Letter: War crimes: neither forgiven nor forgotten

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The Independent Online
Sir: In attempting to bolster his own views on the trials of alleged war criminals by selectively quoting Primo Levi, Colin Welch (9 August) does the late writer an injustice.

Levi was clearly aware of the fallibility of memory, but for the rest of his life he must have experienced vivid recollections of the time he spent in Nazi concentration camps. In his preface to Moments of Reprieve, published in 1981, Levi wrote:

Without any deliberate effort, memory continues to restore to me events, faces, words, sensations, as if at that time my mind had gone through a period of exalted receptivity, during which not a detail was lost . . . A few years ago I met, after 35 years, a fellow prisoner with whom I had not had any special friendship, and I recognised him immediately in the midst of a great number of unknown faces, although his physiognomy was greatly changed. (Translation by Ruth Feldman)

The question of judgement and retribution is remarkably absent from Levi's writing; he preferred the role of witness to that of judge. But it is beyond doubt that, without indulging in hatred, he never forgave the culprits.

Primo Levi has left us the powerful message that we must not forget the atrocities of Nazism; for all his humility, I cannot believe that Levi would have been prepared to call it a day.

Yours faithfully,



9 August