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Flickers of Light

Lorenzo Perrone

Dr. Adelaide Hautval
“..An Italian civilian worker brought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for a reward.
…I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.
…But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated, he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.”
Levi, Primo, If This is a Man, New York:The Orion Press, 1959

Lorenzo Perrone, born in 1904, in Fossano, in Cuneo province, saved the life of the famous author, Primo Levi, when they were both in Auschwitz. Levi, a resident of Turin, worked as a chemist specializing in paints and varnishes. In 1943, as soon as Italy was occupied by the Germans, he joined a partisan band in his native Piedmont. He was arrested in the roundup of December 13, 1943, by the Republican Fascist militia and imprisoned in Aosta until January 20, 1944. Then he was transferred to Fossoli camp and deported on February 22, 1944. After he arrived in Auschwitz, he was sent to slave labor in the I.G. Farben factory in the Buna-Monowitz camp.

As a chemist, he was given a job in the synthetic rubber factory. When Levi was assigned to a squad that was erecting a wall, he met his rescuer Perrone, a mason. He was from the Piedmont region and belonged to a group of skilled bricklayers who were civilian workers, hired by the Italian firm Boetti. The meeting between the two Italians occurred one day, during the summer of 1944, when Levi heard Perrone speaking to another worker in the same dialect as his. From that day on, Perrone brought Levi food every day for half a year, until the end of December 1944. Then, with the front getting nearer, the foreign workers were sent home. The extra food, part of Perrone's food ration, saved Levi’s life, and he also shared it with his friends. Perrone also gave Levi a multi-patched vest to wear under his prisoner’s uniform to keep him warm. He also agreed to send postcards to a non-Jewish friend of Levi’s through which Levi’s mother, Esther, and sister, Anna Maria, were informed that he was alive. Levi’s sister and mother, who were in hiding in Italy, succeeded, through a chain of friends ending with Perrone, to send Levi a package of food, including chocolate, cookies, and powdered milk, as well as clothing. Perrone, an exceptional man, risked his life to save Levi. He did not expect any reward for what he did. He only agreed to have Levi arrange to fix his torn shoes at the camp’s workshop.

The last meeting in Auschwitz between the two occurred one night after a heavy Allied bombardment. The blast had burst one of Perrone’s eardrums, and earth sprayed by the explosion had spewed sand and dirt into the bowl of soup he was bringing to Levi. When he gave him the food, Perrone apologized for the soup being dirty, but did not tell Levi what had happened to him, because he did not want his friend to feel indebted to him. Perrone reminded Levi that there was still a just world outside Auschwitz and that there were still human beings who were uncorrupted. Levi believed that he survived Auschwitz thanks to Perrone.

In an interview published in the Paris Review in 1995, 8 years after he committed suicide, Primo Levi described Lorenzo Perrone as “a sensitive man, almost illiterate but really a sort of a saint….We almost never spoke. He was a silent man. He refused my thanks. He almost didn’t reply to my words. He just shrugged: Take the bread, take the sugar. Keep silent, you don’t need to speak”. Levi told the interviewer that Perrone had been impacted by what he had seen in Auschwitz that after the war he took to drinking stopped working and lost his will to live. After the liberation, Primo Levi was in touch with Perrone, visiting him in Fossano. It was now Levi who tried to save Perrone -he arranged for him to be hospitalized and cured, but in vain. “He was not a religious religious; he didn’t know the gospel, but instinctively he tried to rescue people, not for pride, not for glory, but out of a good heart and for human comprehension. He asked me once in very laconic words: Why are we in the world if not to help each other?”.

Perrone died in 1952 of tuberculosis and alcohol. Levi named his two children after Lorenzo Perrone: his daughter, born in 1948, was called Lisa Lorenza; and his son, born in 1957, was called Renzo. Levi died in 1987. Lorenzo Perrone appears in Primo Levi’s autobiographical narratives: If This is a Man; Moments of Reprieve; Lilit; and the stories “The Events of the Summer” and “Lorenzo’s Return.” In these writings he told about the bricklayer from Fossano to whom he owed his survival.

On June 7, 1998, Yad Vashem recognized Lorenzo Perrone as a Righteous Among the Nations.