English title of a collection of short stories
by Primo Levi
, first published as Lilit e altri racconti
(Lilith and other stories) in 1985, then in translation by Ruth Feldman
in 1986. Of the fifteen stories, the first ten are about what happened in Auschwitz
, and the remainder are from elsewhere in the war or tales of what happened to those who survived.
His first book (1960) was called If This Is a Man, because of the crushing of humanity, but that questioning title does not apply here: each is of a three-dimensional person, some heroes of a sort, some villains of a sort, others just caught up in the ghastly scene. Also, it is not a tale of the worst, of the deaths, betrayals, and tortures, though they must be ever-present: rather these are moments of reprieve, pictures of humanity and individuality.
- Rappoport's Testament
- The Juggler
- A Disciple
- Our Seal
- The Gypsy
- The Cantor and the Barracks Chief
- Last Christmas of the War
- The Quiet City
- Small Causes
- The Story of Avrom
- Tired of Imposture
- Cesare's Last Adventure
- Lorenzo's Return
- Story of a Coin
In the title story 'Lilith' another prisoner, known only to them as Tischler (carpenter
), happened to have the same birthday as Levi: when they turned 25 together Tischler shared an apple
with him, the only time he tasted fruit. Then as they were sheltering, Tischler, mocking the Italian Jews for being apikorsim
s, unbelievers) told him the hidden tale of Lilith
, Adam's first wife, the two of them created as a golem
; and of how she wanders the earth seeking men's seed.
In Auschwitz there was a lack of camaraderie: it was a bitter economy of favours paid in fractions of bread ration, or anything that could be stolen, or tricks learnt, or smuggling. In 'A Disciple' Primo Levi found himself teaching a young Hungarian, Bandi, who is honest. It ends in triumph when Bandi finally steals a radish as a present for him.
In 'The Quiet City' he examines the case of Mertens, a German chemist, an ordinary man of reasonable decency, who went to work in the outside town of Auschwitz, with his family, who saw enough of what was going on to be ashamed and not want to speak. As too many.
The 'Story of a Coin' dwells on the ghetto of Lodz and the megalomaniac buffoon Chaim Rumkowski whom the Nazis allowed to rule as his own little principality for several years, before he and his people were swept away as the war drew to an end.
'Small Causes' tells of how two were infected together with one of the many epidemics that swept the camp: one had had it as a child and was likely to survive; Primo Levi fell ill and was unlikely, so weakened, to last long. Then the orders came to take all the able-bodied survivors and remove them from Auschwitz lest the approaching Allies find this evidence. So it was Levi, too ill to walk, who was liberated, and who lived.