Lorenzo Perrone

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Lorenzo Perrone (1904—1952) born in Fossano, in Cuneo province, Italy, was one of a group of skilled Italian bricklayers working under contract to the Boetti company, who were transferred to Auschwitz according to the camp expansion plan.

In the middle of 1944, while he worked on the building of a wall, Perrone met the Jewish-Italian prisoner Primo Levi, after Levi heard Perrone speak in the Piemontese language with a colleague of his (Levi was a native of Turin), and a friendship between the two developed. Until December of the same year, Perrone gave Levi daily additional food from his rations, saving his life; he also gave him a multi-patched garment he would wear under the camp uniform to increase the protection from cold.

Perrone died of tuberculosis in 1952. On June 7, 1998, Lorenzo Perrone was recognized as one of the Righteous among the Nations in 1998 by the Yad Vashem museum of Jerusalem.

The names of Levi's children were chosen as a homage to Lorenzo Perrone: his daughter was Lisa Lorenza, and his son Renzo.

But Lorenzo was a man; his humanity was pure and unblemished, and he was outside this world of denial. Thanks to Lorenzo I happened not to forget I myself was a man.

— Primo Levi, If This Is a Man

References to Lorenzo Perrone in the writings of Primo Levi[edit]

From If This is a Man:

“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.” [1]

From Moments of Reprieve:

"I met Lorenzo in June 1944, after a bombing that had torn up the big yard in which both of us were working. Lorenzo was not a prisoner like us; in fact he wasn’t a prisoner at all. Officially he was one of the voluntary civilian workers with which Nazi Germany swarmed, but his choice had been anything but voluntary. In 1939 he had been employed as a mason by an Italian firm that operated in France. The war had broken out, all the Italians in France had been interned, but then the Germans had arrived, reconstituted the firm, and transferred it part and parcel to Upper Silesia. Those workers, even though not militarized, lived like soldiers. They were stationed in a camp not far from ours, slept on cots, had passes on Sundays off, one or two weeks of vacation, were paid in marks, could write and send money to Italy, and from Italy they were allowed to receive clothing and food packages." [2]

"He didn't speak, but he understood. I don't think I ever asked him for help, because then I didn't have a clear idea of how these Italians lived and what they could afford. Lorenzo did everything on his own. Two or three days after our meeting, he brought me an Alpine troop mess tin (the aluminum type that holds over two quarts) full of soup and told me to bring it back empty before evening. From then on, there was always soup, sometimes accompanied by a slice of bread. He brought it to me every day for six months… Later Lorenzo had found a way to take directly from his camp kitchen what was left in the cauldrons, but in order to do so he had to go into the kitchen on the sly, when everyone was asleep at three o'clock in the morning; he did this for four months." [3]

"He then told me something which in Auschwitz I hadn't suspected. Down there he helped not only me. He had other proteges, Italian and not, but he had thought it right not to tell me about it: we are in this world to do good, not to boast about it. In "Suiss" [Lorenzo's word for Auschwitz] he had been a rich man, at least compared to us, and had been able to help us, but now it was over; he had no more opportunities." [4]

In an interview, published posthumously by the Paris Review in 1995, 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?”.[5]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Levi, Primo, If This is a Man, New York:The Orion Press, 1959
  2. ^ Levi, Primo. Moments of Reprieve. New York: Summit, 1986.
  3. ^ Levi, Primo. Moments of Reprieve. New York: Summit, 1986.
  4. ^ Levi, Primo. Moments of Reprieve. New York: Summit, 1986.
  5. ^ [1]