Quotes from If This Is a Man / The Truce

Primo Levi ·  419 pages

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“I am constantly amazed by man's inhumanity to man.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Auschwitz is outside of us, but it is all around us, in the air. The plague has died away, but the infection still lingers and it would be foolish to deny it. Rejection of human solidarity, obtuse and cynical indifference to the suffering of others, abdication of the intellect and of moral sense to the principle of authority, and above all, at the root of everything, a sweeping tide of cowardice, a colossal cowardice which masks itself as warring virtue, love of country and faith in an idea.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“For human nature is such that grief and pain - even simultaneously suffered - do not add up as a whole in our consciousness, but hide, the lesser behind the greater, according to a definite law of perspective. It is providential and is our means of surviving in the camp. And this is the reason why so often in free life one hears it said that man is never content. In fact it is not a question of a human incapacity for a state of absolute happiness, but of an ever-insufficient knowledge of the complex nature of the state of unhappiness; so that the single name of the major cause is given to all its causes, which are composite and set out in an order of urgency. And if the most immediate cause of stress comes to an end, you are grievously amazed to see that another one lies behind; and in reality a whole series of others.

So that as soon as the cold, which throughout the winter had seemed our only enemy, had ceased, we became aware of the hunger; and repeating the same error, we now say: "If it was not for the hunger!...”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce



“An enemy who sees the error of his ways ceases to be an enemy.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“It is lucky that it is not windy today. Strange, how in some way one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesimal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and it is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup, so that even today you find the strength to reach the evening. Or it is raining, windy and you have the usual hunger, and then you think that if you really had to, if you really felt nothing in your heart but suffering and tedium - as sometimes happens, when you really seem to lie on the bottom - well, even in that case, at any moment you want you could always go and touch the electric wire-fence, or throw yourself under the shunting trains, and then it would stop raining.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“...he never asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for a reward.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last - the power to refuse our consent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce



“We cannot understand [Fascism], but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard...because what happened can happen again...For this reason, it is everyone's duty to reflect on what happened.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Perhaps one cannot, what is more one must not, understand what happened, because to understand [the Holocaust] is almost to justify...no normal human being will ever be able to identify with Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann, and endless others. This dismays us, and at the same time gives us a sense of relief, because perhaps it is desirable that their words (and also, unfortunately, their deeds) cannot be comprehensible to us. They are non-human words and deeds, really counter-human...”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“No one must leave here and so carry to the world, together with the sign impressed on his skin, the evil tidings of what man's presumption made of man in Auschwitz.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“For he who loses all often easily loses himself.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“It was the shame we knew so well, the shame that drowned us after the selections, and every time we had to watch, or submit to, some outrage: the shame that the Germans did not know, that the just man experiences at another man's crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have availed in defense.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce



“This is hell. Today, in our times, hell must be like this. A huge, empty room: we are tired, standing on our feet, with a tap which drips while we cannot drink the water, and we wait for something which will certainly be terrible, and nothing happens and nothing continues to happen.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“...(he) reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Allora per la prima volta ci siamo accorti che la nostra lingua manca di parole per esprimere questa offesa, la demolizione di un uomo. In un attimo, con intuizione quasi profetica, la realtà ci si è rivelata: siamo arrivati al fondo. Più giù di così non si può andare: condizione umana più misera non c'è, e non è pensabile. Nulla più è nostro: ci hanno tolto gli abiti, le scarpe, anche i capelli; se parleremo, non ci ascolteranno, e se ci ascoltassero, non ci capirebbero. Ci toglieranno anche il nome: e se vorremo conservarlo, dovremo trovare in noi la forza di farlo, di fare sì che dietro al nome, qualcosa ancora di noi, di noi quali eravamo, rimanga.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“(this is a story interwoven with freezing dawns.)”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce



“There is no rationality in the Nazi hatred: it is hate that is not in us, it is outside of man.. We cannot understand it, but we must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Consciences can be seduced and obscured again - even our consciences. For this reason, it is everyone duty to reflect on what happened. Everybody must know, or remember, that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were "charismatic leaders" ; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the soundness of things they said but from the suggestive way in which they said them, from their eloquence, from their histrionic art, perhaps instinctive, perhaps patiently learned and practised. The ideas they proclaimed were not always the same and were, in general, aberrant or silly or cruel. And yet they were acclaimed with hosannas and followed to the death by millions of the faithful.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Today the only thing left of the life of those days is what one needs to suffer hunger and cold; I am not even alive enough to know how to kill myself.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“They are the typical product of the structure of the German Lager: if one offers a position of privilege to a few individuals in a state of slavery, exacting in exchange the betrayal of a natural solidarity with their
comrades, there will certainly be someone who will accept. He will be withdrawn from the common law and will become untouchable; the more power that he is given, the more he will be consequently hateful and
hated. When he is given the command of a group of unfortunates, with the right of life or death over them, he will be cruel and tyrannical, because he will understand that if he is not sufficiently so, someone else, judged more suitable, will take over his post.

Moreover, his capacity for hatred, unfulfilled in the direction of the oppressors, will double back, beyond all reason, on the oppressed; and he will only be satisfied when he has unloaded onto his underlings the injury received from above.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“It is, therefore, necessary to be suspicious of those who seek to convince us with means other than reason, and of charismatic leaders: we must be cautious about delegating to others our judgement and our will. Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exalt us by their splendor of if we find them convenient because we can acquire them gratis. It is better to content oneself with other more modest and less exiting truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion, and reasoning, those that can we verified and demonstrated.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“I do not know what I will think tomorrow and later; today I feel no distinct emotion.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce



“Viajámos até aqui nos vagões selados; vimos partir em direcção ao nada as nossas mulheres e as nossas crianças; reduzidos a escravos, marchamos mil vezes para trás e para diante, numa fadiga muda, já apagados nas almas antes da morte anónima. Não temos regresso. Ninguém deve sair daqui, pois poderia levar para o mundo, juntamente com a marca gravada na carne, a terrível notícia do que, em Auschwitz, o homem teve coragem de fazer ao homem.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Here we received the first blows: and it was so new and senseless that we felt no pain, neither in body nor in spirit. Only a profound amazement: how can one hit a man without anger?”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


“Distruggere l'uomo è difficile, quasi quanto crearlo: non è stato agevole, non è stato breve, ma ci siete riusciti, tedeschi. Eccoci docili sotto i vostri sguardi: da parte nostra nulla più avete a temere: non atti di rivolta, non parole di sfida, neppure uno sguardo giudice.”
― Primo Levi, quote from If This Is a Man / The Truce


About the author

Primo Levi
Born place: in Turin, Italy
Born date July 31, 1919
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