Text written by Primo Levi for the inauguration of the Italian memorial at Auschwitz, April 1980.
The story of deportation and of the extermination camps, the story of this place, cannot be separated from the story of fascist tyrannies in Europe. It runs an unbroken connection from the first fires of trade union centres in Italy in 1921, to the burning of books in German squares in 1933, to the nefarious flame of the crematoria of Birkenau. It is an old story that Enrico Heine, a German Jew, had already pointed out: who burns books ends up burning people, brutality is a seed that we cannot extinguish.
It’s sad but dutiful to remember it, to others and to us: the first European experiment of suffocation of the workers’ movement and of sabotage of democracy was born in Italy. It is Fascism, born from the crisis of the First World War, from the legend of the “mutilated victory”, and powered from ancient miseries and faults. From fascism came a delirium that would expand, the providential cult of Man, the organized and imposed enthusiasm, every decision entrusted to the will of only one.
But not all Italians were fascist: we prove it, we the Italians that died here. Next to fascism, the anti-fascism, another unbroken wire, was born in Italy, earlier than elsewhere.
All those that fought against fascism and suffered, the martyrs workers of Turin in 1923, the prisoners, the confined, the exiles, and our brothers of all political faiths who died to resist the fascism restored by the National Socialist invader, give testimony of it. And other Italians still witness with us, those who have fallen on all fronts of World War II, unwillingly and desperately fighting against an enemy who was not their enemy and figuring out the scam too late. They are victims of fascism too: unintentional victims.
We were not unaware. Some of us were partisans, political fighters…Some of us were captured and deported in the last month of war, and they died here, while the Third Reich collapsed, torn by the thought of the so-close liberation. Most of us were Jews: Jews from all Italian cities, and also foreign Jews, Polish Jews, Hungarian Jews, Yugoslav Jews, Czech Jews, German Jews…who in the Fascist Italy, forced to anti-Semitism by Mussolini’s laws, had met the goodwill and civil hospitality of Italian people. They were rich and poor, men and women, healthy and sick. There were a lot of kids between us, and there were old people at death’s door, but we all were loaded like freight on wagons, and our destiny, the destiny of who crossed Auschwitz’s gates, was the same for all us.
It had never happened, even in the darkest ages, that millions of human beings were exterminated, such as harmful insects: that the kids and the dying were sent to die. We, Christians and Jews sons (but we don’t like these distinctions) of a Country that was civil, and that has returned civil after the Fascism’s night, here we testify. In this place, where innocents have been killed, in a place that has touched the depths of barbarism.
Dear visitor, observe the remnants of this field and meditate: wherever you come, you aren’t a stranger. Do not let your journey be useless, our death be useless. For you and your sons, Auschwitz’s ashes are worth of admonition. Do not let the hideous fruit of hatred, of which you have seen the traces, give new seed, neither tomorrow, nor ever.