Study Guide

Survival in Auschwitz (If this is a man) Chapter 1

By Primo Levi

Chapter 1

The Journey

  • It's December 1943. Primo Levi has been captured by the Fascist Militia of Italy. He had previously been dodging the authorities by hiding out in the mountains.
  • His small group was trying to join a larger Resistance movement called Justice and Liberty.
  • Unfortunately, young Primo and his associates aren't very good at this whole Resistance thing: they don't know much about getting weapons and money, and the group is pretty much made up of outcasts who are looking for help.
  • A month after Primo is caught and transferred to a detention camp because he's Jewish. This puts him in one of the groups that is Not Approved by the Fascist Republic of Italy and also includes Americans and English prisoners-of-war.
  • Over the next few weeks, almost 600 Italian Jews end up in this detention camp with Primo.
  • About a month later, the SS shows up and announces the Jews will be leaving. All of them—including the ill, the old, and women and children.
  • Where are they going? No one knows.
  • Even more terrifying, the SS announces that for every person missing the next morning at departure, ten others would be randomly shot.
  • Many people in the camp, including Primo, know what this journey means: death. Many of the prisoners mourn the night before departure.
  • The next day, the Jewish prisoners are crowded into a freight train like animals.
  • On the train, the prisoners learn they're going to Auschwitz.
  • The people on the train are cold, hungry, and above all, thirsty.
  • After many days, the train comes to a stop, and the prisoners are ordered out by German officers.
  • Some prisoners are told to go one way, and some another—selected on the basis of age, gender and health.
  • Very quickly, all of the healthy, able men are rounded up. The women, children and old men disappear.
  • A group of strange people start going through the prisoners' discarded luggage.
  • Along with many other men, Primo is loaded into a truck and hauled off to who knows where.
  • Their only guard on this bizarre ride is a German soldier, who (politely?!) asks them if he can have their money and watches, since they really won't be needing them anymore.