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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

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Primo Levi: “A Humanist Who Insisted on Justice”

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Primo LeviPhoto by Alfred Essa/Flickr/cc by-nc-sa 2.0

The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles the late Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi whose thoughts on fascism sound as relevant today (amid unrest we observe in Libya and Syria) as when he was writing in 1974:

"Every age has its own fascism, and we see the warning signs wherever the concentration of power denies citizens the possibility and the means of expressing and acting on their own free will. There are many ways of reaching this point, and not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying and distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralyzing the education system, and by spreading in a myriad subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned, and where the security of a privileged few depends on the forced labor and the forced silence of the many."

Levi’s reflection on Passover shares this same spirit of anti-fascism, of parity and equity with optimism for a better future:

"Tonight they will exchange questions: The wise, the godless, the simple-minded, and the child. And time reverses its course, today flowing back into yesterday, like a river enclosed at its mouth. Each of us has been a slave in Egypt, soaked straw and clay with sweat, and crossed the sea dry-footed. You too, stranger. This year in fear and shame, next year in virtue and justice."

He is best known for Survival in Auschwitz, his memoir about the year he survived as a prisoner in a concentration camp. He said of that experience and the impact on his character:

"Auschwitz left its mark on me, but it did not remove my desire to live. On the contrary, that experience increased my desire, it gave my life a purpose, to bear witness, so that such a thing should never occur again."
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