Primo Levi, fully Primo Michele Levi

Levi, fully Primo Michele Levi

Italian Jewish Chemist, Writer and Holocaust Survivor

Author Quotes

She had asked the older women: What is that fire? And they had replied: It is we who are burning.

The Lager and 'a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place you can 'survive, to tell, to bear witness; and that to live and 'force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization'.

There is no greater vanity to strive to be swallowed whole moral systems developed by others, under other skies.

To the Germans, these Jewish foreigners, so different from the local bourgeois Jews who had, with discipline, allowed themselves to be rounded up and slaughtered, seemed suspect: too quick, too energetic, dirty, tattered, proud, unpredictable, primitive, too Russian. The Jews found it impossible, and at the same time necessary, to distinguish the headhunters they had eluded and on whom they had taken passionate revenge from these shy, reserved old people, these blond, polite children who looked in at the station doors as if through the bars of the zoo. They aren't the ones, no; but it's their father, their teachers, their sons, themselves yesterday and tomorrow. How to resolve the puzzle? It can't be solved. Leave: as soon as possible. This land, too, is searing under our feet, this neat, trim town, loving order, this sweet bland air of full summer also scorches Leave, leave: we haven't come from the depths of Polessia in order to go to sleep in the Wartesaal of Plauen-am-Elster, and to while away our waiting with group snapshots and the Red Cross soup.

We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.

Destroying man is hard, almost as much as creating it: it was not easy, was not short, but you did it, the Germans. Here we are docile under your eyes: from our side you have nothing more to fear: no acts of revolt, no words of defiance, not one judge look.

From this rocky love those asbestos only a few of broaching my evenings in the mine were born two talked about the islands and freedom - first to my Prishta to write after school with his writings by force.

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

If it is true that there is no greater sorrow than to remember a happy time in a state of misery, it is just as true that calling up a moment of anguish in a tranquil mood, seated quietly at one's desk, is a source of profound satisfaction.

Interviewer: Is it possible to abolish man's humanity? Levi: Unfortunately, yes. Unfortunately, yes; and that is really the characteristic of the Nazi lager [concentration camp]. About the others, I don't know, because I don't know them; perhaps in Russia the same thing happens. It's to abolish man's personality, inside and outside: not only of the prisoner, but also of the jailer. He too lost his personality in the lager. These are two different itineraries, but with the same result, and I would say that only a few had the good fortune of remaining aware during their imprisonment; some regained their awareness of the experience later, but during it, they had lost it; many forgot everything. They did not record their experiences in their mind. They didn't impress on their memory track. Thus it happened to all, a profound modification in their personality. Most of all, our sensibility lost sharpness, so that the memories of our home had fallen into second place; the memory of family had fallen into second place in face of urgent needs, of hunger, of the necessity to protect oneself against cold, beatings, fatigue... all of this brought about some reactions which we could call animal-like; we were like work animals.

It was this, the bear's meat: and now that many years have passed, I regret to have eaten little, because of all that life has given me good, nothing had, not even distantly, the flavor of the meat , which is the flavor of being strong and free, also free to make mistakes, and masters of their destiny.

Now, in pathological conditions is not uncommon for the paper, corporate secreted, reabsorbed is excessively, and fall asleep, paralyze, or even kill the organism from which it was exuded

She lived with the doctor on Via Po, in a gloomy, dark apartment, barely warmed in winter by just a small Franklin stove, and she no longer threw out anything, because everything might eventually come in handy: not even the cheese rinds or the foil on chocolates, with which she made silver balls to be sent to missions to free a little black boy.

The latrine is an oasis of peace.

There is no rationality in the Nazi hatred: it is hate that is not in us, it is outside of man.. We cannot understand it, but we must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Consciences can be seduced and obscured again - even our consciences. For this reason, it is everyone duty to reflect on what happened. Everybody must know, or remember, that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were charismatic leaders ; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the soundness of things they said but from the suggestive way in which they said them, from their eloquence, from their histrionic art, perhaps instinctive, perhaps patiently learned and practiced. The ideas they proclaimed were not always the same and were, in general, aberrant or silly or cruel. And yet they were acclaimed with hosannas and followed to the death by millions of the faithful.

To the Jews who wanted a land of their own, where they could organize themselves and live according to their traditions, Stalin had offered a bleak territory in Eastern Siberia: Birobidzhan. Take it or leave it. Anyone who wanted to live as a Jew should go to Siberia; if anyone refused Siberia, that meant he preferred to be Russian. There was no third way. But if a Jew wanted to be Russian, what can, what should he do, if the Russians deny him access to the university, and call him a zhid, and turn the pogromists on him, and form an alliance with Hitler? He can't do anything- especially if he's a woman.

We must therefore certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water, and dry off his jacket. We must polish our shoes, not 'cause he prescribes the rules, but for dignity' and properties'. We have to walk straight, without scuffing hooves, not already 'in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, do not begin to die.

Did chemistry theorems exist? No: therefore you had to go further, not be satisfied with the quia, go back to the origins, to mathematics and physics. The origins of chemistry were ignoble, or at least equivocal: the dens of the alchemists, their abominable hodgepodge of ideas and language, their confessed interest in gold, their Levantine swindles typical of charlatans and magicians; instead, at the origin of physics lay the strenuous clarity of the West-Archimedes and Euclid.

Get up: the illusory barrier of the warm blankets, the thin armor of sleep, the nightly evasion with its very torments drops to pieces around us, and we find ourselves mercilessly awake, exposed to insult, atrociously naked and vulnerable.

I am persuaded that normal human beings are biologically built for an activity that is aimed toward a goal and that idleness, or aimless work (like Auschwitz's Arbeit), gives rise to suffering and to atrophy.

If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again.

Is anything sadder than a train? That leaves when it's supposed to.That has only one voice, only one route? There's nothing sadder. Except perhaps a cart horse, shut between two shafts and unable even to look sideways.

Ka-Be From the music does not feel well: regular and monotonous comes pounding of the bass drum and dishes, but on this weft the musical phrases are drawn only at intervals, with the whim of the wind. We look at one another in our beds, because we all feel that this is infernal music. The reasons are few, a dozen, every day the same, morning and evening: marches and popular songs dear to every German. They lie etched in our minds will be the last thing that the Lager forget: they are the voice of the Lager, the sensitive expression of its geometrical madness of another resolution to nullify first as uomoni to kill us slowly. When this music plays, we know that the comrades, out in the fog, start marching like automatons; their souls are dead and the music drives them, like the wind the dead leaves, and is replaced to their will. There is no longer will; each pulse becomes a step, a rilflessa contraction of muscles unmade...But we do not know where we go. Maybe we can survive disease and escape the choices, perhaps even resist the work and the hunger that consumed us, and after? Here, far away momentarily from bestiemme and knocks, we can return to ourselves and meditate, and then it becomes clear that not return. We have traveled far in the sealed wagons; we saw starting to nothing our women and our children; we enslaved we marched downtown times back and forth to the suit fatigue, dull soul before the anonymous death. We will not return. No one should get out of here, that could lead to the world, together with the sign imprinted in the flesh, the bad news than to Auschwitz, it took courage to man to make man.

On the contrary, I believe it doesn't make much sense to say that one man is worth more than another. One man can be stronger than another but less wise. Or more educated but not so brave. Or more generous but also more stupid. So his value depends on what you want from him; a man can be very good at his job, and worthless if you set him to do some other job.

Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable.

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Levi, fully Primo Michele Levi
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Italian Jewish Chemist, Writer and Holocaust Survivor