Black and white photograph of Italian writer and chemist Primo Levi.

Primo Levi

(1919 - 1987)

Primo Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist who, at the age of twenty-four, two years after graduating summa cum laude from the University of Turin, was arrested for his participation in the Italian resistance movement. On February 26, 1944, he was among 650 Jews entering Auschwitz. Twenty-three made it out alive. After the camp’s liberation, he made his way home to Turin by foot and by train. He published his book If This Is a Man in 1947 and The Periodic Table in 1975. Levi died, apparently by suicide, in 1987 at the age of sixty-seven—in the same house in which he was born.

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Primo Levi wrote that at Auschwitz “a large amount of alcohol was put at the disposal of” members of the Special Squad, inmates of the concentration camp who were forced to work the crematoriums, “and that they were in a permanent state of complete debasement and prostration.” One such inmate said, “Doing this work, one either goes crazy the first day or gets accustomed to it.”

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