The author of If this is a man, the Italian scientist Primo Levi, states in the introduction that he writes in order to "provide documentation for a serene study of some aspects of the human soul." The document is about his own shuddering experience in the concentration camp of Auschwitz and about souls, those of the victims and the executioners. But he also confesses that it is the need for an inner liberation that led him to write this work, the same as all those who survived.
Then begins the description of life in the Lager: its physical structure; Its sinister gear; Hierarchies; Infinite and implausible regulations; Hunger and cold; The suffering that so intensely erases everything else, even the homesickness of lost homes; The unnecessary cynicism of some warnings (in latrines, "cleanliness is health", at the very entrance to hell "work will set you free"); The confusion of tongues; An infinity of laws and taboos ... And the death that, he affirms, begins with the shoes. It is this everyday life of horror that most shook me. After a few days of unbelief ("we received the first blows: and the thing was so unexpected and foolish that we felt no pain, neither in the body nor in the soul, only a deep stupor"), he, like the others, assumed that Universe of absolute dementia. From that moment Levi says that the only task was to seek his own benefit and learn the proper means to achieve it. The executioners oppress the victims, and among them the privileged do the same with those who are not. And here it makes sense to question the title of the work: if a man is the result of Nazi extermination machinery. "We have reached the bottom. We have nothing of our own; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; If we talk, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand us. They will take away even the name, "and the spontaneous compassion towards the neighbor, the empathy towards its pain, because the pain itself is so great that it destroys the very essence of the human soul.
In The truce the author recounts the long and amazing homecoming after liberation. A return we could imagine as a happy release from suffering. But what has remained of the man still has to face situations of extraordinary hardness. At least that was Levi's experience: months and months of stays in different fields, difficult to survive, infinite journeys on foot and in trains that stopped a thousand times and traveled miles in vain looking for the way to reach the destination. These pages are an impressive picture of characters and incredible situations, an agile reading of a painful adventure, but very illuminating human behavior. The third book of the trilogy, The Drowned and the Saved, is a deep and personal reflection on what happened. It analyzes the psychological mechanism that led to the Nazi holocaust as the most refined and brutal form of systematic physical and mental destruction of human beings in contemporary history. He ends the book by commenting on some German letters after the publication of If this is a man, and warning of the false prophets, the high-pitched and hollow words of violence, which must be ruled out in any case.
Levi speaks of a recurrent dream among the inhabitants of the Lager: already at home and among their loved ones they begin to tell what they have lived; At the end they realize that no one listens to them, no one attends to the narration of their sufferings. Let's not be part of that nightmare, let's always have ears open to testimonies like this. Out of respect for the victims, for the selfish need to remember the horrors that never have to be repeated.