In our times, hell must be like this

Auschwitz Birkenau’s entrance in Poland. Retrieved from

Last week, I wrote about a novel I was reading, Survival in Auschwitwz (If This Is a Man), a memory of 216 pages written by Primo Levi in 1947 originally in Italian.

Primo Levi, a Jewish from Italy, makes an autobiography of what has happened to him since his deportation by the Italian fascists to the concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz, during World War II, until the camp was liberated in 1945 by the Soviets. It is a text that chronologically details the process followed in the concentration camps and shows the barbarity in action against thousands of souls gone in the smoke during the genocide.

The novel is a work dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust by describing the murderous folly of the Nazis. The testimony is clear, straightforward, and tries to describe the facts as objectively as possible.

Despite the many criticisms that the novel received due to lack of complex vocabulary or style figures, I find the writing admirable in its way of describing an event so striking and terrifying in such an objective way.

I am personally passionated about history and admire memories: they allow us to understand the facts of the past with empathy. They allow us not to understand, but to feel history.

Moreover, Survival in Auschwitwz (If This Is a Man) invites us to see from an internal point of view the dehumanization made by the Nazis against the Jews as well as a constant humiliation since the selection at the beginning of the novel when entering the camp with the nudity process, hair cutting, and attribution of identification numbers, until he goes to the infirmary when he gets hurt. Other issues such as the lack of solidarity are also highlighted.

I am not even alive enough to know how to kill myself

Although we all know what happened during the Shoah, it is necessary to read testimonials like this with an incredible amount of details in order to feel at least a portion of their pain, to be able to be terrorized by the human being.

If I have to talk about what I did not like in the book, I would be dishonest with myself. What I did not like is to be incapable of depriving the both narrator and author from his misfortune. Indeed, it is very hard to read the book until the end. Not because it does not attract our attention, but because it is very hard to see the truth in its pure and terrifying essence. For example, Primo Levi explains the time he was wounded and sent to the infirmary. The latter understands by being there and talking with other prisoners that those who are deemed unfit for work are killed by using Zyklon B and their bodies burned in the crematoria. In addition, he explains how hungry, cold, sleepy, and thirsty he is throughout the memory, showing the terrible conditions in which he had to survive for over a year.

This said, I could honestly say that the only thing that really disrupted me, besides the internal struggling to read reality as it is, was the use of German words that were not translated. This, however, only gives you just a little extra work to do on reading and is not really relevant.


Retrieved from


At the end of the novel, Primo Levi was liberated by the Soviet army. However, instead of relieving the reader by resolving the conflict of the story, I feel it is impossible to really consider it a “resolution.” It is just the end of a “nightmare,” as described author. This novel is not going to fill you with hope or relief at the end of the reading. It will give you a history lesson. It will show you that the human being can reach extreme levels of terror.

This novel will terrorize you, but it will definitely bring you more culture and openness than the simple reading of a novel of fiction. It will show you reality in a direct and true way. I recommend this book to anyone interested in history, existentialism, or the absurdity of our person. I believe everyone should read this once in their life.

It is the voice of those who died during the genocide, it must be read for those who have not had the opportunity to show the horror committed during the genocide.


Survival in Auschwitz (If This Is a Man) by Primo Levi

Even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. 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