’s a man killed himself voluntarily, victim of suicidal and depressive tendencies since his return from the death camps. Others believe Primo Levi fell due to discomfort from the medications he was taking to treat his depression. He had two children with his wife Lucia Morpurgo: Lisa, born in 1948, and Renzo Levi in 1957. The latter became professor of physiology at the University of Turin.