30+ quotes from Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

Quotes from Survival in Auschwitz

Primo Levi ·  187 pages

Rating: (35.3K votes)


“Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home.
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud,
Who knows no peace,
Who fights for a crust of bread,
Who dies by a yes or no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter.
Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your houses be destroyed,
May illness strike you down,
May your offspring turn their faces from you.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. 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.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Voi che vivete sicuri
Nelle vostre tiepide case,
Voi che trovate tornando a sera
Il cibo caldo e visi amici:
Considerate se questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta per mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no.
Considerate se questa è una donna,
Senza capelli e senza nome
Senza più forza di ricordare
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo
Come una rana d'inverno.
Meditate che questo è stato:
Vi comando queste parole.
Scolpitele nel vostro cuore
Stando in casa andando per via,
Coricandovi alzandovi;
Ripetetele ai vostri figli.
O vi si sfaccia la casa,
La malattia vi impedisca,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Dawn came on us like a betrayer; it seemed as though the new sun rose as an ally of our enemies to assist in our destruction.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“For a country is considered the more civilized the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak or a powerful one too powerful.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“To destroy a man is difficult, almost as difficult as to create one: it has not been easy, nor quick, but you Germans have succeeded. Here we are, docile under your gaze; from our side you have nothing more to fear; no acts of violence, no words of defiance, not even a look of judgment.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“...In our days many men have lived in this cruel manner, crushed against the bottom, but each for a relatively short period; so that we can perhaps ask ourselves if it is necessary or good to retain any memory of this exceptional human state.
To this question we feel that we have to reply in the affirmative. We are in fact convinced that no human experience is without meaning or unworthy of analysis, and that fundamental values, even if they are not positive, can be deduced from this particular world which we are describing…”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“All took leave from life in the manner which most suited them. Some praying, some deliberately drunk, others lustfully intoxicated for the last time. But the mothers stayed up to prepare the food for the journey with tender care, and washed their children and packed their luggage; and at dawn the barbed wire was full of children's washing hung out in the wind to dry. Nor did they forget the diapers, the toys, the cushions and the hundreds other small things which mothers remember and which children always need. Would you not do the same? If you and your child were going to die tomorrow, would you not give him to eat today?”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“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 anymore; 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 will have to find in 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 Survival in Auschwitz


“The conviction that life has a purpose is rooted in every fibre of man, it is a property of the human substance. Free men give many names to this purpose, and think and talk a lot about its nature. But for us the question is simpler. Today, in this place, our only purpose is to reach the spring. At the moment we care about nothing else. Behind this aim there is not at the moment any other aim. In the morning while we wait endlessly lined up in roll-call square for the time to leave for work, while every breath of wind penetrates our clothes and runs in violent shivers over our defenceless bodies, and everything is grey around us, and we are grey; in the morning, when it is still dark, we all look at the sky in the east to spot the first signs of a milder season, and the rising of the sun is commented on every day: today a little earlier than yesterday, today a little warmer than yesterday, in two months, in a month, the cold will call a truce and we will have one enemy less. Today the sun rose bright and clear for the first time from the horizon of mud. It is a Polish sun, cold, white, distant, and only warms the skin, but when it dissolved the last mists a murmur ran through our colourless numbers, and when even I felt its lukewarmth through my clothes I understood how men can worship the sun.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“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. What”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly 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 saving. The personages in these pages are not men. Their humanity is buried, or they themselves have buried it, under an offense received or inflicted on someone else. The evil and insane SS men, the Kapos, the politicals, the criminals, the prominents, great and small, down to the indifferent slave Häftlinge, all the grades of the mad hierarchy created by the Germans paradoxically fraternized in a uniform internal desolation. But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated, he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“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.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Voi che vivete sicuri
Nelle vostre tiepide case
oi che trovate tornando a sera
Il cibo caldo e visi amici
Considerati si questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel gango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta por mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no
Considerate se questa é una donna
Senza caplli e senza nome
Senza più forza di ricordare
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo
Come una rana d'inverno
Meditate che questo è stato
Vi comando queste parole
Scolpitele nem vuostro cuore
Stando in casa andando per via
Coricandovi alzandovi
Ripetelete ai vostri figli
O vi si sfaccia la casa
La malattia vi impedisca
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“that precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. 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.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Imagine now a man who is deprived of everyone he loves, and at the same time of his house, his habits, his clothes, in short, of everything he possesses: he will be a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint, for he who loses all often easily loses himself. He will be a man whose life or death can be lightly decided with no sense of human affinity, in the most fortunate of cases, on the basis of a pure judgment of utility. It is in this way that one can understand the double sense of the term “extermination camp,” and it is now clear what we seek to express with the phrase: “to lie on the bottom.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still posses one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last - the power to refuse our consent.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“To destroy a man is difficult, almost as difficult as to create one:”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“does not ingenuity consist in the finding or creating of connections between apparently extraneous orders of ideas?)”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“For people condemned to death, tradition prescribes an austere ceremony, calculated to emphasize that all passions and anger have died down, and that the act of justice represents only a sad duty towards society which moves even the executioner to pity for the victim. Thus the condemned man is shielded from all external cares, he is granted solitude and, should he want it, spiritual comfort; in short, care is taken that he should feel around him neither hatred nor arbitrariness, only necessity and justice, and by means of punishment, pardon. But to us this was not granted, for we were many and time was short. And in any case, what had we to repent, for what crime did we need pardon?”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Many people — many nations — can find themselves holding, more or less wittingly, that ‘every stranger is an enemy’. For the most part this conviction lies deep down like some latent infection; it betrays itself only in random, disconnected acts, and does not lie at the base of a system of reason.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“One hesitates to call them living: one hesitates to call their death death, in the face of which they have no fear, as they are too tired to understand.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“In fact, we are the untouchables to the civilians. They think, more or less explicitly—with all the nuances lying between contempt and commiseration—that as we have been condemned to this life of ours, reduced to our condition, we must be tainted by some mysterious, grave sin. They hear us speak in many different languages, which they do not understand and which sound to them as grotesque as animal noises; they see us reduced to ignoble slavery, without hair, without honor and without names, beaten every day, more abject every day, and they never see in our eyes a light of rebellion, or of peace, or of faith. They know us as thieves and untrustworthy, muddy, ragged and starving, and mistaking the effect for the cause, they judge us worthy of our abasement.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Ali kamo idemo, ne znamo. Možda ćemo uspjeti preživjeti boleštine i umaknuti selekcijama, možda ćemo izdržati napor i glad koji nas rastaču: a onda? Ovdje, trenutačno daleko od psovki i batina, iznova se možemo vratiti sebi samima i meditirati, a tada postaje jesno da se nećemo vratiti. Mi smo putovali sve dovde u plombiranim vagonima! Vidjeli smo kako put ništavila odlaze naše žene i djeca; nakon što su od nas napravili robove, marširali smo sto puta tamo-amo zaludu, ugašene duše prije bezlične smrti. Nećemo se vratiti. Odavde nitko ne smije izaći, jer bi u svijet mogao ponijeti, zajedno sa znakom utisnutim u tijelo, opaku vijest o tome koliko čovjeku treba hrabrosti, u Auschwitzu, da bude čovjek.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“This fills me with anger, although I already know that it is in the normal order of things that the privileged oppress the unprivileged: the social structure of the camp is based on this human law.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“But here in the Lager there are no criminals nor madmen; no criminals because there is no moral law to contravene, no madmen because we are wholly devoid of free will, as our every action is, in time and place, the only conceivable one.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“The latrine is an oasis of peace.”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


“Sớm hay muộn trong cuộc đời mình, mỗi người sẽ khám phá ra rằng hạnh phúc hoàn hảo là không có thật nhưng ít ai chịu ngẫm nghĩ về điều ngược lại: rằng một sự bất hạnh hoàn hảo cũng không hề có...”
― Primo Levi, quote from Survival in Auschwitz


About the author

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