Levi, Bellow and the King of the Jews - by Marco Belpoliti

On 20 November 1977, the newspaper “La Stampa” published a text by Primo Levi at the bottom of a page in its Arts and Culture section. Entitled “The King of the Jews” it was accompanied by an illustration of both sides of a light alloy coin. One side of which was emblazoned with the Star of David. What followed was an autobiographical account. Levi came across the coin at the large camp of Auschwitz after the liberation of the Monowitz camp. From that small object, kept as a lucky charm first in a purse, then later in a drawer, the writer tells the story of the man who minted the coin. Chaim Rumkowski was his name, a Jewish industrialist whose business had failed, and was named as the head of the ghetto of Lodz, Polish city by the German occupiers, in 1940. He was a sort of uncrowned king of the Jewish population in the ghetto. Exhausted and hungry he was a target for elimination. Before this, however, he was to produce the canvas needed by the German Army in the textile mills of the city. Both executioner and victim, this character is used as an example by a nine years old Levi, in his latest book published while still alive. The Drowned and the Saved (1986), defines as the “gray zone”, the area between the black and white, between victims and perpetrators. Rumkoswki takes on the role of the king and an absolute ruler, completewith a court and bards. In the story on “La Stampa” Levi provides, in part, various details about the insane megalomania of this character.

The story printed in the Turin newspaper was yet to contain a reference to that which would later become a vividimage, the grey area. Levi writes “a vast zone of gray consciences that stands between the great men of evil and thepure victims”. It is a theme that the former deportee introduced a year earlier in the preface to a book by Jacob Presser, De Nacht der Girondijnen, published by Adelphi which he himself had translated. The expressions and formulas used in the short text of 1976 to define the “gray zone” are even more precise and detailed than those used in the story dedicated to Rumkowski. However, the personality of the head of the Lodz ghetto (his function was President or Dean), who minted coins and printed postage stamps just like a sovereign, was for Levi much more interesting: the ambiguous relationship with power. Rumkowski, Jewish persecutor of the Jews who will end up in the gas chamber. Levi tells the whole story in great detail, albeit succinctly. After that debut on the pages of the newspaper, the story would appear twice again in the collected volume Lilìt e altri racconti, published in 1981 in Italy, and then embedded in the gray zone chapter of The Drowned and the Saved.

In its 1981 version the text is identical to the one that appeared in “La Stampa”, and comes at the end of the “Passato prossimo” (Present perfect) section, a group of 12 short stories about the concentration camps andNazi persecution, some of which date back to the fifties. In The Drowned and the Saved (1986), there are several changes, most of all the absence of image of the coin used in both “La Stampa” and Moments of Reprieve, ridding it of any autobiographical slant. Not only are there numerous changes in the choice of words, the opening, too, is different. The text is used to connect the story of Rumkowski to previous pages, where Levi addresses the theme of “human ambiguity fatally provoked by oppression”2Primo Levi, The Gray Zone, in The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal, New York, Summit Books 1988, p. 61. . In the first few lines of the author warns readers that this is a story already told elsewhere, adding a reference to Gabriele D'Annunzio, presenting Rumkowski as an imitator of the autocrats of the time (Mussolini and Hitler), the Italian writer and poet Levi is the creator of the “necessaryhero” from which the style the pseudo-conversation with the crowd practiced by Mussolini and Hitler, is emulated by the dean of Lodz. At another point in the text, and important to the reasoning on the autocrat of the ghetto, Levi adds a quick reflection on the relationship between failure and the ability to obtain “moral force” by the experience of defeat and personal ruin – twice Rumkowski had failed as an industrialist. The writer also considers the struggle between power-groups at the time of the collapse of political regimes; citing two examples: the ministers of Salò and Hitler's court, it is a further historical- psychological detail on the internal dynamics of power.

There are further small alterations to the text which allow Levi to be more judgemental about Rumkowski and similar figures, phrases that recall the preface to De Nacht der Girondijnen. Why come back to writing about Rumkowski so many years after the Turinese writers’ return from Auschwitz? It is of course the hankering after the “gray zone” that has him do this. He adds that he had recently found out various things that allowed him toreconstruct at least part of the story, “which is fascinating and sinister”3Ibidem. . It is not a sudden enlightenment which pushes him to gather information on Rumkowski, but an identifiable slow progress which, at least from 1975, was sometimes documented. This culminated in the final draft of the chapter dedicated to the grey zone. Traces of which go back to the mid-fifties and early sixties.

In a text from 1955, entitled “Anniversary”, written for the tenth anniversary of the end of World War II and the return of the deportees from the concentration and extermination camps, Levi wrote explicitly of the perpetrators as belonging to the same human family as that of the victims. They were not characters from a distant world, not abnormal. He stresses that they themselves were just like the deported men, women and children. In another text from 1961, “Testifying about Eichmann”, he spoke of the “contagion of evil”, in reference to the Sonderkommando, the ravens of the crematorium, Jews who participated in the extermination of other Jews working at the gas chambers in order to prolong their own lives, even by a few months. Their stories will echo along with Rumkowski in the chapter dedicated to the gray area. The “contagion” is a theme that is closely related to the President of the Lodz Ghetto, his relationship with power and his two-facedness.

In a letter sent to his friend Luciana Nissim in 1979 – she had been deported to Auschwitz along with her husband, the economist Franco Momigliano, and Levi – Levi explains why this theme was so important to him. Theletter contained a photocopy of the article that appeared in “La Stampa”, by which we understand that Levi ha previously told Luciana and Franco the story of Rumkowski. This friend is not the only person with whom he shared the Jewish experience of deportation to Auschwitz. First having graduated in medicine, after returning from Auschwitz Luciana Nissim worked at Olivetti as a pediatrician. She then went under analysis with Franco Fornari, and later with Cesare Musatti to become a psychoanalyst. Levi had been in close contact with her from the early sixties, and the story of Rumkowski, the first completed piece of the triptych of the gray zone, is close to two of the key issues of his latest reflection of ex-deportee: the involvement of victims in the of power strategies of theperpetrators and the “contagion of evil”. Luciana Nissim had survived the camp due to her profession as a physician and following the publication, on her return, of Ricordi della casa dei morti (Memories from the House of Dead; the title is afer Dostoevsky’s), a testimony of deportation, she had remained silent for a long time about her experience of the Lager.

In a long essay titled “Variazioni Rumkowski: sulle piste della zona grigia” (Rumkowski Variations: tracing the gray zone), Martina Mengoni has documented the sources from which Levi drew the information for his story. It consists of three books: The Final Solution by Gerald Reitlinger, published in 1953, issued in Italian by il Saggiatore in 1962, Bréviaire de la haine. Le troisième Reich et les Juifs by Léon Poliakov from 1951 and published by Einaudi in Italy with the title Il nazismo e lo sterminio degli Ebrei in 1955, and The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg, originally published in 1961, but only in 1995 in Italian by Einaudi. In particular, the text of Poliakov had tobe well known to Levi, it had been translated by his sister Anna Maria and appeared in the series “Saggi”. Three years later, in 1958, the new expanded edition of If This Is a Man was published in the same series.

Martina Mengoni then quotes an article that appeared in the American magazine “Commentary” in December 1948, written by Solomon F. Bloom, entitled: “Dictator of the Lodz Ghetto. The Strange History of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski”. This text would be the main source for the parts devoted to Rumkowski in the books of Reitlinger and Poliakov, being the first report of the affair to appear outside Poland. Details of this article, Martina Mengoni points out, fit into the Turin writer's description of Rumkowski, and in particular his final end (Levirefered to a verse composed in honor of Rumkowski by one of his court poets cited in “Commentary”).

The author speculates that Levi may have read the piece in the French translation which appeared in themagazine “Les Temps Modernes” in 1949, distributed in Italy and particularly in Turin, whereas “Commentary” was more difficult to find. In any case, Levi had been aware of the existence of this article since the fifties, as it was mentioned in a note in Anna Maria's translation Poliakov's work (the title of Bloom's article is translated intoItalian). The actual reading of “Commentary” in the past is a hypothesis, as details of the story were already to be found in the books mentioned. Levi being an attentive reader may have procured Bloom's article at a later datewhen he wrote the story published in “La Stampa”. Martina Mengoni suggests another further source : the story bya Polish writer, Adolf Rudnicki, “The Merchant of Lodz”, included in the volume I topi, published by Mondadori in 1967, where a historical and psychological profile of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski is outlined. Levi could have read it, since other details in his writing are close to those reported by Rudnicki.

There is too another possible indirect source not mentioned by Martina Mengoni which is also very interesting. It could have attracted Levi's attention to Rumkowski, and led the writer to cover the coin collected at Auschwitz Unlike the authors mentioned above, with the exception of perhaps Poliakov, due to his importance in the study of Nazism, Saul Bellow is very well known, even notorious. It would be odd that his works were unknown to a reader as curious as Levi. The American novelist won the Nobel Prize in 1976. In one of his best known novels,Mr. Sammler’s Planet, a book that helped to solidify his fame, Rumkowski appears. The novel was published in the U.S. in February 1970 and published a year later in Italy by Feltrinelli.

Mr. Sammler’s Planet was the seventh novel by the Jewish writer. Born in Canada but resided in Chicago, it was published six years after his masterpiece, Herzog (1964). The protagonist, Arthur Sammler is a Polish Jew, alittle more than seventy years old. He has lived in New York for twenty years, but is still a “foreigner”. As we learn in the course of the narrative, Sammler escaped a Nazi massacre, buried under a pile of corpses, and he lost an eye. Then he fought the Nazis, in a flashback he recalls the scene of the killing of a German soldier (this detail suggests a novel next to Levi, If not now, when?, 1982, which tells the story of a band of Jewish partisans, but maybe it's just a coincidence).

Sammler was a journalist, and had lived in London in the thirties, where he met H.G. Wells. Caught by the outbreak of war in Poland, where his wife had gone to to help settle her father's estate, he was rescued by the caretaker of a cemetery, where he hid in a tomb and was fed pieces of stale bread. Emerging unscathed from the war, Sammler ends up in a refugee camp, from where he is saved by a wealthy cousin, Elya Gruner, who takes him to America and looks after him. Elya, to whom Sammler is emotionally attached, is about to die. The whole story, including the various flashbacks, takes place over three days, and includes some of the events that occurred to the protagonist in New York, with the Six Day War in Israel in the background.

“And you and Ussher had such conversations about that crazy old fellow – King Rumkowski. The man from Lodz... What do you think?”4Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammer’s Planet, Penguin Classics, New York 2004, p. 13. . Mr. Sammler does not respond right away. Instead he dwells on the theme of the“banality of evil” by fabricating a complex discourse, occasionally even contradictory, where sometimes agreeing with Hannah Arendt and sometimes arguing with her (“The idea of making the century’s great crime look dull is not banal”5Ibidem. ). We know from a biography, Saul Bellow's Life, by James Atlas, that the American writer was very critical of the philosopher, and had come to hate her, having known her in person.

According to Atlas, Mr. Sammler's Planet is a book full of philosophical musings, a long meditation disguised as a novel, and thanks to the character of the Holocaust survivor fled to the U.S., various aspects of American society are looked at; starting with the student protests. Sammler is yet another incarnation of the American intellectual who is in conflict with the culture of his day, adversarial and lost. The theme of Rumkowski, which hovers within the novel never becomes its central theme.

From conversations with American relatives, we learn that Sammler would be ready to write an article on the Dean of Lodz. The idea came to him when he was summoned as a witness at the Eichmann trial but did not go,hence the theme of the “banality of evil”. What prevented him from giving body to the character of Rumkowski would be another project that kept him rather busy over the years: a book about H.G. Wells. This is what pushed Shula, Sammler's daughter, to steal the manuscript about life on the moon by the Indian scientist, Dr. Lal, in the mistaken belief that she could help her father prepare a work dedicated to Wells. The manuscript is returned to its rightful owner after a few adventures, and in the final part of the novel Sammler finds himself in conversation with the Indian scientist, a man of great culture, who had imagined transfering mankind to the Moon.

Here is the most extensive reference to Rumkowski. The speech, more like a monologue by the Polish Jew, revolves around philosophical themes. Sammler quotes Brecht and De Sade among others, until he reveals to his partner that he had been warped by the experience of Nazi massacre and the events that followed. What haunts him, now that he finds himself in the bustling city of New York, is the role that each of us choose to play.Rumkowski's role as “the mad Jewish King of Lodz”6Bellow, Mr. Sammler’s Planet cit., p. 190. 6 is foremost in his mind. Sammler tells Lal the story of the King. The information that the protagonist of the novel provides the scientist with closely resemble that told by PrimoLevi in the story that appeared in “La Stampa” (an example: “Director of an orphanage” in Bellow; “Director of Jewish charitable institutions”7Levi, Story of a coin cit., p. 165.  in Levi).

The American writer's style is obviously different. In the version narrated by Bellow the story is made sotruncated, coming out in short spurts. However, the judgment is clear: Rumkowski is “a man with a bit to play, like so many modern individuals”8Ibidem. . For a full page Sammler describes the situation in the Lodz ghetto. There are other details that suggest that Bellow has consulted the same sources of Levi, in particular the text which appeared on“Commentary” magazine, for which he had collaborated, and also the importance given to the period in Jewish American intellectual circles. 

Bellow concentrates on the theatrics of Rumkowski's recitation, that of the tragic clown, the Ubu Roi, which, according to Mr. Sammler, was much admired by Germans. This explanation of the Dean of Lodz given by the protagonist of the novel remains all too vague to Indian scientist. Bellow restates the relationship of the Jew to his community, which comes up in many previous works, and those which follow. One of the main themes of the novel, which expresses the conservative and even reactionary traits of Saul Bellow, is precisely the contradiction which Sammler lives in New York. In origin, a Polish Jew and his condition as an American citizen. American Society appears to him full of contradictions, neuroses, excesses and superficiality.

Sammler tells Lal that he is intrigued by Rumkowski, in fact, he wants to understand what the true statureof a human being is: “I am not speaking only of moral demand upon the imagination to produce a human figure ofadequate stature. What is the true stature of a human being? This, Dr. Lal, was what I meant by speaking of thekillers’ delight in abasement in parody – in Rumkowski, King of the rags and shit, Rumkowski, ruler of corpses. And this is what preoccupies me with the theatricality of the Rumkowski episode”9Levi, Story of a coin cit., p. 192. .

The point of view of Saul Bellow is only apparently different from that of Primo Levi. What makes us understand is the final part devoted to Rumkowski in the gray zone chapter of The Drowned and the Saved. Bellow is interested in the relationship between what the Dean of Lodz thought of himself and the part he played in front of the Nazis.

The Shakespearean theme, which Levi introduces in his final part. Here he defines Rumkowski as a“symbolic and compendiary figure”10P. Levi, The Gray Zone cit., p. 68.  just as Bellow writes of his character: “Mr. Sammler was symbolic”. The reasonfor acting is also important for Levi, who asks: where do we place Rumkowski, the man with the half-conscience of the gray zone? At the top or the bottom? We would only be able to tell if the Dean of Lodz were able to speak in front of us, since only he could tell if he was lying – then he adds: but he could even lie about that. It would be a complete lie, even to himself, but that, all things considered, would help us to understand him “as every defendant helps his judge, even though he does not want to, even if he lies, because man’s capacity to play a role is not unlimited”11Ibidem. . This theme of the performance is therefore decisive for Levi.

Martina Mengoni stressed that what unites Levi and Rudnicki, one of his sources, is that they both sketch Rumkowski, it is the obsession with what is seen, or better what Rumkowski thought of himself, as he saw himself, how he saw the choices he made, even if Rudnicki seems to put more emphasis on the importance of the “rhetoricof the work of Rumkowski”. On the first page of his essay-story, “The Merchant of Lodz”, Rudnicki speaks expresslyof acting: “Hitler was not terrible, the town pharmacist who recognized the Hitler in himself, and acted it out in aneveryday role was terrible” (this is a quote from Leopold Buczkowski, director of a cabaret in Warsaw).

Primo Levi goes a step further than both the Polish writer and Bellow, because he looks at the story from another point of view: its possible relevance. Having said that the ability of a man to act is not unlimited, he writes:“But all this is not enough to explain the sense of urgency and threat that emanates from this story”12P. Levi, The Gray Zone, p. 68-9. . He is interested in understanding how we can recognize ourselves in Rumkowski, since we all see ourselves in him, “his ambiguity- he writes- is ours, it is our second nature, we hybrids molded from clay and spirit”13P. Levi, The Gray Zone, p. 69. . It is not just an individual problem, but one that covers the entire Western World, which “descends into hell with trumpets and drums”14Ibidem. (the sentence is taken from Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz).

Levi closes the text on Rumkowski with a quote from Shakespeare sketching the absurdity of mortal and presumptuous man. It is when Isabella the protagonist in Measure for Measure describes the condition of those who find themselves in the same position as the Dean of Lodz, whose authority is precarious, judgement full of errors, and weakness inherent. Like an angry ape, commit antics such “as make the angels weep”15Ibidem. . It is the portrait of an insane man, dazzled by power and prestige, so much “to forget our essential fragility”16Ibidem. , Rumkowski has come to terms with power. Levi includes himself in this reasoning, and also the reader. No coincidence that the grammatical subject of the last sentence of the essay is: us. Writing about the former industrialist, head of the ghetto, Levi unlike the character in Bellow, does not remove himself from the picture. He is completely within.

However, as Philip Roth pointed out, on reading Mr. Sammler's Planet, it is not clear whether Bellow's denunciation American society in the sixties, or the story of the survivor of the Holocaust, came first. The two themes mingle in the novel, and, more generally, in his fiction, since the forties, when The Victim (1947) appeared, a book in which you will find the first reference to the Nazi massacre in Europe, up to The Bellarosa Connection (1989), in which the subject is dealt with at greater length than in Mr. Sammler's Planet.

At the center of the narrative of The Bellarosa Connection is Harry Fonstein, another Polish Jew, who escaped the clutches of the Gestapo and the SS through a series of events throughout Europe, thanks to Billy Rose, a rich Broadway producer from America, who is the promoter and financier of a clandestine network called “Operation Bellarosa”. He arrives in America, transiting through Cuba, thanks to his marriage to an American woman called Sorella. Fonstein becomes wealthy due to both his astuteness and his wife's practical intelligence. Fonstein, the Jew from Galicia, wants to thank Billy Rose and talk to him only briefly, but the producer avoids any contact. Fonstein never speaks in the novel directly The narrator is another character, also a Jew, founder of the Mnemosyne Institute, where he taught memory techniques an activity that has made him very rich.

Bellow's story revolves around two focal points: the first, the relationship between memory and oblivion, and the second, the identity of the Jewish-American survivors, and more generally of the Jews who did not have to directly face the problem of the extermination carried out by the Germans during the Second world War, a theme which is also present in Mr. Sammler's Planet.

Levi and Bellow don't seem to have many things in common, apart from their Jewish origin. There is of course Bellow's comment on the blurb of the American edition of The Periodic Table, at the insistence of the translator, Raymond Rosenthal, which contributed to the popularity of Levi in the United States. Then there is reference to a meeting between the two writers, which wasn't the warmest, during Levi's American tour. But it is precisely in relation to The Bellarosa Connection, that Bellow quoted the Italian writer in a letter addressed to Cynthia Ozick at the end of the eighties, on the publication of her book, The Messiah of Stockholm.

The Jewish American Ozick, was accused by a reviewer, Robert Alter of not directly addressing the subject of the Holocaust. In the letter Bellow reflects on the fact that American Jewish writers have not dealt with what was, in fact, the central event of their times: the extermination of the Jews of Europe, a term that Bellow preferred to the Holocaust, which is more common in the language of today. It is an autobiographical personal reflection, which goes back to the situation in the forties and the books that Bellow wrote back then. Here he names the only author, Levi. He writes, referring to the extermination: “only a few Jews ... (like Primo Levi) were able to comprehend it all”17Bellow to Ozick, 19 July 1987, in Saul Bellow, Letters. Ed. Benjamin Taylor. New York: Viking 2010, p. 438-9. .

A curious thing to note is that at the end of the letter to Ozick, Bellow also quotes Shakespeare, an expression probably comes from Macbeth (“metaphysical aid”). In fact, as pointed out by Martina Mengoni, Shakespeare's words, with which Primo Levi concluded his writings on Rumkowski in both versions, is a potential key to interpreting Rumkowski. It speaks of the fragility of man, but also of his ridiculous appearance, an absurdity which is mixed with tragedy, and which then produces tragicomedy. Levi a tragicomic writer, or at least aware of tragicomical aspect of the extermination? You might be surprised by the mention of the comic and the ridiculous were it not for Massimo Mila. The musicologist Mila, on the occasion of the death of the Turin writer, wrote in “La Stampa” that Levi was a humorist, attentive to ridiculous side of the man and man's behavior. Levi's first book, If This Is a Man, contains rare and yet present comic moments, albeit in the 1958. And so too, The Truce (1963).

It is Levi's piety that allows them these aspects and then to write about it. This comedy is evident in the collected stories in Lilit, which features “The king of the Jews”. The tragicomic aspect of Rumkowski will eventually interest both Bellow and Levi, for his silly antics, and reference to the passage from Measure for Measure. I wonder if it was this insistence on the tragicomic, present in all the novels of the Saul Bellow, that made the Turin chemist read the newly translated Mr. Sammler's Planet, and meet again Chaim Rumkowski and to go on to convince himself to pull the old coin out of the drawer, and tell the story of the terrible and tragic-comic Dean of Lodz? It is a hypothesis not to be brushed aside.

Bibliographic notes

The original typescript of “The King of the Jews” bears the date of 23 October 1977, was given to “La Stampa” at the beginning of November, came out on the 20th of that month. In Ian Thomson's biography (Primo Levi, Hutchinson, London 2002, p. 474) the title and topic is attributed to Leslie Epstein, author of the book King of the Jews, dedicated to Rumkowski, and published in 1979 in English, by which Levi might been inspired but in fact the article by Levi came out two years earlier. The error is taken up by Adam Brown in his book Judging 'Privileged' Jews (Berghahn, London-New York 2013). As explained by Martina Mengoni, the Epstein's source is the same as Levi's, The Final Solution by Gerald Reitlinger, 1953. For texts by Levi mentioned, please refer to the edition of Opere(Vol. I and II, Turin: Einaudi, 1997) edited by me, except “For Adolf Eichmann”, which was not included in the 1997edition of the Works, but found in “Il Ponte” (XVII, No. 4, April 1961), the story of the writing of the “gray zone” appears in the “Notes to the text” of Opere, where I told how Levi had come to write The Drowned and the Saved. The letter to Luciana Nissim is reproduced in the biography by Alessandra Chiappano (Luciana Nissim Momigliano: una vita, Giunti, Florence 2010). The text of Martina Mengoni, “Rumkowski Variations, tracing the gray area” isfound on http://www.primolevi.it/. I read in Italian translation Saul Bellow's books: Mr. Sammler's Planet (trans.it. Letizia Ciotti Miller, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1971) and The Bellarosa Connection (trans. it. Pier Francesco Paolini, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan 1990). The biography of the American writer referred to, The Life of Saul Bellow, James Atlas (trans. it. Anna Bottini, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan, 2003), the review of Mr. Sammler's Planet is in Shop Talk by Philip Roth (trans. Norman Gobetti, Einaudi, Turin 2004). The article by Massimo Mila entitled “Il sapiente con la chiave a stella” (“La Stampa”, April 14, 1987) and also published in Scritti civili, edited by Alberto Cavaglion (Einaudi, Torino 1995).

Short bio-bibliography of Marco Belpoliti

Essayist and writer, among his more recent books:

La prova (Einaudi, 2007),
Diario dell’occhio (Le Lettere, 2008),
Il tramezzino del dinosauro (Guanda, 2008);
Il corpo del capo (Guanda, 2009);
Pasolini in salsa piccante (Guanda, 2010);
La canottiera di Bossi (Guanda, 2012),
Camera straniera. Alberto Giacometti e lo spazio (Johan & Levi, 2012), Da quella prigione. Moro Warhol e le Brigate Rosse (Guanda, 2012),
Il segreto di Goya (Johan & Levi, 2013),
L’età dell’estremismo (Guanda, 2014).

He contributes to the newspaper “La Stampa” and the weekly “l’Espresso”; he is professor at theUniversity of Bergamo; his books are translated into several languages; with Elio Grazioli he runsthe collection “Riga” for the publisher Marcos y Marcos. He is the editor of Primo Levi’s Opere [Collected Works], Einaudi, 1997, and of several books of the Italian writer.

With Stefano Chiodi he runs the web-magazine and web-publishing house www.doppiozero.com .

* Originally published in «doppiozero», 26 January 2014, and in a shortened version in «La Stampa», 25 January 2014, with the title Quell’ebreo “ingiusto” complice dei carnefici. English translation by Hugo André Mac Manus.

1Primo Levi, Story of a Coin [Il re dei Giudei], in Moments of Reprieve, trans. Ruth Feldman, with an Introduction by Michael Igniatieff, London, Penguin 2002, p. 171.
2Primo Levi, The Gray Zone, in The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal, New York, Summit Books 1988, p. 61.
4Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammer’s Planet, Penguin Classics, New York 2004, p. 13.
6Bellow, Mr. Sammler’s Planet cit., p. 190.
7Levi, Story of a coin cit., p. 165.
9Levi, Story of a coin cit., p. 192.
10P. Levi, The Gray Zone cit., p. 68.
12P. Levi, The Gray Zone, p. 68-9.
13P. Levi, The Gray Zone, p. 69.
17Bellow to Ozick, 19 July 1987, in Saul Bellow, Letters. Ed. Benjamin Taylor. New York: Viking 2010, p. 438-9.
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