Primo Levi in Germany

Levi had already glimpsed an unpleasant instinct lurking beneath the polite surface of the Bayer headquarters outside Cologne, when an employee observed that it was “most unusual” for an Italian to speak German. Levi countered: “My name is Levi. I am a Jew, and I learned your language at Auschwitz”. A stuttering apology was followed by silence…

Levi’s most dramatic encounter – what he later called “the hour of colloquy” – took place one lunchtime at Bayer’s guesthouse on Kaiser-Wilhelm-Allee. He was seated at the dining table in shirtsleeves and making small talk when a director asked him about the 174517 tattoo exposed on his forearm. Levi instantly replied: “It’s a memento of Auschwitz”. Accati’s daughter Luisa, who was in Germany with her father to improve her spoken German, recalled the scene: “All one could hear was a polite clatter of forks on plates as ten Germans – all men – shifted awkwardly in their seats”. [link]

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