Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Primo Levi ..... Author & Auschwitz Survivor!!

Yesterday, 11th April, 2012 was the 25th Yahrzeit of Primo Levi. Italian Poet, Author, Auschwicz Survivor, Jew and Chemist of Note.  He was the author of two novels and several collections of short stories, essays, and poems.  His best-known works include 'If This Is a Man' (1947), which is  his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland,  and The Periodic Table (1975) which the Royal Institution of Great Britain named the best science book ever written!!

I like him best as a Poet ~ although his 'Survival in Auschwitz'   (1947) is essential reading  ~ and so I am reproducing below some favourites in his memory.  We have a duty of Zakor ~  remembrance ~  of the lives and endeavours of our people.  And apart from his poetry, the survival and return to his native Turin of Primo Levi deserve remembering, especially so as Europe is once again in the ever tightening grip of growing Anti-Semitism.

On 21st February, 1944, the inmates of the camp were transported in twelve cramped cattle trucks to Monowitz, one of the three main camps in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex (his record number was 174,517). Levi spent eleven months there before the camp was liberated by the Red Army on January 18th, 1945. Of the 650 Italian Jews in his shipment, Levi was one of only twenty who left the camps alive. The average life expectancy of a new entrant was three months.   Levi knew some German from reading German publications on chemistry, as a science graduate, and he quickly oriented himself to life in the camp without attracting the attention of the privileged inmates.   He used bread to pay a more experienced Italian prisoner for German lessons and orientation in Auschwitz, and he received a smuggled soup ration each day from Lorenzo Perrone hurriedly evacuated the camp as the Red Army approached, forcing all but the gravely ill on a long , an Italian civilian bricklayer, working as a forced labourer. His professional qualifications were also useful,  and in mid-November 1944 he was able to secure a position as an assistant in IG Farben's Buna Werke laboratory that was intended to produce synthetic rubber, thereby avoiding the  hard labour in freezing outdoor temperatures. Shortly before the camp was liberated by the Red Army, he fell ill with scarlet fever and was placed in the camp's Sanatorium. On January 18th, 1945, the SS death march that led to the death of the vast majority of the remaining prisoners.  Levi's illness spared him this fate, B"H.

And, Although liberated on 27th January 1945, Levi did not reach Turin until 19th October 1945. After spending some time in a Soviet camp for former concentration camp inmates, as a result of the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces he embarked on an arduous journey home in the company of former pre-1946 Italian prisoners of war from the Royal Italian Army in Russia. His long railway journey home to Turin took him on a circuitous route from Poland, through Bielorussia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Austria and Germany.

The Survivor

Once more he sees his companions' faces
Livid in the first faint light,
Gray with cement dust,
Nebulous in the mist,
Tinged with death in their uneasy sleep.
At night, under the heavy burden
Of their dreams, their jaws move,
Chewing a non-existant turnip.
'Stand back, leave me alone, submerged people,
Go away. I haven't dispossessed anyone,
Haven't usurped anyone's bread.
No one died in my place. No one.
Go back into your mist.
It's not my fault if I live and breathe,
Eat, drink, sleep and put on clothes.'



In the brutal nights we used to dream
Dense violent dreams,
Dreamed with soul and body:
To return; to eat; to tell the story.
Until the dawn command
Sounded brief, low
And the heart cracked in the breast.

Now we have found our homes again,
Our bellies are full,
We're through telling the story.
It's time. Soon we'll hear again
The strange command:


You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.
 Please Note that the Above Poems were originally written in Italian!!

1 comment:

  1. A Later Poem of Primo Levi .... a little too 'Liberal' for me!!!!

    Song of Those Who Died in Vain

    Sit down and bargain
    All you like, grizzled old foxes.
    We’ll wall you up in a splendid palace
    With food, wine, good beds and a good fire
    Provided that you discuss, negotiate
    For our and your children’s lives.
    May all the wisdom of the universe
    Converge to bless your minds
    And guide you in the maze.
    But outside in the cold we will be waiting for you,
    The army of those who died in vain,
    We of the Marne, of Montecassino,
    Treblinka, Dresden and Hiroshima.
    And with us will be
    The leprous and the people with trachoma,
    The Disappeared Ones of Buenos Aires,
    Dead Cambodians and dying Ethiopians,
    The Prague negotiators,
    The bled-dry of Calcutta
    The innocents slaughtered in Bologna.
    Heaven help you if you come out disagreeing:
    You’ll be clutched tight in our embrace.
    We are invincible because we are the conquered,
    Invulnerable because already dead;
    We laugh at your missiles.
    Sit down and bargain
    Until your tongues are dry.
    If the havoc and the shame continue
    We’ll drown you in our putrefaction.