Primo Levi and the Jews
In 1938, Primo Levi was nineteen years old when, in imitation of his German counterpart, Mussolini enacted his Race Laws. After the Second World War, Levi wrote that he was unaware that he was a Jew until then; he repeated this statement many times, and added that until the Race Laws he thought that Jews were Italians without Christmas trees. I couldn’t believe that Primo thought he was an ordinary Italian before the Race Laws; I certainly have never felt that I was an ordinary Englishman. He and I were of an age and had similar backgrounds; both our families paid lip service to the religion. He knew a lot about Judaism, but he learned it backwards, in and after the camps. He wrote, “I became a Jew at Auschwitz. Awareness of my difference was forced upon me. Someone, for no earthly reason had established that I was different and inferior … In making me feel a Jew, it helped me to recover a cultural inheritance which I previously did not possess.” Although he became an expert on the subject, he remained—as I do—agnostic.
KeywordsJewish Community Israel Defense Force Cultural Inheritance Christmas Tree German Counterpart
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