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“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, Survival in Auschwitz

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I first read Primo Levi’s work when I spotted a copy of “The Periodic Table” in a local bookshop in the mid 1980s – the cover was emblazoned with a recommendation from Italo Calvino, which was enough to make me pick it up instantly. The bulk of the body of his work concerns the Holocaust and its survivors, a constant reminder of the horrors of the past which we must never forget lest they be repeated.

Levi was a troubled man and died in 1987 after a fall from the landing of his third floor apartment. The death was ruled as suicide, but as fellow survivor Elie Wiesel put it, “Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years earlier”.

For much of his life post-War Levi seemed plagued by the guilt of a survivor, stating “We who survived the Camps are not true witnesses. We are those who, through prevarication, skill or luck, never touched bottom. Those who have, and who have seen the face of the Gorgon, did not return, or returned wordless.”

Levi was never wordless, and his books remain as a testament. Happy birthday Primo Levi.