The proposition that it was pure chance that enabled Primo Levi to survive Auschwitz is indeed contentious, if not vastly simplistic. In order to fully comprehend what it was that enabled Primo Levi to survive the death camps we must carefully examine the thoughts and experiences that are chronicled in his memoir published under the title "If this is a man".
In this memoir, Levi begins his story in Italy 1943 with his capture by "the Fascist Militia on 13 December" (Levi, 1979 p.19) after a short stint as a novice partisan in the mountains. With the benefit of hindsight he reflects that at this time, still relatively young and naive he has yet to learn the cruel lessons of life, "I had not been taught the doctrine I was later to learn so hurriedly in the Lager: that man is bound to pursue his own ends by all possible means, while he who errs but once pays dearly"(Levi, 1979 p.19).
Thrown into a concentration camp by the Italian Fascists for his Jewish heritage, it is the arrival of the German SS that signals his descent into hell. Herded like animals into converted cattle wagons, Levi joined 650 other men, women and children on a trip that would ultimately end with the deaths of the majority of those on board, indeed of those on that cursed locomotive, only 3 would survive the war and make the trip back to Italy.
It is on this trip, while enduring the basest cruelties and deprivations that Levi first notices the death of hope, "During the halts no one tried any more to communicate with the outside world: we felt ourselves by now "on the other side"." (Levi 1979 p.24)The end of the train journey is heralded by the brightly illuminated sign above the gates of Auschwitz, Arbeit Macht Frei, and to Levi, "This is hell. Today in our times, hell must be like this." (Levi 1979 p28).
Thrown into a disorientingly cruel and confusing new world, Levi struggles with many of the new challenges that now face him.