Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi: Book Review

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Survival in Auschwitz3 Stars

Primo Levi was a young Jewish man living in Turin, Italy when he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Due to a combination of luck and calculation, he survived.

I truly, truly hate to give any Holocaust memoir less than five stars. They are all important and they should all be read.

That said.

Somehow I never got drawn into this book. It took me two weeks to read a book that is 190 pages long. Crazy, right? I can’t put my finger on what my problem was. Bear with me as I try to work it out.

Maybe it’s that I’m more of the “feeling” personality type and Levi seems to be more of a “thinker.” He does have some very astute observations to make about humanity. I started to lose interest in a chapter titled “The Drowned and the Saved.” This chapter was almost like a primer for how to survive in such horrific conditions. I have concluded that I wouldn’t make it. I don’t understand anything that resembles economics. So descriptions of schemes to trade 1 piece of bread for a coupon that somehow turns into 4 pieces of bread left me scratching my head. I don’t get it. My eyes glazed over.

I did finally get more interested in the very last chapter, “The Story of Ten Days.” This felt more personal to me. Levi and some fellow prisoners are trying to survive in the abandoned camp until the Russian army arrives. They immediately lose the “survival at all costs” mentality and start to look out for each other again.

In looking back through this book for my review, I see a lot of passages that seem pertinent and that provide a lot of food for thought. Maybe this was just a bad time for me to read this particular book? I don’t know.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that most of this memoir was a little too analytical and distanced. When it got more personal, I tuned in, but then it was finished.

Again, I still recommend this and all other Holocaust memoirs. I personally just didn’t click with the style of this one.

Read an excerpt.

Buy Survival in Auschwitz at

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  1. I go for feelings and personal connections, too, when reading these types of books, but this one does sound really interesting.

  2. I've read Primo Levi, and this one — in fact I mention it in my Holocaust Remembrance Week post — but it was such a long time ago that I can't remember what my overall impression was then.

  3. I think it's great that you're doing this. I have a hard time with anything Holocaust related. It makes me so sad and depressed with humanity. I really should try to read more books about it but I need something more uplifting than sad. Any suggestions?

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