The Cambridge Companion to Primo Levi by Robert S. C. Gordon

By Robert S. C. Gordon

Primo Levi, some of the most prominent of Holocaust writers and survivors, was once the writer of a wealthy physique of labor, together with memoirs and reflections on Auschwitz and in addition poetry, technology fiction, old fiction and a variety of essays. This significant other brings jointly top experts and younger students within the fields of Holocaust reviews, Italian literature and language, and literature and technology, to provide an available creation to the paintings of this significant author of the 20 th century.

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16. See note 7 above. 17. See chapter 5 in this volume. 18. A different translation of the same poem is to be found in Collected Poems, p. 9. For the original text (with slight differences in layout), see OI, 3 and OII, 525. 19. g. Primo Levi, If This is a Man; The Truce, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1979, p. 396). 31 3 JUDITH WOOLF From If This is a Man to The Drowned and the Saved The ‘maelstrom’ of Auschwitz Primo Levi disclaimed the role of prophet or seer, describing himself instead as ‘a normal man with a good memory who fell into a maelstrom and got out of it more by luck than by virtue, and who from that time on has preserved a certain curiosity about maelstroms large and small, metaphorical and actual’ (Racconti e saggi (‘Stories and Essays’, 1986; selections in The Mirror Maker), pp.

137) which sweeps Ulysses’ ship to destruction, while the ‘virtue’ (virtu`) to which Levi refuses to attribute his own survival is compared to the ‘virtue and knowledge’ (virtute e canoscenza, l. 120) the pursuit of which Ulysses enjoins on his crew as the activity which distinguishes men from beasts. Tellingly, both words derive from the Latin virtus: the courage and worth which is fitting for a man, and which the Nazi death camps were designed to strip from their victims. As he tells us at the start of If This is a Man, the maelstrom engulfed Levi in January 1944 when, along with his fellow internees in the detention camp at Fossoli, near Modena, he received what was in effect a coded death sentence: ‘on the morning of the 21st we learned that on the following day the Jews would be leaving.

Nobody knew’ (p. 5; OI, 8). So terrifying was this ignorance that it was actually ‘with relief’ that the prisoners herded into the closed cattle trucks discovered where they were bound: ‘Auschwitz: a name without significance for us at that time, but it at least implied some place on this earth’ (p. 8; OI, 11–12). Of the 650 men, 35 JUDITH WOOLF women and children on that train, only those judged suitable for slave labour would enter the Lager. The old, the sick, and the children, along with the mothers from whom they could not be parted, would be gassed on arrival.

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