Luzzatto (History/Univ. of Turin; Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age, 2010, etc.) combines his obsessions with Primo Levi (1919-1987) and the Italian Resistance.
The armistice signed with the Allies by no means ended the war in Italy. The Allies supplied arms to the Italian army in the south and the partisans in the north but distrusted the native resistance and the communists. The Germans reacted by rescuing Mussolini from captivity and establishing the second fascist regime as the Social Republic of Salò. Thus began a war of liberation in addition to civil war. The fascist/Nazi government was the target of those young men, many of them Turinese Jews, in the Valle d’Aosta who were “inventing the Resistance.” Many of them were untrained hotheads and roughnecks with little leadership. Levi was a part of that group, and the author seeks answers to an “ugly secret” mentioned in Levi’s book of short stories published in 1975, The Periodic Table. On Dec. 13, 1943, the local prefect set in motion a plan to gather up draft evaders and all Jews now subject to arrest under a new police directive. Edilio Cagni and his two henchmen, Alberto Bianchi and Domenico De Ceglie, led the Salò and German forces to the mountain hideouts. Levi was taken prisoner and sent to Auschwitz. He didn’t return to Italy until 1945, but his writings are what led Luzzatto to dig deeply into the truth of his sentence, of the men who betrayed them, and of the reprisals and vendettas that lingered for years. Though periodically intriguing, the book is lacking as an attempt to explain the Italian Resistance, perhaps covering too small an area. The somewhat disjointed narrative features characters introduced and then ignored.
A book for Levi completists and students of the Italian Resistance. Luzzatto provides a decent picture of the Italian character, the wide variance of political parties, and the dedication of the people to their country.