Primo Levi and the Poison of Auschwitz

Giancarlo Pani SJ

 Giancarlo Pani SJ / Issue 1909 / Published Date:27 August 2019/Last Updated Date:5 December 2019

A century ago, on  July 31, 1919, Primo Levi, writer, witness and “martyr” of the Holocaust, was born in Turin.[1] After graduating in chemistry, he worked in that profession before and after his dramatic experience of the concentration camp. He was also a partisan, and was captured as one, sent to the camp of Fòssoli, near Modena, because he was a Jew, and then was sent to Auschwitz in March 1944. He was 24 years old and remained there for 11 months until it was liberated in January 1945. He was one of the very few who survived the tragedy of the 650 people who went to Auschwitz with him. After liberation, he managed to reach Turin, following a tortuous journey of several months.

His meeting with Lucia Morpurgo, who became his wife, helped him to return to normal life with serenity and to face the past in a new way. He felt healed from the evils of Auschwitz, and in his work, The Periodic Table, composed in 1975, he described himself as a writer and chemist as follows: “[After meeting her] my writing itself became a different adventure, no longer the painful itinerary of a convalescent, no longer begging for compassion and friendly faces, but a lucid construction, no longer solitary: it was a work of chemistry that weighs and divides, measures and judges on certain evidence, and works to respond to the reasons.”[2]

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