Literature / If This Is a Man

"Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud,
Who does not know peace,
Who fights for a scrap of bread,
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair and without name,
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter."
Opening poem

Se questo è un uomo (USA title - Survival in Auschwitz). The first part of the memoir of Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived the Holocaust, originally published in 1947, and followed by The Truce, which describes his difficult Homeward Journey.

The short book details the year Levi, who was a member of the Italian anti-Fascist Resistance before his arrest, spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp, from February 1944 until the liberation. Many people draw comparisons with Elie Wiesel's Night, though Levi's book is more straightforwardly autobiographical in nature.

The book was later adapted into a one-man teleplay called Primo, by Antony Sher, which was broadcast on HBO and The BBC.

Provides Examples of:

  • Chummy Commies: As many of the non-Jewish prisoners are communists.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Up the chimney", "lie on the bottom", "swallowed by the night" among others.
  • Empty Shell: Null Achtzehn.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The attempted saboteur who is calm and resolute as he is publicly hanged.
  • Honor Among Thieves: The Greeks of Salonica are notorious thieves and black marketeers who keep to themselves, but nonetheless earn the respect of the other inmates as, despite their relatively powerful position, they are never brutal to others.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted to the last child in the transport from Fossili.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: Primo himself, who graduated with top honours in chemistry at the University of Turin, and who is able to secure a position in the camp laboratory due to his performance in a chemistry exam – which he has to take in German, while half-starved and freezing.
  • La Résistance: Levi was a member of the anti-Fascist resistance before his arrest, though this does not feature heavily in the narrative.
  • Language Barrier
  • Neat Freak: Steinlauf.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Elias Linzen, a muscular dwarf who easily manages twice or thrice the burdens assigned to him.
  • Public Execution
  • Scars Are Forever: The infamous numbers. Levi had his engraved on his tombstone after his death.
  • Secular Hero: Primo, a lifelong atheist.
  • Survivor Guilt: After every selection, the survivors are ashamed to look at those who have been chosen for the gas.
  • Think Nothing of It: Lorenzo, the Italian civilian who provides Primo with extra food and clothes, does it at great personal risk, and doesn't even want to be thanked.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Levi notes in the afterword that Jean seems to have forgotten most of the year he spent at Auschwitz-Monowitz.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Among the Eastern Europeans; the Italian Jews had difficulties integrating with the rest of the camp because of they couldn't speak this.
  • You Are Number 174517: One prisoner in particular is known only as "Null Achtzehn" (Zero Eighteen), as he never responds when asked for his real name, and Primo even suspects he may have forgotten it.
  • You No Take Candle

The sequel contains examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: In the end, Primo writes that he'd have a recurring nightmare for a long time, in which he wakes up and realizes that he's still in Auschwitz, and everything that happened since was just a dream.
  • Action Girl: Presumable Olga, as she was formerly a Croat partisan.
  • Chummy Commies / Dirty Commies: Zig-Zagged.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Of the 650 people who were transported to Auschwitz from Fossili internment camp, only Primo, Leonardo and Cesare live to return home.
  • The Homeward Journey
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: A considerable number of inmates who survived to the liberation were nonetheless beyond the help of the unprepared Russians, succumbing to various maladies shortly afterwards.

Alternative Title(s): The Truce