Students and professors discuss the writings of Primo Levi

Kara Taylor

Primo Levi, a Jewish-Italian chemist and writer, initiated a movement with his writing to open the eyes of millions after the Holocaust.

Kristin Stasiowski, professor of modern and classical languages studies, led a discussion called “The Side of Good and Evil: Primo Levi and the Holocaust” in the Business Administration Building.

During the discussion, Stasiowski provided quotes, pictures and information on the background of Primo Levi and the Holocaust.

Primo Levi was a chemist by trade but later turned to writing to express his feelings toward the Holocaust. Levi believed if he wrote about the destruction he saw in Auschwitz, he would be free of the agony.

“The lightness he might have felt at freeing his own voice might have been matched only by the weight he felt in speaking for others,” Stasiowski said.

In 1944, Levi was transported to Auschwitz, where he lived for 11 months until the Red Army liberated the camp. Six hundred fifty Italian Jews were transported to Auschwitz that particular day, and Levi was one of 20 survivors.

Levi wrote “If This is a Man,” a book detailing his experience during the Holocaust, immediately after the war, but it was originally not well-received. Some Europeans were scared to face what happened in the camps and some honestly didn’t believe these events took place.

“’If This is a Man’ was not met with much enthusiasm upon its first publication in Europe. In fact, it was mostly received with indifference,” said Stasiowski. “Europeans were not yet ready to confront what had happened in the camps.”

Levi spoke of tragic experiences focusing on being degraded as a human being.

“’If This is a Man’ is not only a stunning work of testimony to the darkest hour of the 20th century, it is also a masterwork of world literature,” said Stasiowski.

During his time period in Auschwitz, he struggled with the idea of being dehumanized. Levi fought to maintain dignity while being treated as a beast.

Levi spoke in-depth on how the Auschwitz guards shaved heads, beat women and children, split up families, disposed of babies and stole Jewish possessions. Levi wanted to express that, throughout the Holocaust, people were stripped of their dignity. People had begun to die spiritually before their actual physical death.

“By the time your body died, you were already dead long before it,” said Stasiowski, quoting Primo Levi.

Levi passed away in 1987 after a fall from his three-story apartment. It has been argued for years that he committed suicide.

Stephanie Siciarz, Italian language professor, said the discussion of Primo Levi was just a piece of her program’s plan to evolve in the Kent State community.

“This event today was just a taste of the initiatives presently taking shape in the Italian Program,” Siciarz said. “We are in the process of developing and strengthening our ties with the Jewish Studies Program, the Fashion School, the Art History Program, and the Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Minor.”

Contact Kara Taylor at [email protected].