Dorian Stuber in Open Letters Monthly:
For three months in the fall of 1943, the Italian writer Primo Levi joined a small band of partisans based in the Piedmontese Alps. More than thirty years later, Levi described the group in characteristically modest terms: “We were cold and hungry, we were the most disarmed partisans in the Piedmont, and probably also the most unprepared.” Much of their time was spent wheedling supplies from the locals, who were often suspicious of their aims. The rest was spent looking for ammunition. According to Levi, they had nothing but a “tommy gun without bullets and a few pistols.”
In his fascinating new book, Primo Levi’s Resistance: Rebels and Collaborators in Occupied Italy, Sergio Luzzatto explains that, however insignificant Levi and his comrades may have seemed to themselves, they had attracted the attention of officials in the Italian Social Republic. Popularly known as the Republic of Salò, after the town in Lombardy where it was headquartered, the Republic had been formed in September 1943 when the Germans reinstalled the deposed Mussolini as head of a satellite state. Italy was split in two: in the south a government supported by King Victor Emmanuel III worked with the Allies, while in the north fascism persisted.
Salò took its orders from Berlin; Luzzatto focuses on how that obedience played out in a small corner of northern Italy. He does so by showing how the actions of individuals made a difference in a time when so many of the larger political entities were in flux. One of those individuals was the zealous Police Prefect for the region of Aosta, Cesare Carnazzi. Carnazzi was eager to arrest two kinds of people: the partisans who were forming the nascent Italian Resistance and Jews who were to be deported to satisfy the demands of the Republic’s Nazi allies. In the mountains of Piedmont, those people were often the same.