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Survival in Auschwitz. As told by Primo Levi. By: Courtney Novotny, Russel Thomas, Brian Briggs . Primo Levi. Born in 1919; died in 1987 Arrested during the Second World War as a member of the anti-Fascist resistance Primo Levi was a chemist.

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survival in auschwitz

Survival in Auschwitz

As told by Primo Levi

By: Courtney Novotny,

Russel Thomas, Brian Briggs

primo levi
Primo Levi
  • Born in 1919; died in 1987
  • Arrested during the Second World War as a member of the anti-Fascist resistance
  • Primo Levi was a chemist.
  • Levi was betrayed by one of his own number and was deported to a Nazi concentration camp.
  • He spent 10 months at Auschwitz.
  • He was left behind at the camp because he had fallen to scarlet fever.
  • He retired in 1977 and continued to write until his death on April 11, 1987.
the journey

The Journey

Primo Levi was captured by the Fascist Militia on December 13, 1943, at the age of 24.

He was Italian-Jewish.

He was then sent to a detention camp called Fossoli.

When roll was called at the camp, for every person that wasn’t there, ten were killed.

The weather was very intense and cold.

The SS Army forced all the young men off the train and grouped them together.

All their watches and money were taken by the SS.

on the bottom
On The Bottom
  • At Fossoli, he was given nothing to drink and no showers for four days.
  • When the men were taken off the train, they were forced to take off their clothes and separate them into two piles.
  • Then their heads were shaved.
  • They were kept in big groups and forced to shower together while standing in two inches of cold water.
  • After this harsh treatment, they were given clothes and shoes and put to work.
  • The men were tattooed with numbers, their way of getting food.
  • Slept very poorly
    • The conditions of the barracks were poor.
  • At the time, bread was the only source of money and trade.
  • The washroom had mud-covered floors and undrinkable water.
  • On the wall in the washroom, “Survival in Auschwitz” was written.
  • While Levi was at the camp, he had to translate the Italian for the other prisoners.
ka be
  • While he was in the camp, he tried to avoid work as much as possible, but it didn’t always work.
  • The prisoners were made to carry cast-iron supports on their shoulders.
  • Levi was made to walk at the front of the line and carry the supports, which was most of the support weight; this was very unsafe.
  • His ankle was cut by one of the supports and little could be done to heal the wound.
  • Taken to the infirmary called Krankenbau (Ka-Be) for the wound.
  • There were two clinics, Medical and Surgical.
  • He was then examined and kept in a room with many others.
  • Kept in Ka-Be for twenty days
  • The wounds on his feet, even after being at Ka-Be, still remained unhealed.
our nights
Our Nights
  • As the winter season came, the amount of sleep that the prisoners were allowed increased.
    • Less daylight for work
  • Had to share a bunk with another prisoner
    • Very little room
  • All prisoners dreamed of eating and telling their families about their suffering.
  • Often woke up to use the latrine
    • When it overflowed, the prisoners had to empty it.
    • Spilled it on themselves
the work
The Work
  • Manual labor
    • The Nazis took advantage of the most physically fit Jews and used them for the war effort.
  • Moved a cast-iron cylinder through mud and snow
    • Created a smooth path
    • Moved the cylinder using levers
  • Went to the latrine as a way of resting
  • One hour lunch break
    • Ate soup within a few minutes
    • Slept for the rest of the hour
a good day
A Good Day
  • When winter was over, all the prisoners were ecstatic.
    • Few clothes
  • Felt more hungry when they didn’t have to worry about the cold
  • Spoiled soup that civilian workers discarded was found
    • The Kapo of Primo’s Kommando allowed a prisoner to fetch it for the rest of the Kommando
    • Civilians’ soup was much better than the prisoners’
    • Enough for larger rations than usual
this side of good and evil
This Side of Good and Evil
  • Prisoners and civilians bartered goods.
    • Bread, soup, vegetables, tobacco, shirts, gold teeth, spoons, brooms, shoe polish
    • Traded within the camp, also smuggled in and out of Buna
  • Theft and trade accepted by both SS and civilians
    • SS punished those who traded within the camp
    • Civilians punished those who traded in Buna
  • Punished by both SS and civilians
    • Jews sent to coal mines, civilians lived with Jewish prisoners for several months
the drowned and the saved
The Drowned and the Saved
  • The weakest were called “musselmen.”
    • No useful connections or secrets
  • Those who were clever were respected.
    • Had good jobs, extra rations
    • Became cruel when given power
  • Prisoners gave up morals and beliefs in order to fight to live.
the drowned and the saved12
The Drowned and the Saved
  • Schepschel
    • Stole and bartered goods
    • Sang and danced for non-Jewish prisoners for extra rations
    • Tried to appear vicious in order to get a better job
  • Alfred L.
    • Impressed the SS by being neat and disciplined
    • Given an easy job
  • Elias
    • Physically extremely strong
    • Worked harder than most prisoners
    • Given skilled work
  • Henri
    • Used pity to get goods from the English prisoners-of-war and people in high positions in the camp
chemical examination
Chemical Examination
  • Primo was assigned to the Chemical Kommando.
    • Carried sacks of chemicals to warehouses
  • Took a chemistry examination
    • Wanted to work in a laboratory
    • Did not find out the results for a long time
the canto of ulysses
The Canto of Ulysses
  • Primo was given the job of bringing lunch to his commando with another prisoner, Jean.
    • Opportunity for a slow walk with no burden
  • Recited parts of The Divine Comedy
    • “Thinkof your breed; for brutish ignorance

Your mettle was not made; you were made men, To follow after knowledge and excellence” (qtd. in Levi 113).

    • Opportunity to remember his humanity
    • Felt that it related to his experience
october 1944
October 1944
  • It became colder.
  • Levi had survived for a relatively long time.
  • He became a bit more self-confident.
  • He spoke of words like “fear” and “hunger,” but said they were “free” words, words of a free man.
  • He survived another death selection.
  • This chapter took place in November 1944.
  • The rain made the men bitter and cold.
  • Levi commented that the only way to escape the rain and the death of life is to touch the electric fence or throw oneself under the train as it moved.
  • Levi complained of how Kraus, a new prisoner, has not learned to work slowly. Kraus was scolded by the chain leader for it.
die drei leute vom labor
Die drei Leute vom Labor
  • Levi finally lost track of time and could not remember how long he had been in the camp.
  • He said that when he came to the camp, there were 96 men, but by the October selection, there were 29, and after the selection, 21.
  • Levi was selected for laboratory detail, and he was happy to see that he would not be cold that winter.
  • He started to steal petrol and to sell it on the camp’s black market for more rations to split with his friend Alberto.
the last one
The Last One
  • Levi worked in the laboratory for most of the winter and walked back to camp with his friend Alberto. They discussed random things of little importance.
  • The one thing that was important to them was that their friend Lorenzo was getting many pints of soup each day and needed a way to carry it.
  • They traded rations with a tin smith in camp to make a zinc pot, and then transported the soup.
  • They also became better friends with their hut mates as the season went on.
  • They witnessed the public execution of a man who had connections to the rebels who blew up a gas chamber in another camp.
the story of ten days
The Story of Ten Days
  • Levi contracted scarlet fever and was sent to Ka-Be.
  • He got a bunk of his own and was in a room with twelve other sick men. He was supposed to have been there for forty days.
  • When the barber came, he received news of something happening out west, but he was not sure what it was.
  • That day, the prisoners were told that they were being evacuated by the Germans and would have to march twelve miles, most likely to their deaths.
  • Alberto and Levi shared goodbyes and Alberto left while Levi was stuck in the hospital.
  • Levi and the other patients in his room were left for dead when the others left.
  • They cooked potatoes and tried to survive.
  • They ventured into the SS camp for supplies and found soup and beer.
  • While they were at the SS camp, some SS came back and killed eighteen Frenchmen in the mess hall.
  • They found a cache of potatoes outside of the camp, and were not starving to death anymore.
  • The Russians finally came and the prisoners were rescued.
works cited
Works Cited

Bauer, Jerry. Levi. 12 Sep 2004 <>

Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Touchstone, 1958.

Penhall, Susan. The electrified border fence at Auschwitz. 12 Sep 2004 <http://www.web.>