Survival in Auschwitz Discussion Questions

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'Survival in Auschwitz' is a memoir by Primo Levi, an anti-Fascist who spent a year in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. The following questions may be used for classroom discussions about this book.

Survival in Auschwitz

Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz offers the author's brutal testimony about his life in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Having been written soon after his liberation, Levi is able to offer details about his experience while they are fresh in his mind. The questions in this resource guide group discussions about Levi's ordeal.

Chapters 1-6

  • Describe Primo Levi's life before his capture. Why do you think he was willing to put himself at risk to join a resistance group? Would you have been part of his group? Why?
  • How does the SS convince the Italian Jews in the detention camp to comply with the order to arrive at the train with the knowledge that their deportation meant death? What would you have done?
  • What are some ways the prisoners are subjected to dehumanization on their first days in Auschwitz? What are some examples of humanity Levi experiences with the other prisoners? Why is it difficult for the prisoners to maintain their own sense of humanity?
  • What does Primo learn while staying in Ka-Be? Do you think it is better for him to know this information, or would he have been better off not knowing?

Chapters 7-12

  • Describe a typical work day for Primo. What are some of the dangers that accompany working at the Buna? Compare the skills and traits needed to be successful in the labor camp to the skills and traits that made Primo successful before the war. How do you think you would fare in Primo's situation? Explain your answer.
  • Describe the bartering system within Auschwitz. Why do you think civilians and prisoners are willing to risk engaging in these types of illegal practices? What are some things the guards do to prevent bartering? Do you think the benefits are worth the risk? Why?
  • Primo struggles to remember literature and how to write. Why do you think these things are important to him? How does Primo's knowledge of chemistry contribute to his survival? What parts of your educational experience are most meaningful to you?
  • How do the prisoners respond to air raids? How would you respond?

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