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A daring investigation of Primo Levi's brief career as a fighter with the Italian Resistance, and the grim secret that haunted his life
No other Auschwitz survivor has been as literarily powerful and historically influential as Primo Levi. Yet Levi was not only a victim or a witness. In the fall of 1943, at the very start of the Italian Resistance, he was a fighter, participating in the first attempts to launch guerrilla warfare against occupying Nazi forces. Those three months have been largely overlooked by Levi's biographers; indeed, they went strikingly unmentioned by Levi himself. For the rest of his life he barely acknowledged that autumn in the Alps. But an obscure passage in Levi's The Periodic Table hints that his deportation to Auschwitz was linked directly to an incident from that time: "an ugly secret" that had made him give up the struggle, "extinguishing all will to resist, indeed to live."
What did Levi mean by those dramatic lines? Using extensive archival research, Sergio Luzzatto's groundbreaking Primo Levi's Resistance reconstructs the events of 1943 in vivid detail. Just days before Levi was captured, Luzzatto shows, his group summarily executed two teenagers who had sought to join the partisans, deciding the boys were reckless and couldn't be trusted. The brutal episode has been shrouded in silence, but its repercussions would shape Levi's life.
Combining investigative flair with profound empathy, Primo Levi's Resistance offers startling insight into the origins of the moral complexity that runs through the work of Primo Levi himself.
Luzzatto (The Body of il Duce), a professor of history at the University of Turin, counters the "newfound popularity of crudely revisionist antipartisan books about the Italian civil war of 1943 1945" with a look back at the antifascist resistance and the small role played by one of his intellectual heroes, Primo Levi. Levi was one of 450,000 resistance fighters, of whom 45,000 died. He was involved in only three brief military actions before his band was captured and he was deported to Auschwitz. Luzzatto primarily addresses the culture, actions, and mentality of the partisans, with only a quarter of the book covering the short period (fall 1943) when Levi joined a small group of fighters in Italy's Valle d'Aosta. Luzzatto notes that in the immediate postwar period, many fascists who had murdered partisans escaped justice in later years. Luzzatto's clear, passionately written book may disappoint readers looking to gain more insight into Levi's intellectual and political development, but it will undoubtedly be useful for those interested in Italy's civil war during the last years of WWII. Maps.