Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Lowin
42
What is more credible is that the “way” of the partisans should
pass finally through Milan, the refuge ofmany survivors of the Ho­
locaust, and the springboard to a new life.
Italy is Primo Levi’s homeland and heartland. What is attractive
about Italy, to Levi, is its own refractoriness to law. Italy is “a fairy
tale” (p. 66), “the land of the mild climate and notorious, open il­
legality; . . . the land of evaded prohibitions and anarchic forebear-
ance, where every foreigner is welcomed like a brother” (p. 315).
Another aspect of the Italian character dear to Levi is the Italians’
cavalier attitude to religion:
Even as Christians the Italians are odd. They go to Mass, but they curse.
They ask favors o f the Madonna and the saints, but they don’t seem to believe
much in God. They know the Ten Commandments by heart, but at most they
observe two or three. I believe they help those in need because they’re good
people, who have suffered a lot, and who know that those who suffer should be
helped, (pp. 324-325)
From the Christians, Levi extrapolates an Italian-Jewish charac­
ter. “Italian Jews are as odd as Catholics. They don’t speak Yiddish,
in fact they don’t even know what Yiddish is. They openly speak
Italian; or rather, the Jews of Rome speak Roman, the Jews ofVen­
ice speak Venetian, and so on. They dress like everybody else, they
have the same face as everybody else.” (p. 325)
In the book by Hughes, in Howe’s preface, in Roth’s interview,
in a article in
The Jerusa lem P o s t
10 the theme of assimilated Jewry
recurs like a refrain in a hymn of praise. And yet, as Gedaleh him­
self has insisted, it is important to remain in the battle for survival
not only as universal human beings but also as Jews. The danger of
the openness of a society like Italy—which produces such attractive
Christians as well asJews—is that in such an environment, Jews are
likely to disappear from the stage as Jews.
10.
Dvorah Getzler quotes Levi as follows: “Italian Jews are an exception in
Europe. We were, we are, profoundly assimilated. And especially here in Turin,
Jews are very much a part o f Italian life. The only difference, for most Italians, is
that we don’t attend Mass.” In “The Man Who Is Primo Levi.” The Jerusalem
Post Magazine (November 7, 1986), p.15.