Although best known for his seminal work, “Survival in Auschwitz,” Primo Levi’s searing memoir was actually his second attempt to grapple with the enormity of Nazi extermination camps. After the Auschwitz system of camps was discovered by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945, Levi and another Turinese Jew, Leonardo De Benedetti, a 46-year-old medical doctor, were charged by Soviet authorities to draft a report on the sanitary and medical organization of Auschwitz. The Russians’ motives — notwithstanding their chaotic but essentially humane portrait in Levi’s second memoir, “The Truce” — were not entirely altruistic: They wished to document the unspeakable crimes of the Nazi regime not just for posterity but also for propaganda purposes.
Although there has been a Jewish presence on the Italian peninsula for more than 2,000 years, it would be inaccurate to speak of a single Jewish identity. The community of Rome is as distinct from that of Ferrara as the community of Turin is from that of Milan. Silvia Bonucci’s “Voices From a Time” — a recipient of the Zerilli-Merimo Prize, which advances the translation of outstanding Italian works into English — examines the declining fortunes and tragic fate of family from Trieste, in the extreme northeast of the country.