Yale Hosts Conference on Holocaust Writer Primo Levi

To commemorate the life and the work of noted Italian author Primo Levi (1919–1987), best known for his searing Holocaust memoir “Survival in Auschwitz,” Yale University will host an international conference on February 28–29 in the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St.

All events are free and open to the public. Members of the media are welcome to cover the program.

The conference, “Primo Levi in the Present Tense: New Reflections on His Life and Work Before and After Auschwitz,” will present the latest research on “a man whose name is increasingly invoked wherever the need to bear witness arises,” note conference organizers.

A chemist by trade, Levi began to write only after surviving incarceration in Auschwitz, and although much of his literary production pivots around that experience, he produced a large body of works, including novels, lyric poems, short stories, science fiction, translations and critical essays.

The Yale event will bring together scholars from the United States, Italy, the United Kingdom and Australia. It will begin on Thursday, February 28, with an opening keynote address by Yale Sterling Professor of Italian Giuseppe Mazzotta, titled “Thinking Through Death,” at 2 p.m. in Room 208. Following the lecture, a panel of scholars from Hofstra University, Boston University and Cambridge University will discuss “Politics, Nationalism and Collective Memory.” 

Davide Ferrario’s documentary “Primo Levi’s Journey” (2007) will be screened in the Whitney Humanities Center Auditorium at 8 p.m. that night. Described by one reviewer as “thoughtful and insightful,” the film retraces Levi’s trip from Poland to Italy after he was liberated from Auschwitz in 1945. It features Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper reading selections from Levi’s books in juxtaposition with images of post-communist Eastern Europe. The documentary begins with a 60th anniversary ceremony at Auschwitz and includes archival footage of Levi.

On Friday, February 29, the program will resume at 9 a.m. with a panel titled “Unbearable Witness.” Following that, there will be panels on “Questions of Genre,” “Strategies of Communication and Representation” and “Spreading the Word.” 

Holocaust scholar Lawrence Langer, emeritus professor of Simmons College, will deliver the closing keynote address, “The Survivor as Author: Primo Levi’s Literary Vision of Auschwitz,” at 4:30 p.m.

A reception and a concert of Jewish music by soprano Lauren Libaw (Yale ’09) and pianist Daniel Schlosberg (Yale ’10) will bring the conference to a close.

This conference is co-sponsored by the Italian Language and Literature Department, the Judaic Studies Program and the Whitney Humanities Center. For further information, contact Ann DeLauro at 203-432-0595.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325