Levi, Primo

born July 31, 1919, Turin, Italy
died April 11, 1987, Turin

Italian writer and chemist.

Two years after obtaining a degree in chemistry, Levi, who was Jewish, was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz as a slave labourer. His autobiographical works
If This Is a Man, or Survival in Auschwitz (1947), The Reawakening (1963), and The Drowned and the Saved (1986)
are restrained and moving accounts of and reflections on survival in the Nazi camps. His best-known work, The Periodic Table (1975), is a collection of 21 meditations, each named for a chemical element. The lingering effects of his wartime trauma may have led to his suicide.

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▪ Italian writer and chemist
born July 31, 1919, Turin, Italy
died April 11, 1987, Turin

      Italian-Jewish writer and chemist, noted for his restrained and moving autobiographical account of and reflections on survival in the Nazi concentration camps.

      Levi was brought up in the small Jewish community in Turin, studied at the University of Turin, and graduated summa cum laude in chemistry in 1941. Two years later he joined friends in northern Italy in an attempt to connect with a resistance movement, but he was captured and sent to Auschwitz. While there, Levi worked as a slave labourer for an I.G. Farbenindustrie synthetic-rubber factory. Upon the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets in 1945, Levi returned to Turin, where in 1961 he became the general manager of a factory producing paints, enamels, and synthetic resins; the association was to last some 30 years.

      Levi's first book, Se questo è un uomo (1947; If This Is a Man, or Survival in Auschwitz), demonstrated extraordinary qualities of humanity and detachment in its analysis of the atrocities he had witnessed. His later autobiographical works, La tregua (1963; The Truce, or The Reawakening) and I sommersi e i salvati (1986; The Drowned and the Saved), are further reflections on his wartime experiences. Il sistema periodico (1975; The Periodic Table) is a collection of 21 meditations, each named for a chemical element, on the analogies between the physical, chemical, and moral spheres; of all of Levi's works, it is probably his greatest critical and popular success. He also wrote poetry, novels, and short stories. His death was apparently a suicide.

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Universalium. 2010.

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