Essay: Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz

Essay: Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz

Dehumanization stands at the heart of genocide. By dehumanization, I mean the denial of value to the life of human beings, treating them as members of a species, a target group and not as individuals whose lives matter. In genocide, individual human beings are targeted and killed not because of who they are – the perpetrators often know nothing about the people that they kill – but rather because of what they are: members of a particular group, as defined by the perpetrators.

In many ways, Primo Levi’s book, Survival in Auschwitz, is about dehumanization. Levi recounts his experiences at the Buna-Monowitz Lager, which was part of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. Through his account, we get a glimpse of how dehumanization unfolded, and what it did to those involved in it (both perpetrators and victims.) Even the original title of the book – If This is a Man – shows that Levi was concerned with the question of what the experience of the Holocaust did to our very understanding of what it means to be human.

Your essay assignment is to discuss dehumanization by drawing on Levi’s book. How did the process of dehumanization unfold? What did it do to those caught up in it? How did inmates (and perhaps other actors in the camps) try to retain their humanity? How did Levi try to retain his?


This essay assignment has two main goals:

1) To test your ability to connect a specific text – in this case, Levi’s book – to some of the issues we’ve talked about so far in the course.

2) To test your ability to write an effective essay, with a clear argument (or point), based on evidence.

With that in mind, here are a few specifics:

– You do not need to answer all the questions I’ve posed. They are only meant to serve as guiding points of reflection on Levi’s text.

– You do need to try and connect what you’re reading in Levi to things we’ve been talking about in lectures and in sections.

– For your point or argument in the essay, you do need to rely on examples from Levi’s book. But keep the quotations short. We want to hear your voice.

– When quoting, make sure to include a citation with the precise page numbers in the book.

– Your essay should include an introductory paragraph, where you state your point or argument clearly.

– Proofread your paper carefully. Typos and grammar errors can result in a lower grade.

– Essay length and format: 2-3 pages, double space; font size 12.

– Include a title for the essay, your name, and your sections.


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