The Places of Primo Levi in Bene Vagienna

Having moved to Bene Vagienna after the emancipation of 1848, the Levis were the first Jewish family to live there, where they worked as bankers on Piazza Botero. Michele, Primo’s paternal grandfather,  was born  May 13 1849.

Michele was the first person in his family who was able to choose his own profession freely. He graduated from the University in Civil Engineering. After he married Adele Sinigaglia, a Turin resident who was five year younger than him, he returned to Bene Vagienna and took up the family business. Primo’s father, Cesare, was born in1878, and lived part of his childhood there. Two other children followed, Enrico and Mario. In the summer of 1888 the failure of the bank drove Michele Levi to commit suicide.

(Album Primo Levi, eds. Domenico Scarpa and Roberta Mori, Torino 2017, p. 291)

A wall of suspicion, of undefined hostility, of scorn, must have kept them essentially separate from the rest of the population… if what my father told me about his childhood in Bene Vagienna is true: that his classmates, when school was out, used to mock him (benignly) by waving goodbye with a corner of their jacket held in a fist, so that it looked like a donkey ear, and chanting, “Ôrije ’d crin, ôrije d’asô, a ji ebreô ai piasô.” “Pig’s ears, mule’s ears, that’s what the Jews like.” The allusion to ears is arbitrary; the gesture was in origin a sacrilegious parody of the greeting that Jews exchange in the synagogue when they are called on to read the Bible, showing one another the hem of their prayer shawl”

“Argon,” The Periodic Table in Complete Works / Opere complete, I, 862.

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