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Welcome to Centro Primo Levi’s video page. Here you can find a selection of video clips and movies about the history of Italian Jews, recordings of many of our programs and seminars, and a link to CPL minidocs, a series of short web documentaries designed as introductions to our books.

Primo Levi  

Primo Levi at the National Book Festival

Multimedia artist Cynthia Madansky produced this short film in tribute to Primo Levi as an introduction to the program at the National Book

Festival. Archival images from: Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation, Centro Internazionale di Studi Primo Levi, Archivio Patrizia Antonicelli, Archivio Ebraico Terracini, Leo Levi Family, Archivio Serafino, Fabrizio Salmoni, La Stampa, Fondazione Fossoli, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and RAI Teche. Music: Luigi Dallapiccola’s Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera recorded by Matthew Laurence Edwards, San Francisco 1991. Qaddish, Aldo Perez recorded by Leo Levi in 1954 and published in the collection: Musiche della tradizione ebraica in Piemonte curated by Franco Segre and produced by the Archivio Ebraico Terracini.

Il sesto giorno

After much debate over how to design the human, a committee ends up implementing a design dictated by “management”. “Storie naturali, of which this text is partprovide another

picture of violated mankind existing in a society pervaded by an accepted evil, in this case technology, which systematically destroys man. The concluding quotation of “Versamina” “fair is foul, and foul is fair” connects Storie naturali to Se questo è un uomo: the world of reversal, of abnormality, and of transgressions ethics and values”. Quoted from: Lucie Benchouiha, Primo Levi: Re-writing the Holocaust, Troubadour Publishing, 2005

La bella addormentata nel frigo

A young woman subjects herself to voluntary freezing to be awaken only to witness landmark events. “Through surreal inventions, Levi pointed

to a disquieting continuity between past aberrations and present normality, showing beyond any doubt how the present is subtly interwoven with the logic of the past. In his short story, Sleeping Beauty in the Fridge, Levi describes with great acumen the tight relationship between science new technologies, and subjective alienation, as well as the ways in which normality, and the tranquility of a prosperous life, are in fact the product of a bio-political normativity, universally accepted with careless complicity.” Quotes from: Paola Mieli, A Silver Martian, CPL Editions, 2015

Il Versificatore

In Il Versificatore, an American salesman, Simpson, presents the versifier as an automated solution to a poet’s rising work levels, setting in

motion the replacement of humans by a machine. Several livelihoods are threatened by the versifier beginning with that of the poet’s secretary. The validity of her concerns about a technological takeover, are however undermined when the machine produces a “poetic” phrase”. Yet, she becomes offended when the Versificatore composes a poem entitled “A girl to bring to bed” and is ironically reassured by the poet who, before being supplanted by its mechanical competitor, says: “it’s only a machine”.


Reading. John Turturro and Joan Acocella. Levi talks about his fascination with knowledge, the discovery of the world, and the secrets of matter.

In the flow of deceptively linear thought, the witness of the Nazi death camps, the “narrator,” the poet, the scientist, and the laboratory technician overlap and merge. Levi is able to find place and time for the full spectrum of life as he has painfully discovered it: the perversions perpetrated in the laboratories of Auschwitz stand next to the challenges and joys of work; the adventurous and timeless spaces next to the infinitely small. Primo Levi carried the mark of the chemist on his skin. It was a small scar, of which he told the story as if it had come from the wisdom of the fathers.

Procacciatori d’affari 

In Procacciatori d’affari, where some bureaucrats try to convince souls to enter in living bodies, as human being has inexplicable defects: “I think you

have a sense that somewhere, someone made a mistake, that human plans have a glitch, a vice of form. What caused such glitch none knows. Determinism cannot explain it. More complex ways to explain reality beyond the cause-effect model are needed as, for example, the chaos theory. As Levi ponders in his last book: “No historian or epistemologist has yet demonstrated that history is a deterministic process”. Quite from: Enrico Mattioda, “Primo Levi fra scienza e letteratura”, in Luigi Dei, Voci dal mondo per Primo Levi, Firenze, 2007

Primo Levi at 100 – Pankaj Mishra on “The Drowned and the Saved”

This lecture inaugurates a series of programs to mark Primo Levi’s Hundredth Anniversary held at various venues in town, including the New York

Public Library, the Italian Cultural Institute and Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò. Following the center’s tradition of providing a platform for readings of Levi’s work stemming from contexts and experiences others than those in which they originated. Novelist and essayst Pankaj Mishra will draw on two chapters of Levi’s last book and intellectual testament, The Drowned and the Saved, the “The Intellectual at Auschwitz” and “The Grey Zone,” to probe his complex views on the dialectic of oppression and its impact on both oppressed and oppressor.  Expanding on topics that Levi tackled with growing concern in his last years, Mr. Mishra will talk about Primo Levi and Israel as well as the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the light of Levi’s ideas.

The Mark of the Chemist

Primo Levi is one of the best-known 20th century Italian writers, with over twelve million copies of his works sold in 24 languages. His unique blend of humanistic vision and scientific thought

has allowed for his work to reach an extraordinarily diverse cross-section of lay and specialized audiences. Mostly know for his memoirs of his experience in Auschwitz, Primo Levi has also been active in public debates and expressed himself on fundamental topics ranging from the atomic bomb to the ethical responsibility of scientists. This staged reading reveals a fullness of vision and the myriad of nuances that continue to make his ideas relevant to new generation and people of all cultures.

Affection and Survival: Primo Levi at 100

Affection is a lesser known aspect of the human and Jewish experience in the camps. Mostly it is related to the fractured past of which the camp is the present.

Having written some of the essential pages on the human experience in the Lager, Primo Levi continued contemplating and writing about it throughout his life. This talk will question affection in Levi’s writing and its place in the camp as a strategy of survival.  Affection saves, but it also prompts Levi’s internal inquiry that leads to the heart of his defining conceptual innovation: the Gray Zone. Uri S. Cohen holds a PhD. from the Hebrew University and has served on the faculty of Columbia University (2004-2011). He currently teaches Hebrew and Italian literature at Tel Aviv University where he moved through an award from the Rothschild Foundation. He is the author of Survival: Senses of Death between the World Wars in Italy and Palestine (2007), Orly Castel Bloom (2011), and The Security Style (2017) on the Hebrew culture of war. He is currently working on a counter-biography of Primo Levi. 

Ian Thomson: Writing About Levi

Author Ian Thomson presents the new edition of his classic biography of Primo Levi. Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò New York University November 19, 2019.  […] Although I had met and spoken to Primo Levi shortly before he died,

I did not want to put myself on first-name terms with him (still less, place him on the psychiatrist’s couch). Nor had I wanted to make a drama out of my research or emote and empathise possessively with my own ‘Primo’. I had no agenda-driven argument to push, no academic thesis. My intention had been to write a balanced work that might inspire trust in the reader.
Levi was not simply a witness to contemporary barbarism. By profession he was an industrial chemist. His hybrid career as chemist and writer – and the tensions between the two – forms a significant part of my biography. Levi’s literary-chemical memoir The Periodic Table, first published in Italy in 1975, attracted to his work new scientific readers appearing at a time when authors with a scientific leaning were not published as frequently as they are today. Long before Carlo Rovelli or Oliver Sacks or Stephen Jay Gould, Levi had sought to make science accessible to the layperson. The Periodic Table, where elements of Levi’s life are explored through the medium of chemistry, is revered today by a generation of younger scientific writers, among them Siddartha Mukherjee, whose award-winning history of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies (2011), is profoundly indebted to Levi as it cuts across the ‘two cultures’ of science and the humanities with humility and intelligent generosity.

Primo Levi on Poetry

André Naffis-Sahely in conversation with Jonathan Galassi. Jonathan Galassi, novelist, publisher and distinguished translator of Giacomo Leopardi and

Eugenio Montale, in conversation with André Naffis-Sahely discussing his lifelong dedication to Italian poetry and his new translations of Primo Levi’s poems, which were featured in Liveright’s Complete Works of Primo Levi. Galassi will read his English translations to be followed by Naffis-Sahely reading the Italian originals. A short Q&A will follow. 

To Be or Not: Considering Primo Levi’s Death

Uri Cohen (Tel Aviv University). We will never know what exactly took place thirty years ago when Primo Levi

fell to his death in the stairwell of his ancestral home.The moment is sealed, retaining its silent mystery. Meaningless in terms of reality the nature of his death is of no real importance, while having enormous implications for interpretation. If this survivor willed his barely saved life away, matters not in Primo Levi’s world, but in the world into which Levi survived.


Opening at Vanni’s: 130 Years After

Centro Primo Levi launched CPL Editions at SF Vanni, historical Village bookstore and publisher, symbol of independent publishing that has flourished in Italy for centuries, often bringing together the Jewish and non-Jewish world.

Founded in 1864 on Broadway by Sante Fortunato Vanni, a Sicilian immigrant, the store offered books and other paper items to the Italian American community.  In 1931, it was bought by Andrea Ragusa, a representative of Treves-Treccani-Tumminelli who had been sent to the Americas to sell the Enciclopedia italiana and decided to settle in New York. In 2015, Alessandro Cassin at Centro Primo Levi reopened the store for a short period, turning it into a book and event space.

Israeli Radio on Italian Jewish Music 

Avraham Soltes talks about Jewish liturgical and secular music in Italy tracing the history of the Italian Jewish communities from antiquity to the present.

The segment continues with a portrait of Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco, his work and the legacy of his grandfather, also a composer to whom he dedicated the beautiful suite Danze del re Davide. Rabbi Soltes (1917-1983) participated in many cultural and educational activities that interpreted Jewish art, music and literature. He was chairman of the National Jewish Music Council from 1963 to 1969 and a member of the board of the National Jewish Book Council from 1967 to 1972. Commentator on Jewish Music. He was a commentator on Jewish music for American listeners, was the host of a radio program, ”The Music of Israel,” on WQXR for the last nine years.

The Italian Synagogue in Jerusalem

The Italian synagogue in Jerusalem was originally the synagogue of Conegliano Veneto, a small town located between Padua and Venice.

Jews lived in Conegliano Veneto from the 16th century. To this period belong the golden Rococo wings and the elaborate golden carvings on top of the Ark. After WWII, Italian Jews in Israel transferred the Conegliano Synagogue and its contents to Jerusalem. The magnificent Ark is decorated with fine golden carved wooden ornamentation, representing large acanthus leaves, vine leaves and grapes. In 1951, the synagogue interior was reconstructed and opened its doors to serve the Italian Community, later becoming an integral part of the Nahun Museum of Italian Jewish Art. In 1989 the original layout of the synagogue was restored. Services are held regularly on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays according to the ancient “Minhag Bnei Roma”.

Jewish treasures in Italian Regions

Choir of the Tempio Maggiore in Rome  

Jewish Museum of Rome

Italian Chazanut

Yafuzu Oyevecha (And it came to pass, when the Ark set forward, that Moses said, rise up, Lord, and let your enemies be scattered) is sung on Shabbat

morning during the opening of the Ark as well as during the hakafot (processional circles that are traditional on various occasions, for instance, the festival of Simchat Torah. The verses come from Numbers 10:35 and the description of the making of the  ark in Exodus: “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it. And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.” [Ex. 25:8-11]

Rabbi Elio Toaff

Elio Toaff (30 April, 1915 – 19 April, 2015) was the Chief Rabbi of Rome from 1951 to 2002. He served as a rabbi in Venice from 1947,

and in 1951 became the Chief Rabbi of Rome. He was born in Livorno, the son of the city’s rabbi Alfredo Sabato Toaff. He was the director of the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano di Roma between 1963 to 1992. In his autobiography, Perfidious Jews, Elder Brothers, Rabbi Toaff spoke of the revolutionary improvement in Catholic-Jewish relations. The first part of the title came from a Good Friday prayer that Catholics recited for centuries until the 1960s, when the Church officially repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus. The second part from a statement made by Pope Giovanni Paolo II during his visit at the Rome synagogue.

Rabbi Dario Disegni

“Rabbi Dario Disegni, a 20th-Century Story”, produced by  the Archivio Terracini of Turin. Born in Florence, Rabbi Dario Disegni (1878-1967),

was ordained under Rabbi S.H. Margulies and Rabbi H.Z. Chajes. He served as rabbi in Genoa (1902–06); Turin (1906–09); and Verona (1909–24). During World War I he was a military chaplain and in 1922 for a few months, the rabbi of the Sephardi congregation in Bucharest. From 1924 he was rabbi in Turin. From 1930 he was rabbi in Tripoli for six months. Disegni edited prayer books with Italian translations and notes. A century after Rabbi S.D. Luzzatto’s edition of the Italian text of the Bible, Rabbi Disegni initiated a new Italian translation in four volumes.

Los Corassones Avlan

New York, NY – September 24, 2019 – A fully immersive experience celebrating and exploring the lives of the Jews of Rhodes, the multimedia installation “Los Corassones Avlan” (The Hearts Speak, from a Sephardi saying).

Crossing over the lines between cultures, history and personal memories, “Los Corassones Avlan” has been created by Centro Primo Levi and the Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation to challenge the idea of traditional museum narratives, expanding on the previous project “the Rome Lab”, a 2017 installation conceived to play on the tension between personal memory, official history and ongoing research debates. At the core of “Los Corassones Avlan” there is a thread of personal and intimate connection bonding past and present, imagination and history, life and oblivion. Inspired by the recollections and family tales of Auschwitz Survivor Stella Levi and Aron Hasson’s Los Angels-based collection of artifacts and books, the fascinating story and life of the Jews of Rhodes will come alive as a tapestry of experiences and conversations. Artifacts, archival photos and books documenting traditional Jewish life in a Mediterranean island together with life-size projections and surprising soundscapes will invite the public to visualize this past and reflect on the complexities of memory and (hi)story telling.


Fascism and the Shoah

Fascist Italy and the Jews

Dr. Iael Nidam-Orvieto, the Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Publications discusses the topic of: “Fascist Italy and the Jews: myth versus reality”.

Fascism and the anti-Jewish persecution in Italy have for a long time be represented as a “benevolent’ version of what happened in Germany. Research in the past 30 years has challenge this view and delved in depth in the history of fascist Italy.
This is the first part of this talk, for the second part click here. The video is part of the series Insights and Perspectives from Holocaust Researchers and Historians” supported by the Claims Conference.

Il Ragazzo di Via Sacchi, Emanuele Artom

Emanuele Artom was a young anti-Fascist raised in Turin who joined the Resistance in the “Giustizia e Libertà“

brigades. He was deeply concerned with democratic culture and the Jewish tradition. In 1944 he was captured by the Italian SS and savagely murdered. His body was never found. For years historians have tried to understand why. This documentary attempts to reconstruct Artom’s intellectual and political journey within the ranks of clandestine resistance, through the voice of those who met him and through his diary. The narrating voice is Artom’s own journal, in which the ideas of the Italian anti-fascist opposition become a testament for a future society.

The Rosselli Case

Paris, 19th June 1937. A funeral cortege of 150,000 people accompanies the caskets of Carlo and Nello Rosselli, Italian anti-fascists in exile,

to Père-Lachaise cemetery. The men were found dead in a woods in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, Normandy, murdered by members of a French fascist organisation known as “La Cagoule”, whose history is still a state secret in France. But the Cagoule had not acted on its own initiative. Through this mysterious French subsidiary Benito Mussolini had effectively crossed the frontier of a sovereign and democratic European state to eliminate two of his most charismatic opponents in exile.

Ferramonti: The Largest Concentration Camp in Italy

“Children imprisoned behind barbed wire! Here is one of the typical symptoms of this heroic age of ours. Some of these kids were born in

detention, spent their entire childhood in the primitive huts of internment camps, living on convict rations, laughing and playing in the shadow of fascist militia. They grew up in deprived and unhealthy conditions, anxiously looked after by older internees – their companions in misfortune – and kept under continued surveillance, with a kind of resentment, by an authority who received their orders from a government far away beyond the barbed wire that deemed such measures necessary for “national security”. Jan Hermann, Israel Kalk Archive, CDEC, Milan.

The DP Camp of Cinecittà

On June 6th 1944, the “City of Cinema” was taken over by the Allied Control Commission, as a holding station meant to house thousands of refugees. The partially bombed modernist movie

complex was quickly transformed into a refugee camp. Its occupants were people of 30 different nationalities, among them Poles, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Gypsies and Jews – including survivors of Nazi extermination camps. Life in the camp was hard. Buildings, backdrops and sets – from Roman temples to French boudoirs – were adapted to accommodate the refugees’ most basic needs. Director Marco Bertozzi and film scholar Noa Steimatsky tracked down several of Cinecittà former refugees.  They also found Jack Salvador’s Humanity, the only surviving visual document of post-war life in the ruinous remains of the Fascist propaganda empire produced by Luce under the aegis of UNRRA.


A film by Ruggero Gabbai, Liliana Picciotto and Marcello Pezzetti. “Memoria”, regia di Ruggero Gabbai. “Memoria” presented for the first time the testimonies of Italian survivors

of Auschwitz. Based on 90 interviews conducted by the Center for Italian Jewish Documentation in Milan, the film traces stories of men and women from different cities. Witnesses discuss their experience after the racial laws of 1938, which stripped Italian Jews of civil rights and livelihood. After September 8th, 1943, the great part of Italian Jews, about 30,000 people, found themselves in the Italian Social Republic ruled by Mussolini and his German Allies. By the beginning of October of the same year the deportations began. By the spring of 1945, 9,700 Jews had been deported under Italian watch, 1,800 of them from the Dodecanese Island, the others form the peninsula.

Giorno della Memoria, 2021. New York

Live streaming of the Giorno della Memoria event with the Italian Culture Institute of New York in January 2021.

Giorno della Memoria, 2023. New York

On this day, the collective awareness of this past is becoming blurred or mythologized, ideologies of violence and prevarication are reappearing with vengeance, emerging from societies in which inequality, competition, suprematism, and conflict shape consciences.

Ira e Pietà. Eloisa Ravenna e il CDEC

Lavorando al Centro di documentazione ebraica Contemporanea – il CDEC come lo chiamiamo tutti – capita che ogni tanto, nei discorsi, nei ricordi, di qualche collega riemerga la figura di Eloisa Ravenna.

After Images: The Massacre of the Mazzetti Family (August 1944)

The photographer Eva Krampen Kosloski, grew up knowing only the outlines of the following story. It is a story that belonged to her mother and aunt – the twins Paola and Lorenza Mazzetti –

and from which, for protection, she was shielded. Until, feeling the need to know more, she asks the twins to take her to the places of their youth and their trauma.

Kosloski employed photography to recompose those memories, to rediscover roots, stories, landscapes, and unexpressed emotions. She weaves a poetic narration, where past and present flow smoothly in the intimate exchange between three women, mediated by the photographic lens.

Giorno Della Memoria 2024- Consulte general of Italy 

Reading of the names of the Jews deported from Italy and the territories under Italian rule. The ceremony is held each year in front of the Italian Consulate and everyone is invited to join and read.

Giorno della Memoria (Remembrance Day) commemorates the day of 1945 in which Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army. European countries and the UN mark this day with programs and ceremonies to create public awareness of the past, foster civil dialogue, and counter racism, intolerance, and xenophobia in today’s societies.

Books and conversations

Virtual book launch and conversation: Reluctant Jews by Sandro Gerbi

Rather than going in search of his Jewish roots, Sandro Gerbi focuses on the reverse process: the gradual secularization of his family during the twentieth century,

through the progressive distancing from religious observance, Jewish communal life and endogamy.  Following the travels, achievements and vicissitudes of two generations, the author explores collective and personal history without nostalgia, but also without any contempt for his ancestry. The story begins in 1938, the year in which the author’s father, the historian and economist Antonello Gerbi, was forced to leave Italy for Peru because of racial laws. The fate of his two brothers — one a sports journalist, the other a doctor — who found shelter in the United States, was similar. With his agile writing, rich in anecdotes, Gerbi traces the ‘Jewish’ thread in the events of his life: his birth in Peru in 1943 because of his father’s exile, the return to Italy in ’48, the survival of a specific “family lexicon,” and a trip to Israel in December 1967. He recounts some decisive meetings: the financial expert Renato Cantoni, the philosopher György Lukács, the journalists Ugo Stille and Indro Montanelli, the literary agent Erich Linder. Finally, the moving first return to Lima in 2010, 62 years after leaving.

Virtual book launch and conversation: The Guardians of Memory by Valentina Pisanty

Valentina Pisanty’s The Guardians of Memory opens with a paradox and a question. The paradox derives from an empirical observation: that the very post-Cold War

era that has constructed a widespread commemorative culture dedicated to the Holocaust has also been a period in which politics has experienced a rightward turn characterized by ever more virulent racism and racist violence.  The question Pisanty poses involves interpreting this paradox: is this conjunction of a memory culture that understands itself as dedicated to tolerance and antiracism and a political culture that is trending racist merely a coincidence or is there a deeper causal connection to be found? Has a much-vaunted cosmopolitan Holocaust memory — with its linked slogans of “Never forget!” and “Never again!” — simply failed to prevent the rise of the right or, more darkly, might it even be implicated in that political turn?

Virtual book launch and conversation: Family Papers by Sarah Stein

Sarah Stein in conversation with Aron Rodrigue on her new book Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The Levy family established itself in Salonica (now Thessaloniki, Greece) in the 18th century and for some two hundred years published books and newspapers for the region’s Sephardic Jews. With the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, the Levys scattered throughout the world, but kept in touch through letters. Drawing on this rich correspondence, Sarah Stein, award-winning author of Extraterritorial Dreams, uses the family’s experience to trace the history of Sephardic Jews through the twentieth century, showing how individual lives were affected by world wars, shifting political boundaries, and the Holocaust—which wiped out several branches of the Levy family. Salonika, like many Mediterranean and Balkan ports, was a cultural medley difficult to imagine today. The Levys “were creatures of a polyglot empire, and nationalism wasn’t their style. Their faith was in Western progress and good will. After World War I, Sam, the journalist, had in fact written to the Versailles peace conference to propose that Salonica become “a free and neutral city administered by Jews” with a vote in the League of Nations: “a Jewish city-state that was neither Zionist nor Greek.” It was a great idea, and of course it was doomed along with the world he knew.”

Virtual book launch and conversation: Another Modernity by Clémence Boulouque

Clémence Boulouque (Columbia University) in conversation with Jessica M. Marglin (University of Southern California). Another Modernity is a rich study of the life

and thought of Elia Benamozegh, a nineteenth-century rabbi and philosopher whose work profoundly influenced Christian-Jewish dialogue in twentieth-century Europe. Benamozegh, a Livornese rabbi of Moroccan descent, was a prolific writer and transnational thinker who corresponded widely with religious and intellectual figures in France, the Maghreb, and the Middle East. This idiosyncratic figure, who argued for the universalism of Judaism and for interreligious engagement, came to influence a spectrum of religious thinkers so varied that it includes proponents of the ecumenical Second Vatican Council, American evangelists, and right-wing Zionists in Israel. What Benamozegh proposed was unprecedented: that the Jewish tradition presented a solution to the religious crisis of modernity. According to Benamozegh, the defining features of Judaism were universalism, a capacity to foster interreligious engagement, and the political power and mythical allure of its theosophical tradition, Kabbalah—all of which made the Jewish tradition uniquely equipped to assuage the post-Enlightenment tensions between religion and reason. In this book, Clémence Boulouque presents a wide-ranging and nuanced investigation of Benamozegh’s published and unpublished work and his continuing legacy, considering his impact on Christian-Jewish dialogue as well as on far-right Christians and right-wing religious Zionists.

Elsa Morante, “La Storia”

Reading and panel discussion on Elsa Morante’s La Storia. In Italian with English translation. Featuring Giorgio Montefoschi, Angela Borghesi. Reading by Olek Mincer.

Moderated by Alessandro Cassin.  La Storia – a towering example of literature’s power to convey the unraveling and emotional impact of historical events- chronicles, among much else, the effects of the Racial Laws on daily life in Rome.  When Elsa Morante published La Storia in 1974, it hit Italy like a storm, quickly becoming the most talked about book of the year. In the first year, it sold, in Italy alone, a record 800,000 copies (at a time when a successful novel rarely sold more than 100,000 copies).The book literally spellbound its readers. “An indictment against all the fascisms of the world. And an urgent, desperate plea addressed to everyone for a possible common awakening.” – Angela Borghesi is Associate Prof. in the Pedagogy Department at University of Milano-Bicocca. – Giorgio Montefoschi is a writer, literary critic, and translator. – Olek Mincer actor and director both in cinema and theater. – Alessandro Cassin is Director of Publishing CPL Editions.

Organized by Centro Primo Levi and the Italian Cultural Institute on the 80th anniversary of the promulgation of the Racial Laws and the 75th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews of Rome.

The Heart of a Stranger

The Heart of a Stranger charts the history of our world’s civilizations through the prism of exile, taking the reader from Ancient Egypt to the present day through three hundred pages of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

The anthology spans six continents and twenty-four languages and is divided into six sections, which have been arranged thematically and chronologically.  Highlights include the wisdom of the 5th century Desert Fathers and Mothers, the Siculo-Arabic poetry of Ibn Hamdis, Moses ibn Ezra, an excerpt from Dante’s Paradise, the Byzantine poet Michael Marullus, the Swahili Song of Liyongo, The Flight of the Irish Earls, Madame de Staël’s reflections after leaving Napoleon’s Paris, Emma Goldman’s travails in the wake of the First Red Scare, and the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani’s ode to the lost world of Andalusia, concluding with a selection of work by more contemporary exiles, like the Uyghur poet Ahmetjan Osman, the Moroccan writer Abdellatif Laâbi, our old friend Alessandro Spina, and the Italo-Eritrean fabulist Ribka Sibhatu.

Power and the Messiah

Zvi Ben-Dor Benite and Uri S. Cohen. A conversation among authors, scholars, and sages about history, power, and the Messiah. Starting with Walter Benjamin’s distinction between “weak” and “strong” messianic forces and history, this program presents three Italy-related stories.

Mine is the Golden Tongue 

New York Public Library, presented in collaboration with casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò

The Hebrew Sonnets of Immanuel of Rome. Translated by Yehudah Cohn, CPL Editions, 2023. Staged reading by acclaimed actor Ronald Guttman and scholar of Hebrew literature Fabrizio Lelli.

A satirist, poet, and biblical commentator, Immanuel ben Shelomò or Manoello Giudeo, was a contemporary of Dante, who, recounting his ultramundane flight through Hell and Paradise in Hebrew, tied his name forever to that of the Florentine poet.  He moved swiftly between vernacular and Hebrew, modeled his verses on the Arabic maqāma, and wrote the first known sonnets in Hebrew. He lived in Rome during the turbulent period following the communal experience, during which the popes were mostly absent. His mark on the Roman siddur suggests he was an active member of the local Jewish community, one that left no other trace but an extraordinary abundance of Hebrew manuscripts, translations, commentaries, philosophical and literary works.

Immanuel’s writings and life have fascinated scholars for over six centuries, making him one of the most studied Hebrew writers in history; yet, in the world of mass culture, he has remained practically unknown. His most published and studied book, the Mahbarot, a collection of satirical tales written in Hebrew foreshadowing Boccaccio’s Decameron, has never been translated as a whole. Scholars’ widely diverging readings have cast mystery on his persona and the world surrounding him. Centro Primo Levi’s publication makes all of Immanuel’s Hebrew sonnets available in English for the first time.

Exile and Creativity

Franco Modigliani

Following the proclamation of the racial laws in Italy, in 1938, Modigliani left Italy for Paris together with his future wife, Serena Calabi and her parents. After briefly returning to Rome

 to discuss his doctoral thesis at the La Sapienza University on 22 July 1939, he returned to Paris. The same year, the entire family moved to the United States and Modigliani enrolled at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research. His thesis, a ground-breaking elaboration and extension of John Hicks’s IS–LM model, was written under the supervision of Jacob Marschak and Abba Lerner in 1944. From 1942 to 1944, he taught at Columbia University and Bard College as an instructor in economics and statistics. In 1946, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1948, he joined the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign faculty. From 1952 to 1962, he was a member of the Carnegie Mellon University faculty. In 1962, he joined the faculty of MIT, as an Institute Professor. In October 1985, Modigliani was awarded that year’s Nobel Prize in Economics “for his pioneering analyses of saving and of financial markets.”

Le Due Amelie

The two Amelia Rosselli whose lives and work will be discussed and celebrated, were respectively, the mother and the daughter of the anti-Fascist leader Carlo Rosselli, founder of one of the earliest antifascist movements,

Giustizia e Libertà. Mussolini had identified Rosselli as the regime’s most dangerous political opponent. After evading custody in the island of Lipari, Carlo Rosselli reached Paris where was joined by his wife Marion Cave, a British political activist. In 1930 their daughter Amelia was born in exile, seven years before the brutal murder of her father and uncle. She grew up to become one of the most respected poets of the 20th century. The elder Amelia Rosselli, born Amelia Pincherle was born in Venice in 1870. An accomplished playwright, translator, activist in the burgeoning women’s movement, as well as author of books for children, Amelia married and later divorced, Joe Rosselli.

Gli Artisti

With Giuliana Altea and Raffaele Bedarida. Costantino Nivola and Corrado Cagli came from very different backgrounds. Nivola, from rural Sardinia, was the son of a mason,

Cagli from Ancona and Rome was born into an urban and assimilated Jewish family. They shared a minority origin and the enthusiasm for participating in public life through the means of art. While Cagli was successfully integrated into the Fascist cultural world, Nivola navigated, with equal success, milieux of mild political dissent.  In 1938, the promulgation of the Racial Laws brought them both to America. Cagli had become an outcast because of his Jewishness and Nivola had frictions with the regime due to his antifascist leanings; he had also married a German Jewish woman, Ruth Guggenheim, and left Italy with her. In their new country, Cagli and Nivola found themselves among exiled artists from various countries: Gropius, Albers, Breuer, Moholy Nagy, Balanchine, Rieti, Steinberg, and many others. Cagli joins the ranks of the US Army where he confronts the horrors of the war and the Shoah. Nivola mingles with other antifascist exiles, the like of Modigliani, Toscanini, Salvemini, and Borgese. During their exile, Costantino Nivola and Corrado Cagli, each one in his own way, acted as cultural bridges between their country of origin and the US.

Exile and Creativity, published by CPL Editions, is a collection of essays from a program series held in 2017-18 by the Italian Cultural Institute in New York jointly with Centro Primo Levi. The programs examine the lives of Italian man and women who were forced or chose exile during the Fascist era. Whereas the narratives of exile tend to focus on the experience of disorientation and loss, as the curator of the series, Giorgio Van Straten states in the introduction, exile is “also something found: an opportunity, a new culture capable of sparking unexpected, unforeseen developments along one’s path through life and, therefore, the possible enrichment of one’s humanistic and cultural heritage”. 

Paolo Milano e Renato Poggioli

An evening dedicated to Paolo Milano and Renato Poggioli, two Italian intellectuals instrumental in the development of a cultural dialogue between Italy and the United States,

particularly in the fields of literature and comparative literature. Paolo Milano came to the United States in 1938 due to the racial laws and remained until 1957; Renato Poggioli, a fervent antifascist, left Italy as well, in 1938, never to return, but maintaining strong bonds with his country of origins, so much so that he founded an Italian magazine called Inventatio (Inventory).

Exile and Creativity, published by CPL Editions, is a collection of essays from a program series held in 2017-18 by the Italian Cultural Institute in New York jointly with Centro Primo Levi. The programs examine the lives of Italian man and women who were forced or chose exile during the Fascist era. Whereas the narratives of exile tend to focus on the experience of disorientation and loss, as the curator of the series, Giorgio Van Straten states in the introduction, exile is “also something found: an opportunity, a new culture capable of sparking unexpected, unforeseen developments along one’s path through life and, therefore, the possible enrichment of one’s humanistic and cultural heritage”. ?

Carlo Ginzburg and Saul Friedlander

A practice of reflection inaugurated by the Greeks has allowed us to discover what image, name, and myth, despite their diversity have in common:

the fact that they all lie beyond truth and falsehood.In our culture we attribute this character to art in general. Yet artistic fictions, like the fictions of the law, speak of reality. This is what I show in the essay on defamiliarization (the first), and also in a somewhat inverted way in the reflections of the eighth, on the Chinese mandarin: in one place the right distance, in the other too much; here absence of empathy, leading to critical distance, there lack of empathy leading to de-humanization.  And now distance, which had prompted my reflections, became their theme—distance itself, historical perspective (the seventh essay): and I realizeded I had written this book.” (C. Ginzburg).

Carlo Ginzburg (April 15, 1939 – Turin, Italy) is a noted Italian historian, the son of Natalia Ginzburg, a novelist, and Leone Ginzburg, a philologist, historian, and literary critic. Ginzburg received a PhD from the University of Pisa in 1961. He subsequently held teaching positions at the University of Bologna, at the University of California, Los Angeles (1988–2006), and st the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. His fields of interest range from the Italian Renaissance to early modern European history, with contributions to art history, literary studies, and the theory of historiography. He is best known for Il Formaggio e i Vermi – The Cheese and the Worms (1976), which examines the beliefs of Menocchio, a 16th century miller twice undergoing trial by the Roman Inquisition. In this book, Ginzburg highlights, on the basis of an analysis of the trial’s papers, the different aspects of the surprisingly varied universe of Menocchio’s cultural, philosophical, political and religious orientations, only to a small extent due to the influence of a “higher” culture. In 1966, he published The Night Battles, an examination of the benandanti’s visionary folk tradition found in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Friuli in northeastern Italy. He returned to looking at the visionary traditions of early modern Europe for his 1989 book Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath. In the eighties he directed the “Microstorie” series published by Einaudi, with Giovanni Levi. He is part of the scientific council of the magazine Communications. He is Academic Correspondent of the Academy of Arts of Drawing, in Florence, and honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Prix Aby Warburg in 1992 and, in 2005, the Feltrinelli Prize of the Accademia dei Lincei, for Historical Sciences. From the Accademia dei Lincei, in 2010, he was awarded the Balzan Prize. His books are translated into more than twenty languages.

Saul Friedländer (October 11, 1932) is an Israeli/American historian and currently Professor Emeritus of History at UCLA. From 1953-55, he studied Political Science in Paris; in 1963, he received a PhD from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, where he taught until 1988. Friedländer also taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Tel Aviv University. In 1969 he wrote a biography of Kurt Gerstein. Since 1988 he has been Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is considered one of the world’s premier historians in the field of the Holocaust, and the author of the definitive book Nazi-Germany and the Jews 1933-1945, thst has transformed our understanding of this period by weaving into a coherent whole the perspectives of ordinary Germans, party activists, military and political figures, and, most importantly, victims and survivors. Drawing from documents, films, recollections, and his personal experience, he reconstructs these events with a judicious tone that defies the nature of the subject and demonstrates the interplay of memory and representation in the interpretation of historic events. Friedländer shows that a rational and many-sided reinterpretation of the evidence deepens a reader’s understanding of the nature, meaning, and complexity of the Holocaust. His works include Pius XII and the Third Reich, (1965), History and Psychoanalysis (1979), When Memory Comes (1979), Reflections on Nazism (1984), Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume One: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 (1997), and Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume Two: The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945 (2008).

Arturo Toscanini

A conversation between James Conlon and Harvey Sachs. Born in 1867 in Parma, Italy, Toscanini debuted very young on the international scene and, already in 1898, received important appointments at La Scala first and,

in 1908 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York where he remained as musical director until 1915. He conducted the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra from 1928 to 1936 and appeared with orchestras all over the world, except those of Italy and Germany during the Fascist regimes. In 1939, after the promulgation of the racial laws and the outbreak of the war, he left Italy for good. He settled in the US where directed the NBC Symphony Orchestra until 1954.

Toscanini was staunchly opposed to the growth of fascism in Europe. In Italy in 1931, he was attacked for refusing to play the fascist anthem. Toscanini had been the first non-German to conduct at the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany, but he opted not to attend the festival in 1933 due to the Nazi regime. In 1936, Toscanini traveled to Palestine to conduct a group of Jewish musicians who had fled Europe.

Andrea Viterbi: Reflections of an Educator

Presentation of Andrea Viterbi’s memoir Reflections of an Educator, Researcher and Entrepreneur. Dedicated to the memory of both his father Achille and his son Alexander,

this memoir reconstructs the course of his academic career at a time in which technology played a major role in a radical reshaping of the world’s economy and society.

Attuned to the post-war growing technological needs of government and population, Viterbi and his colleagues began to work in an area where scientific research and capitalistic enterprise could support one another. His main contribution to science, the Viterbi Algorithm, found application in different fields, ultimately leading up to the co-founding of Qualcomm, which became one of the most important communication companies worldwide.

His father came from an intellectual but impoverished youth, and imbued family life with the principles of education and social responsibility. Family politics in America were very much in tune with the Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt, who had favored the poor over the wealthy in raising the nation out of the Depression.

Enrico Fermi

A conversation with David N. Schwartz, author of the book: The Last Man Who Knew Everything.  Albert Einstein once remarked that he had sold himself body

and soul to science, “being in flight from the I and the we to the it.” Einstein’s transformation followed from and repudiated an early-adolescent phase of intense religiosity. Enrico Fermi, the Italian-American physicist whose long list of achievements includes co-inventing the nuclear reactor, escaped into science as well, but in his case the impetus was traumatic: the sudden death of his beloved older brother, Giulio, during throat surgery when Fermi was 13.

That loss precipitated an intense lifelong privacy and a personal and scientific strategy of quantifying the world. Fermi wielded a six-inch slide rule as we today wield our iPhones, to plumb the essence of events. He ranks high in the second tier of 20th-century physicists, behind figures like Einstein and the Danish theoretician Niels Bohr. There have been other accounts of his life, yet David N. Schwartz’s new portrait, “The Last Man Who Knew Everything,” is the first thorough biography to be published since Fermi’s death 64 years ago in 1954. 

The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne

Presented by the Center for Italian Modern Art and Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò.

Bruno Walter Auditorium. The Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, 111 Amsterdam Avenue.

The score of The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne will be presented in its entirety for the first time since 1948. Cantori New York directed by Mark Shapiro will perform Vittorio Rieti’s music for the Magnifico. In 1948, the New York City Ballet presented The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, a Renaissance poem by Lorenzo de’ Medici whose refrain “del doman non v’è certezza” (future holds no certainty) resonated with the experience of displacement in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Behind the project was the painter, set designer and cultural organizer, Corrado Cagli. Echoed in this performance are his reckoning with his life in fascist Italy, the catastrophe of the war, and the mass murder of the Jews. Cagli’s first exhibition in New York since 1937 is on view at CIMA through January 26. The exhibition’s curator Raffaele Bedarida will give a brief overview on the history of the piece and Cagli’s work.  

S. F. Vanni

Rediscovering S.F. Vanni (2015)

Mini-doc on the historic Italian publisher and bookstore S.F. Vanni and its renovation by Centro Primo Levi, featuring an interview with Alessandro Cassin, CPL’s director who pieced together

an old book story with new ideas for the future. the building of S.F. Vanni was subsequently sold and no trace is left of its past. This short documentary is all that remains of an extraordinary adventure of immigrants, publishers and booksellers.

Centro Primo Levi Opening at S.F. Vanni

A 130 year old bookstore re-opens in the Village. S.F. VANNI, the first Italian bookstore in America, in business from 1884 to 2004,

will reopen as a pop-up bookstore and cultural space, under the auspices of Centro Primo Levi. The goal is not to revive the old traditional bookstore, but to re-imagine it for today.
The tradition of Italian books in New York begins with Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who first brought Italian books to NY in 1805. S.F. VANNI, opened the store (at 548 West Broadway) at the end of the 19th century; bookseller and publisher Andrea Ragusa, brought it into the 20th century on Bleecker Street and then to its present address.

Now, CPL EDITIONS– Centro Primo Levi’s e-book and print-on-demand publishing venture—a niche independent publishing initiative dedicated to the history of Italian Jews- will operate out of S.F. VANNI, in 21st century America.

For decades, thousands of dusty Italian books sat on metal shelves in the two rooms beyond the old-fashioned pale blue curtains of S.F.VANNI’s storefront. Revisited with advice from architect Bonnie Roche and designer Jonathan Wajskol, the first room has become a multifunctional space for book presentations, lectures, and film screenings. The second room —with the original books sold and published by S.F. VANNI, many of them rare editions, will be preserved as ‘urban archeology’. Board member Stella Levi imagines it as something between a beit midrash and a salon, a living space where a variety of events will take place. CPL’s director Alessandro Cassin envisions it as tribute to a long tradition of Italian and Jewish family-based publishers that strongly impacted the surrounding culture.

Andrea Ragusa, bookseller and publisher, arrived in the US in 1931, on a mission: to sell the newly compiled Italian Encyclopedia (Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani), and create —through books— a bridge between Italy and the United States. Within a decade his bookstore became the main supplier of Italian books and periodicals, not only to New York City, but also to libraries and universities throughout the United States and Canada. 

Rome Lab / Iom Romì

The Rome Lab

With the Rome Lab series Centro Primo Levi invites the public to explore periods of Jewish history and perspectives that, in spite of their formative role up to the early modern period,

are today almost absent from prevailing Jewish narratives mostly informed by Ashkenasy heritage and the modern Jewish experience in Northern and Eastern Europe.  How did Mediterranean Jews of the 1st century see themselves, the empire, and their land of origin? What was their status as minority? What kind of interaction and negotiation on religious authority existed between the Jewish elite of Judea, the Roman community and their Babylonian counterpart? And how did relations within the Jewish diaspora change after the Roman’s destruction of Jerusalem, as well as after the eclipse of the Sasanian Empire and the rise of Islam?

Iom Romì

“Iom Romì” (A day in Rome) chronicles a day in the life of the contemporary Jewish community of Rome, which for centuries has lived in limbo between persecution and integration.

As the only cultural group in the city that can claim an uninterrupted line of descent from the times of the empire, Roman Jews have fostered rituals and traditions that are unique in the world. From dawn to dusk, through the voices of several characters  living and working in the historic Ghetto quarter, “Iom Romì” tells the story of a community both fiercely independent and distinctly Roman.

Iom Romì: Taxi Karaoke (outtake #1)

“Iom Romì” (A day in Rome) chronicles a day in the life of the contemporary Jewish community of Rome, which for centuries has lived in limbo between persecution and integration.

As the only cultural group in the city that can claim an uninterrupted line of descent from the times of the empire, Roman Jews have fostered rituals and traditions that are unique in the world. From dawn to dusk, through the voices of several characters  l living and working in the historic Ghetto quarter, “Iom Romì” tells the story of a community both fiercely independent and distinctly Roman.

Seminar in Italian Jewish Studies

After Mussolini: The Reintegration of Italian Jews in Post-War Italy

Gary Schwarz (University of Pisa)

In recent years the history of European Jewry in the aftermath of racial persecutions has been the object of several studies.

The post-war situation has been studied with a main focus on the German case – from various perspectives, ranging from the persistence of anti-Semitism, to the economic consequences and the problems connected to restitution and reparations, the issues of memory, the new distribution of Jewish presences across the continent, life in Displaced Persons Camps, migration to Palestine and the State of Israel, reorganization of community life. The aim of this book is to offer a reconstruction of the consequences of Fascist anti-Semitic policies, analyzing the rebirth of Jewish life in post-war Italy, concentrating on the process of social and cultural re-integration.

Beyond National Mythology

Susan Zuccotti (author of The Italians and the Holocaust), Federico Finkelstein (The New School), Respondent Franklin Hugh Adler (Macalester College)

Why does publication of these massive volumes signify a turning point?

Because with finality it puts to rest, with the full weight of scholarly authority, those mythical, folkloric, auto-exculpatory, and false truisms that went largely unchallenged until the late 1980s: that the anti-Semitic laws, never effectuated with commitment and rigor, were enacted simply to please the German ally; that Italians did whatever they could under the German occupation to protect and save Jews; and that the “good Italian” had to be clearly distinguished from the “bad German,” the basis of what came to be understood in the popular expressionItalianibravagente.

The Pope and Mussolini

David Kertzer (Brown University), Ruth Ben-Ghiat (New York University), Robert Maryks (Journal of Jesuit Studies & Series of Jesuit Studies, Editor-in-Chief), Mark Weitzman (Simon Wiesenthal Center).

The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922,

and together changed the course of twentieth-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and “Il Duce” had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. (“We have many interests to protect,” the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals.

Of the Jewish Race: Race, Law and Identity in Fascist Italy

Ariela Gross (University of Southern California), David Kertzer (Brown University), Michael Livingston (Rutgers University). Introduced and moderated by Ruth Ben Ghiat (New York University).

What the documents – Italian legal, administrative, and judicial sources – showcase emphatically is the central role of lawyers in the Race Laws implementation, laws that address who could own radios or homes, who could operate a business, who could marry whom, and of course, who is legally Jewish.

The legal approach is novel to the historical discourse on this time period, which has previously focused on political and social perspectives. Livingston writes in the book: “As compared to Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia, Fascist Italy offered at least a limited amount of independence to judges and lawyers, and a courageous few used this independence to ameliorate or limit the damage resulting from the laws. But many others expanded them and, by providing technical assistance in drafting and interpreting the Race Laws, lawyers were indispensable in making the laws effective.

The Lateran Pacts

Francesco Margiotta Broglio (University of Florence), Giorgio Fabre (independent scholar), Elena Mazzini (University of Florence), Ilaria Pavan (Scuola Normale Superiore–Pisa) and Michele Sarfatti (CDEC), David Kertzer (Brown University),

Martin Menke (Rivier University), Silvana Patriarca (Fordham University), Annalisa Capristo (Center for American Studies in Rome), Paul Arpaia (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), Franklin Adler (Macalester College).

The Lateran Pacts were the first of a series of concordats the Vatican signed with European totalitarian regimes: it was followed by the Reichskonkordat with Hitler’s Germany in 1933. The Pacts deeply affected many aspects of Italian society and changed the ethical parameters that had shaped social welfare, scientific research, medical practice and the Italian education system up to that moment. They also impacted family law and the penal and civil codes. Most significantly, the Lateran Pacts restricted the status of religious minorities, which at the time were primarily the Jews and the Valdesians. Italian Jews had participated at all levels in the process of unification of the country. The creation of the liberal state between 1861 and 1870 had forever abolished ghettos and established the equality of all citizens. Since the early 20th century, Jews had held high positions in Italian public life, with a disproportionate representation in Parliament – two prime ministers and many prominent exponents not only in politics, but in academia, science and the arts.

Père Marie Benoît and the Rescue of Jews in World War II

Susan Zuccotti

Susan Zuccotti narrates the life and work of Père Marie-Benoît, a courageous French Capuchin priest who risked everything to hide Jews in France and Italy during the Holocaust.

Who was this extraordinary priest and how did he become adept at hiding Jews, providing them with false papers, and helping them to elude their persecutors?  From monasteries first in Marseille and later in Rome, Père Marie-Benoît worked with Jewish co-conspirators to build remarkably effective Jewish-Christian rescue networks. Acting independently without Vatican support but with help from some priests, nuns, and local citizens, he and his friends persisted in their clandestine work until the Allies liberated Rome. After the conflict, Père Marie-Benoît maintained his wartime Jewish friendships and devoted the rest of his life to Jewish-Christian reconciliation. Papal officials viewed both activities unfavorably until after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), 1962-1965.


Science and Dystopia: Primo Levi on Science Fiction

Extermination camps were the ground where a vast number of new medical and scientific applications were first tried out. The compliance and actual participation of the industrial complex

and of the medical and university system, turned them into an unspeakable machine of alienation, experimentation, annihilation and the transformation of the human subject into an object of consumption – all this on the basis of an ideology that pushed production to an extreme aberration.

In his testimony as a survivor, in the “necessity” that moved him to become a writer, in his ethic need to say, to make known, Primo Levi has transmitted the devastating effects of this de-subjectivising experience, and has given an extraordinarily human voice to that which is inhuman and unsayable.

Reflecting upon the causes and the implications of this “ immense biological and social experience,” as he defines it, Levi, the story teller, ponders on the issue of segregation in our own times, on the heritage the camps have bequeathed on the present, establishing a disquieting continuity between past aberrations and present normality, showing beyond any doubt how the present is subtly interwoven by the logic of the past.

In his hallucinated fiction, and, specifically, in his play La bella addormentata nel frigo (Sleeping Beauty in the Fridge), Levi shows with great acumen and perspicacity the strict relationship between science, new technologies, and subjective alienation, as well as the ways in which normality, the tranquility of a prosperous life, are in fact the product of a bio-political normativity, universally accepted with careless complicity. As a reminder of our own situation, Levi writes: “Monsters do exist but are too few to be really dangerous; by far more dangerous are common men, executives always ready to believe and obey without ever questioning what they are told.”

Film Screening: Sleeping Beauty in the Fridge, 1979, a rare fiction short, is based on Levi’s story with the same title and produced by the Italian television in collaboration with the author. In Italian w/English subtitles (16’). Paola Mieli (psychoanalyst, New York, Paris) on Sleeping Beauty in the Fridge, Gérard Haddad (psychoanalyst, Paris) on The Mirror’s Maker, and Daniela Schiller (neuroscientist, Mount Sinai, NY) on a story to be announced.

Beyond the Ghetto

Marina Caffiero (University of Rome La Sapienza) and Serena Di Nepi (University of Rome La Sapienza). The history of the Jews and that of the Christians is one of institutional, social and cultural

interactions and exchanges that are impossible to separate.From this point of view, the new research on the modern age and the period of the ghettos (XVI-XIX centuries) published in Italy, presents historiographical innovations of great interest. These studies – based on the rigorous analysis of neglected documentary sources and archives- shed light on the history of the Jewish minority from a new perspective and bringing forth unexpected results. The Jewish experience in the Italian peninsula, though subject to rules and restrictions, appears as an essential component of the society at large. In Italy, the lack of attention on the intersection and parallelisms between Jewish history and Christian history has meant that the Jews have long been “invisible” from the overall historical narrative. This led historians to neglect the valuable wealth of information that emerges from the analysis of institutions, norms and behaviors related to the Jews, which today prove essential for a deeper comprehension of Italian society from a national and European perspective.

Cross-analysis of the data in administrative, notarial and criminal records, with data found in the laws, rules and treatises highlight the need to include a full history of the Jews in the overall history of Europe. Thus the history of the Jews finds its place as an integral and fundamental part in the European transformational processes offering insight into historical phenomena of general interest such as the definition of heresy, the hunt for banned books, the interpretation of witchcraft, sexual exchanges, the construction of the “lexicon of injury”, discrimination, the discourse on rights and citizenship, the development of international trade and cross-cultural exchanges, etc.

During the modern era, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, Italian society was less closed than we usually think, and the Jews (with their culture, their books and their representatives) had their place within it, despite strict rules and the recurring anti-Jewish propaganda. The history of the Jews and their historical relations with Christians is a central chapter of the history of Italy and an extremely relevant one today, in view of the challenges posed by the coexistence of different religions and cultures and the problems regarding the way a society relates to minorities.

Within this interpretative framework, Marina Caffiero will discuss the relationships and exchanges – cultural, social and institutional – between the Jewish minority and the Christian majority. Although the Jews were viewed as “different”, thus dangerous to the established religious and secular powers, they participated in most aspects of daily life in the Italian cities of the time. Caffiero’s argument, grounded in the comparison between the evolution of legislation regarding the Jews and newly found inquisitorial documents, points to a significant gap between the rules governing Jewish lives and their actual impact on peoples lives. Despite severe restrictions, Jews and Christians often found places and times for ongoing discussion and cross contamination. In other words, Italian society during the modern era was characterized by a far greater freedom and open mindedness than its own rules and prohibitions suggest.

Serena Di Nepi’s work focuses on the years immediately before and after the establishment of the ghettos commissioned by Pope Paul IV Carafa (1555). Starting with an analysis of the political and religious climate in Rome at the time of the arrival of Jewish refugees from Spain in 1493, and the protection accorded to them by an Iberian Pope, Alexander VI Borgia, Di Nepi traces the steps that led to cultural and ideological changes during the first half of the sixteenth century, leading to the Church’s policy of accepting the Jews, but segregating them while awaiting for their conversion. The alternative to the ghetto was the expulsion of the Jews, a possibility which was in fact examined and discarded. Ultimately it was decided to force them into a cloistered existence, following the 1513 Libellus of Querini and Giustiniani. Through a detailed examination of Jewish and Christian documents, it is possible to draw a picture of the Jewish condition in Rome immediately before the erection of the ghetto and in the following decades. In doing so, questions arise concerning the Jews’ survival strategies and the ways in which despite everything, they were able to endure more than three centuries of imprisonment and aggressive proselytism. Further, Di Nepi will highlight the key role of the rabbinate in the management of Jewish institutions and communal life, drawing on parallelisms between the Rabbinate’s attempts to discipline and confessionalize and similar intents well documented within the Christian world.

Unrecovered Memory: The Jewish Communal Library of Rome

On September 30th and October 1st 1943, two German officers visited the building of the Jewish Community of Rome.

They headed to the third floor where the libraries of the rabbinical academy and that of the Jewish community were held. Both collections were invaluable, the latter being one of the most comprehensive pre-modern Jewish libraries in the world. The communal library was created at the beginning of the 20th century gathering the book collections of various pre-unification Jewish institutions. It contained about 5,000 volumes including incunabula and cinquecentine. The only existing catalogue had been compiled in 1934 by IsaiaSonne and is today the base to reconstruct the history of the library and the profound degree to which it reflected the profile, life, exchanges and practices of the Roman Jewish Community.

For the first time since the early investigations, this panel will inaugurate the study of the content and history of the library, as it emerges through the registers of Inquisition censorship, community chronicles and other historical sources dating back to the 15th century.

The officers examined the books. On October 11th they returned to announce that the libraries would be seized. Two days later the EinsatzstabReichsleiter Rosenberg, the German agency in charge of seizing Jewish books and art, sacked the building and took both libraries. The two libraries were allegedly transferred to Germany aboard three trains: two in October and a third one in December.

In 1946, the Allies located the Rabbinical library near Frankfurt and facilitated its return to Rome in 1950. No trace was ever found of the Jewish communal library of Rome. Although various investigations were conducted, the last as part of the Anselmi Commission on the confiscation of Jewish assets in 1999-2001, its fate remains obscure. Over the years, hypotheses multiplied and at least few volumes emerged in Holland and at the JTS library in New York. Information and testimonies concerning its departure remain vague, research incomplete and many questions are still open. A panel of experts will analyze the history of the investigations and discuss future efforts to recover this treasure.

Speakers : Serena Di Nepi, University of Rome La Sapienza and Jewish Museum of Rome, Agnes Peresztegi, Commission for Art Recovery, Alex Karn, Colgate University. Moderated by Natalia Indrimi, Centro Primo Levi.  

Americordo: The Italian Jewish Exiles in America

Book presentation: Americordo. The Italian Jewish Exiles in America by Gianna Pontecorboli
Guest speaker: Judge Guido Calabresi. Pontecorboli’s book is a long

overdue account of a lesser-known aspect of the anti-Jewish persecution in Italy: the exile of Italian Jews to America. Forced to the US by the Fascist persecutions during the 1930’s and 1940’s, roughly one thousand Italian Jews with their families continued their work in a wide range of fields, from mathematics and biology to medicine, music, banking, textile manufacturing, art and antiques.

Pontecorboli retraces the threads of their stories, personal recollections and historical background, their strategies to exit Italy and those to find a visa to the US. She reconstructs their first steps in the New World, their networks of mutual support, their successes and drawbacks, their encounters with fascism and antifascism in America, their different and at times conflicting choices of adaptation and survival.

Written in a fast paced journalistic style, the book is both a good read as well as an important contribution to cultural history, marking a starting point for a whole new field of inquiry.

Among the protagonists of the book are Tullia Calabi e Bruno Zevi, Max Ascoli, Giorgio Cavaglieri, Achille Viterbi, Amelia Rosselli, Silvano Arieti, Emilio Segré, Franco Modigliani, Paolo Milano, Salvador Luria, Massimo Calabresi, Ugo Fano and Giorgio Levi della Vida. Probably the smallest national group among European exiles, the Italians distinguished themselves for their willingness and ability to create from the start bridges between Italy and their new country.

Some took part in the liberation of Europe from the Nazi-Fascist dictatorships, working with the US armed forces, others focused on Italian life in America. After the war, some chose to remain, while many returned to Italy. Four of those who remained in America won the Nobel Prize. The experience of exile originated important postwar cultural and economic trends. All too often however, the violence and injustice that had caused the exile was forgotten. The book traces the personal stories of men, women and their families who became an unlikely bridge not only between two countries, but between two eras.

The English edition, with its extensive bibliography, ample notes, and biographical sketches of the individuals mentioned in the text constitutes a substantial reference point for future scholarly research.

Fascism and Italian American Culture

Ruth Ben Ghiat (New York University), Fraser Ottanelli (University of South Florida), Matteo Pretelli (New York University and Middlebury College, Florence),

Marcella Bencivenni (Hostos Community College, CUNY). Literature on the Fascist regime’s reaches in the Americas has a distinguished history going back to Gaetano Salvemini, whose recording of, and sharp commentary, provides today’s scholars with an invaluable source. In the 1970s, John P. Diggins began groundbreaking research in this field, followed in the next decades by Phillip V. Cannistraro and other international scholars.

In the past two decades, with a large amount of primary sources still untapped, research has began to investigate the modalities through which Fascism sought to control Italians abroad and, through them, maintain relations with countries that were not under totalitarian rule.

Italian Americans’ self-images during those years were shaped by propaganda, foreign press reports, economic interests, and the establishment of the Fascist League of North America on the one hand, and by the Regime’s cultural and educational showcases along with a network of local police informants, on the other.

Fascism, however, was forced to adapt its methods to the requirements and style of the American society and values producing ambiguous cultural and political categories that continued to operate after Mussolini’s fall and the end of World War II.

How did the Italian American community and their leadership negotiate their position and role within the larger horizon of the relations between the US and Italy and the US and the Catholic Church? How did ethnic leaders and intellectuals of Italian background interpret the relation between dictatorship and democracy within the Italian communities in the US? To what extent were Italian American radicals also antifascists? How did they respond to Fascism and what relations did they develop with the mainstream Italian American population, by and large supportive of Fascism, and with various factions of Italian antifascist in exile?

The study of Italian American history, politics and culture during the Fascist Regime provides an important dimension to better understand Italian Fascism. It also contributes important sources for research topics that are crucial part of Centro Primo Levi’s ongoing activities, such as the story of the Italian Jewish exiles in America and the role of the Italian press, publishing and cultural propaganda in the US. The discussion opened by this seminar will continue in future sessions addressing more specific issues about antisemitism in the US, the Italian Jewish exiles in America and the transition to the post-war period.

As many as 2,000 Jewish exiles arrived in the US in the wake of the Racial Laws. To what degree did anti-Semitism resonate among Italian Americans whose relation with Jews had been defined by the immigrant experience and, for some, by common activism in the unions? What does this Italian-American story add to our reading of the development of racial policies in Italy and of the arrival of the Italian Jewish exiles in America?

This seminar is a first step toward addressing these questions by analyzing some aspects of Fascist outreach in America, its reception and consequences. 

Honoring War Criminals: The Monument to Rodolfo Graziani

Lidia Santarelli (Brown University), Yemane Demissie (New York University). Moderator: Andrea Fiano (journalist and former Chairman of CPL).

Respondent Girma Abebe, Former Counselor, (Ethiopian Delegation to the UN). A political clash is growing in Italy after the dedication of a memorial to Fascist commander Field Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, a convicted war criminal. Graziani was honored with a mausoleum and a memorial park, all built at taxpayers’ expense, in a village south of Rome.

He was notorious as Benito Mussolini’s military commander in the colonial wars in Ethiopia and Libya, where he carried out massacres and used chemical weapons against the local population. [BBC News,].

Associations including ANED (Italian Association of Deportees), ANPI (Association of Resistance Partisans) and UCEI (Union of the Italian Jewish Communities) have made formal requests to remove the mausoleum. This roundtable will discuss Graziani’s role under fascism, rehabilitation attempts of Fascist war leaders in Italy and public opposition to this political trend.

Historian of Italian colonialism Lidia Santarelli will discuss Graziani’s role in Italian colonialist wars in Africa as well as his interventions in domestic politics. The panel will also address the failure of international sanctions and protests against the first use of poison gas against civilians. Ethiopian filmmaker YemaneDemissie will show and comment his documentary work on Ethiopian survivors of the 1937 massacre ordered by Graziani. The program is presented in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Justice – The Ethiopian Cause. 

Magnifico in New York

Raffaele Bedarida on Corrado Cagli. In 1948, the New York City Ballet presented The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, a Renaissance poem

by Lorenzo de’ Medici whose refrain “del doman non v’è certezza” (the future holds no certainty) may have had a particular resonance in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Behind the project was the painter, set designer and cultural organizer, Corrado Cagli who captured the irony of this carnivalesque reflection on time and man and called upon Georges Balanchine and Vittorio Rieti to bring it to the stage. The three shared experiences of migration that challenged traditional narratives.

In this Centro Primo Levi’s program conceived for Carnegie Hall’s Migration Festival, Cooper Union’s art historian Raffaele Bedarida (author of Corrado Cagli: La pittura, l’esilio, l’America (Rome: Donzelli, 2018; English edition, New York: CPL Editions, forthcoming) will discuss Cagli’e exile as a significant anomaly in the history of European artists’ forced migration.

Jewish and gay, Cagli had enjoyed a successful career in Fascist Italy during the 1930s. After the 1938 racial laws, he was censored and forced to leave the country. He served in the US army during World War II, participating in the landing in Normandy and the liberation of Buchenwald. With a special status as military artist, he depicted the horror of war in a breathtaking series of drawings that were immediately acquired by MoMA and the Whitney Museum.

In the immediate postwar period, Cagli emerged as an important cultural bridge, helping resume art exchanges between Italy and the United States. Together with other Jewish artists who had fled Italy – Vittorio Rieti, Saul Steinberg, Bruno Zevi – he helped the New York art world rediscover contemporary Italian art and design, and made it possible for emerging American artists to work in Italy.

The program will feature a multimedia display of Cagli’s 1946-47 paintings and drawings for the scenography and costumes of The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne (New York Public Library for the Performing Arts) and a live execution of passages from Rieti’s score, which were never performed in public since 1948.

When the American Press Flirted With Fascism

Mauro Canali

American correspondents were baffled by the rise of Mussolini’s movement and had little reference through which to analyze it.

Some related it to Italy’s recent past, others proposed audacious and rather imaginative comparisons between the Duce and modern American leaders. Still, others tried to picture an Italian archetype based on a superficial understanding of Italian history and on stereotypes of Italians that came from American popular culture and Italian immigration. Echoes of the victorious Bolshevik revolution was also evident in their writing. The “red scare” and the fear of global upheaval influenced the initial positive reaction to Mussolini.

Fascism and Italian American Culture

In the past two decades, with a large amount of primary sources still untapped, research has began to investigate the modalities through which Fascism sought to

control Italians abroad and, through them, maintain relations with countries that were not under totalitarian rule.  Italian Americans’ self-images during those years were shaped by propaganda, foreign press reports, economic interests, and the establishment of the Fascist League of North America on the one hand, and by the Regime’s cultural and educational showcases along with a network of local police informants, on the other. Fascism, however, was forced to adapt its methods to the requirements and style of the American society and values producing ambiguous cultural and political categories that continued to operate after Mussolini’s fall and the end of World War II.

Mussolini’s Camps: Civilian Internment in Fascist Italy

Presented here for the first time in English, Capogreco’s research traces Mussolini’s practice of segregation and isolation of political enemies and ethnic undesirables (a constant throughout his dictatorship) back to the colonial

ventures of the early 1920’s, culminating in the creation of actual concentration camps.  These camps were established throughout the country. In the North the internment of Jews facilitated their deportation by the Nazis to the death camps in Eastern Europe. In the South, after the landing of the allied forces, the camps paradoxically became places of relative safety. Some Jews and political dissidents were not placed in camps, but relegated to ”confinement” in towns and villages, were daily registration with the local authorities was mandatory.

The Babylonian Talmud

The first digitalized Italian translation of the Talmud is certainly a comprehensive and ambitious project. It was achieved through the use of an innovative software called

“Traduco,” which was created in collaboration with the CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche).  After stopping in Washington D.C., the PTTB continued its traveling presentation on October 24th with two important meetings: a press conference at the upscale Lincoln Ristorante–organized by Sally Fischer PR with a delicious Italian Kosher lunch offered by Va Bene –and a debate on the topic at NYU’s Casa Italiana-Zerilli-Marimò, in collaboration with the New York’s Centro Primo Levi. The roadshow ended on the 25th with a presentation at the Consulate General of Italy. “If you don’t study, you can’t produce culture,” proclaimed Clelia Piperno during the conference. She underscored just how much the Talmud is relevant today: “The Talmud’s method is very active, and it’s a living text. Our project is an approach to democracy. We’re trying to construct a new community where the keywords are respect and education.”

Museums and the Display of History

The program will explore a specific aspect of European efforts to foster the shaping of a shared historical landscape:

museums of memory and history.Speakers will take into consideration various museums, analyzing the circumstances in which each was planned and realized, derailed, abandoned or kept in a limbo. Is there a common thread in the rush to portray history as museum display and the crisis that have affected various museums?

Can museums, traditionally meant as monuments to nationhood, tied to the history and memories of particular locations, effectively display the different lenses through which to see a shared past, divided memories, the developments of an increasingly transnational historical research?

How do they shape their narratives in relation to an unprecedented diversity of audiences; to the lingering effects of a history dominated by nationalism and conflict; to large masses of tourists? Are museums, that increasingly rely on communication technology, virtual reality, and the offer of “adventures”, shaping a new concept of “public history”?

Does the generally stated purpose to carry the “lesson of history” and be relevant to contemporary human tragedies that resonate with those of the Nazi-Fascist past, still hold its meaning in relation to the masses of migrants who do not necessarily share the culture and history nor partake in the privileges of citizenship?

As the place of the Holocaust in European memory is increasingly coming under challenge, elements of fascism are becoming politically and socially acceptable, political events signal the difficulty of democratic nation states to sustain the notion of diversity and equality they produced, the very notion of “history” is confronted on grounds as diverse as communication and the law, can the controversies over history museums provide a lens to discuss the implications and background of the political use of memory and the role of history and historical research in our society?

Participants: Guri Schwarz, University of Pisa, Aline Sierp (University of Maastricht), Jan Grabowski (University of Ottawa), Laure Neumayer, (University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne), Gabor Sonkoly, (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest), Anna Di Lellio, (The New School), Daniel Levy (Stony Brook University), Mark Weitzman (Simon Wiesenthal Center, IHRA).

Advisory committee: Ruth Ben Ghiat (New York University), Silvana Patriarca (Fordham University), Ernest Ialongo (Hostos Community College) in collaboration with Natalia Indrimi and Alessandro Cassin (Centro Primo Levi).

Redemption Blues

Redemption Blues, a film about the onerous legacy of the Holocaust, begins where conventional Shoah narratives leave off and traces a path forward, exploring redemption through the second generation’s point of view.

At a time when the last members of the survivor generation are bidding us farewell, and historical witnessing cannot endure, Redemption Blues engages with emotional and political vestiges that are yet to be resolved. The film is presented as an artistic reckoning and a deeply personal journey into the future of living with the legacy of the Holocaust. The perspectives of survivors and the guiding narrative of the filmmaker are woven into a stream of music that runs from nostalgia and religious sources into an ocean of free, improvisational creation. Could this be a way forward, given the many spiritual and political fallacies?


What Exactly is a Concentration Camp?

Dramatic reading of Maria Eisenstein’s diary Internee n.6, (1944), one of the earliest testimonies of life in a fascist concentration camp.

Excerpts for the reading are translated from the Italian original: Maria Eisenstein, L’internata numero 6, curated by Carlo Spartaco Capogreco, Mimesis, Milano-Udine 2014 (first edition Rome 1944). Introduction by and Q&A with Carlo Spartaco Capogreco (Università della Calabria). Maria Eisenstein was a Viennese woman who moved to Italy in the early 1930s to study literature in Florence. On June 10th, 1940, Mussolini ordered the arrest of all Jews who did not have or had been stripped of Italian citizenship. While living in Sicily with a lover, she was immediately incarcerated, one of few Jews in the city of Catania. She spent the following three years in various among internment camps and confinement locations. Maria’s authorship is elusive as well as ironic, worldly, and unapologetic. She wrote Italian beautifully to the point that her diary, first published after she crossed the Allied line and fled South, was for decades considered fiction. She contributed to this myth by stating, in the introduction, that the diary had been left in a hospital by a woman whose fate remained unknown. In fact, she fled to Puglia, worked for the Allies, and moved to the US. She never wrote other books. It took 30 years before the historian Carlo Spartaco Capogreco identified her and traced her story. Maria Eisenstein’s diary was recently re-issued in an annotated edition, and Centro Primo Levi seeks to present it to international readers. It is an extraordinary document on the sudden incarceration of “foreign” Jewish civilians in fascist Italy and a subtle fresco of the cultural and psychological atmosphere in which well-meaning and diligent men and women performed the ideals of morality, strength, and valor that gave Fascism its societal foundation. Reading by: Katarina Vizina. A native of Bratislava, Slovakia, Katarina holds an MA in Musical Theater from The Janacek Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Brno, Czech Republic and received the Fellowship for Outstanding Contribution to Theater from Brooklyn College where she graduated with an MFA in Acting. She has performed in plays, one woman shows, sketch comedy, radio shows, movies, cabarets and countless voiceover spots.

Jewish Publishing in Italy

Italy is renowned as the cradle of the printed Hebrew book. Shortly after the invention of the printing press, the first two volumes in Hebrew were printed in Rome and Reggio Calabria approximately between 1472 and 1487.

For the following two centuries or more, the Hebrew book flourished in the peninsula’s city-states. By the 17th century, Hebrew printing began migrating to other lands in the Ottoman Empire, Northern Europe and eventually the Americas. The printed book had profound effects on the Jewish world, on one side opening networks of communication and exchange, on the other introducing new forms of internal normativity and authority.
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