Wednesday 16 September 2015

Young Italian Girl Pens Letter to Auschwitz Survivor Primo Levi

"The question you ask me about the Germans cruelty has long perplexed historians." (Primo Levi)

In 1982, a young Italian girl penned a letter to Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, after reading his book If This is a Man.  The letter sat in a treasure box for decades.  Recently it was published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

After Monica Perosino read the Primo Levi's 1947 novel, If This is a Man, her head was buzzing with questions.  "Why didn't anyone do somthing to stop the massacre?  Were the Germans evil?"  It was hard to imagine that something as horrific as the Holocaust could happen.  Little Monica got out a piece of stationery and penned a letter to the Italian author posing her poignant questions.  Then she took out a Turin phone book, where she lived, and searched for Levi's address.  She postmarked her letter and waited for a response.

I'm sure no one who went through the gates of Auschwitz would ever forget the horror.  And Levi was no exception.  In his time at the concentration camp, from February of 1944 to January of 1945, Levi saw enough horror stories to fill several books.  Yet somehow he was able to write an eloquent response to Monica.  He explained:

"The question you ask me about the Germans cruelty has long perplexed historians.  In my opinion it would make no sense accusing of cruelty the whole German nation of those days -- let alone pointing the finger at today's Germans... Nevertheless, many Germans must have known directly or indirectly what was going on...I would accuse the Germans of those days of selfishness, of being indifferent and intentionally ignorant..."

On the one hand, many Germans (and non-Germans) aided and abetted the Nazis during the Holocaust.  On the other hand, there were Germans who stepped up to the plate and saved Jewish lives, at great risk to their own lives:  who hid Jewish children; who employed Jews in their factories to prevent them from being deported to concentration camps (Oskar Schlinder); who renounced the Nazis from the pulpit (Dietrich Bonhoeffer for which he was executed); and who even helped Jews from within the walls of the concentrations camps.

Back in Italy, Monica grew up to become a journalist.  For a long time, she forgot about Primo Levi's letter, which sat in a treasure box in her apartment.  Recently, she rediscovered it when she was packing to move.  Her editor at by La Stampa, the same newspaper that Primo Levi had written for. convinced her to publish it.  Monica thought it was an appropriate course of action, explaining:
"I understand his [Primo Levi's] answer wasn't just for me, it was for everybody."

Note:  For more information, read Primo Levi's book Survival in Auschwitz.

Primo Levi circa 1940s courtesy

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