The Itinerary of an Identity

Primo Levi’s “Parallel Nationalization”
  • Nancy Harrowitz
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


In 1975, Primo Levi published a troubling description about what his Jewish identity meant to him in the year 1941. This passage appears in The Periodic Table, the story of his life as a chemist: “In truth, until precisely those months it had not meant much to me that I was a Jew: to myself, and in contacts with my Christian friends, I had always considered my origins as an almost insignificant but odd fact, a small cheerful anomaly, like having a crooked nose or freckles; a Jew is somebody who at Christmas does not decorate a tree, who should not eat salami but eats it anyway, who has learned a bit of Hebrew at thirteen and then has forgotten it”1 The political scene at the time was rapidly shifting. The Fascist racialist doctrine of the purported impurity of Jews had become diffuse. Levi was learning what exclusion meant for Jews, as it became difficult for him to remain at the university because of the antisemitic Racial Laws of 1938–1939. Despite the claims he makes to the contrary, the fact of being Jewish was already much more significant than the “small cheerful anomaly” he notes, as not only Levi but also the entire Jewish community of Turin was then suffering under laws eliminating Italian Jews’ civil rights.


National Identity Jewish Community Jewish Identity Parallel Nationalization National Consciousness 
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Copyright information

© Risa Sodi and Millicent Marcus 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy Harrowitz
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston UniversityUSA

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