Ragazze, cappelli e Hitler (Dal mondo) (Italian Edition)
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Sarebbe stato inelegante. Ho solo pubblicato delle lettere di suo padre. Ai tempi, Vittorio aveva una lovestory con Dominique Claudel, nipote del poeta francese Paul Claudel. Anche vincere Ballando con le stelle, ma intendevo dire, in generale: riuscire simpatico agli italiani. Siamo passati dalle polemiche contro i Savoia in Italia al televoto pro Emanuele Filiberto.
Come ha passato il 2 giugno scorso, 70esimo anniversario della Repubblica? E quando ha assistito ai festeggiamenti per i 60 anni di regno della Regina Elisabetta? La ricordo benissimo, quel giorno: bella, che camminava con cautela portando una corona da cinque chili. A Buckingham Palace, ero sul balcone, defilato, poi sono stato a colazione seduto vicino a Carlo e Anna. Altre visite a Buckingham Palace?
Una cerimonia di un fasto, di una bellezza, di una coreografia… Compatibilmente con le circostanze, ovvio.
Divise perfette, stupende, ambasciatori di tutti i Paesi, capi di Stato. Ero in seconda fila. Dopo, Elisabetta ci ha invitato a colazione a Buckingham Palace.
Illustratori di un'epoca: I Matania
Eravamo in 15 o 16 parenti. State attenti a quello che dite. Lui rideva. Manda un biglietto? Invece, i nostri politici non rispondono mai.
E neanche il presidente Sergio Mattarella. E dopo la prigionia in Austria. Sono nato nel a Villa Cisterna, a Firenze, sotto le bombe. Poi, a nove mesi, con mia madre Irene di Grecia, fui prelevato dai tedeschi e portato nel campo di Hirschegg. Ci chiamano Gorilla E' molto segreto, non possiamo dire quasi niente". La storia di Livio Vieceli matricola inizia in Veneto. Viaggia per 1. Su un mezzo di quel tipo ha combattuto la guerra del Pacifico il futuro presidente John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
La costa ligure dista oltre chilometri. Il commando raggiunge la terraferma a ovest della stazione ferroviaria di Framura alle 23, remando a bordo di tre gommoni. Una volta a riva, Russo con tre dei suoi uomini va in ricognizione. La riparazione va avanti fino all'alba, quando con la luce del sole la missione di assistenza al commando viene annullata e rimandata al giorno successivo.
Quella stessa sera altre imbarcazioni americane salpano da Bastia per tentare il supporto alla missione dei "quindici", ma anche questa volta sono costrette a rientrare alla base per problemi tecnici. La mattina del 24 un pescatore, rientrando verso la costa, scopre i gommoni e informa la polizia fascista. Lagaxo cerca di avvertire gli americani, si precipita verso la stalla. Un dettaglio, come vedremo, decisivo nell'epilogo dell'intera storia. Nel corso del primo, sommario interrogatorio nelle stanze del commissariato locale, al tenente Russo viene chiesto con disprezzo se lui, figlio di italiani, non si vergogni di combattere contro la patria dei suoi avi.
Russo non replica. In quelle stesse ore, a Roma, si consuma la strage delle Fosse Ardeatine. Gli interrogatori successivi sono condotti dai nazisti, al quartiere generale del colonnello Kurt Almers in una villa a Carozzo poco a nord di La Spezia. Ammassano i "quindici" in uno scantinato e Georg Sessler, assistente di Friederich Klaps, capo dell'Intelligence della Marina tedesca a La Spezia, li interroga usando il suo perfetto inglese e spingendoli a confessare con una serie di sotterfugi. La notte tra il 25 e il 26 marzo i "quindici" attendono l'ora dell'esecuzione nel quartier generale di Almers.
Il sottotenente Wolfgang Korbitz telefona al collega Bolze, comandante della Prima Compagnia del Festungs Batallion , e gli ordina di far scavare una buca sufficiente a contenere quindici corpi. Bolze, che si trova ad Ameglia nella Villa Angelo requisita ad una famiglia del posto, sceglie Punta Bianca, una lingua di terra lungo la foce del fiume Magra.
Domenica 26 marzo all'alba i prigionieri vengono caricati su alcuni camion. Mentre sono allineati sul prato, giunge scoppiettando una Topolino: dalla portiera dipinta con una grande croce rossa, scende il medico militare tedesco. Li fucilano con le mani legate dietro la schiena, li gettano nella fossa comune, li ricoprono con terra e rovi. Il giorno dopo, in beffardo ritardo, arriva il contrordine di annullare l'esecuzione.
Questione di qualche ora e la conferma di quanto si temeva arriva da "Jerry's Front Calling", il programma radiofonico che fa contropropaganda tra i soldati americani di stanza in Europa. Quel giorno Axis Sally elenca i nomi dei "quindici". Dall'altra parte dell'Oceano genitori, mogli, amici, fidanzate e fratelli non sanno nulla: continuano l'esistenza di emigranti, come sospesi tra la loro patria di origine che ha dichiarato guerra agli Stati Uniti, e il Paese che li ha accolti. Quindici eroi che secondo le autopsie effettuate dai medici militari americani una volta individuata la fossa nell'Italia liberata, potrebbero addirittura essere stati trucidati a colpi di badile: in alcuni esami autoptici, infatti, viene rilevata l'assenza di fori di proiettile.
Poi nelle case sparse per l'America arriveranno i telegrammi del cordoglio e le medaglie. Il dolore e la fierezza passeranno di padre in figlio, finiranno in un cassetto insieme a foto sbiadite dal tempo. Giovani americani oggi custodiscono solo quel cognome che li lega ad un Paese lontano, molti di loro neanche sanno dei "quindici" eroi.
O che sono tornati a casa avvolti in una bandiera americana. Oppure Santoro che abbiamo ritrovato nel cimitero comunale di Mazara del Vallo, davanti al mare: "Ce l'abbiamo noi! Sta vicino al padre". Oggi persi, dimenticati. Come le medaglie che invece abbagliavano negli anni della pace riconquistata: la "Purple Heart" e la "Silver Star" assegnate a ognuno dei "quindici", la "Bronze Arrowhead" del caporale Tremonte e del caporale Farrell.
La busta di una lettera dalla Corsica inviata da John J. Come il generale Anton Dostler, protagonista anche lui di questa storia. Dostler agisce in linea con il "Kommandobefehl", direttiva segreta impartita da Hitler nel imponeva l'eliminazione immediata di ogni commando nemico catturato in Europa o in Africa, anche se in uniforme militare.
In spregio, dunque, della Convenzione di Ginevra sui prigionieri di guerra. Disobbedire alla "Kommandobefehl" poteva comportare la Corte Marziale. Gli viene assegnato come interprete Albert Otto Hirschmann, ebreo tedesco che in Francia aveva collaborato al salvataggio di centinaia di perseguitati, tra i quali i pittori Marc Chagall, Max Ernst e Marcel Duchamp. Albert era il fratello di Ursula Hirschmann, grande amore della vita di Altiero Spinelli, padre fondatore dell'Unione europea, che l'aveva conosciuta durante il confino a Ventotene.
Dostler viene fucilato ad Aversa alle otto della mattina del primo dicembre Gli concedono di indossare davanti al plotone d'esecuzione l'uniforme con i gradi e il berretto che, poco prima dei colpi di fucile, viene sostituito da un cappuccio. Tutti i proiettili lo raggiungono al petto. Si siede sulla spiaggia deserta e guarda un orizzonte diverso da come lo aveva lasciato. Primo Levi's life-long friend, Nobel laureate Rita Levi Montalcini cast the first doubts on the suicide a few days after the event. If Levi wanted to kill himself he, a chemical engineer by profession, would have known better ways than jumping into a narrow stairwell with the risk of remaining paralyzed.
Suicide is a far too quick conclusion. Indeed, the stairwell in the Turin building is a so narrow that Levi would have had to aim his fall just right to be successful.
Horizontally, it is shaped like a cut-off pyramid. The elevator shaft is a square cage that runs vertically through the middle. The side of the elevator shaft extending into the stairwell is 3 feet, 7 inches. The maximum distance between the stairs and the elevator shaft is 5 feet, 7 inches; the minimum distance is just over 3 feet, 4 inches.
This does not leave much room for the clean fall of a human body. Rather than killing himself, Levi could easily have hurt himself bouncing between the elevator cage and the railings of the lower floors. Moreover, had he wished to jump, he could have chosen the street or the courtyard, which were free of such constraints and easily accessible. Furthermore, Levi picked not just a hazardous but a messy and theatrical option that exposed his relatives to a gruesome sight-a gesture in sharp contrast, as Levi Montalcini also pointed out, with the writer's sober and restrained style.
A few years later, in an article in the Sunday Telegraph, David Mendel, the cardiologist friend, was the first to make a strong case against suicide by offering a hypothetical reconstruction of the event and some new arguments. Older people almost never choose a violent death; they use gas or an overdose, and Primo could, had he wished, have taken an overdose of his medicine. It seems most likely to me that he died from the side effects of his anti-depressant drugs. These often lower the blood pressure, and the effort of walking back upstairs to his flat would lower it further.
As a result, his brain would have received an inadequate blood supply and he would have felt faint. If he reacted taking some deep breaths, that would worsen matters by causing a further reduction in blood supply. I have a photograph of Primo holding those banisters, which are well below waist-height; I think that on the point of fainting, he reached for them to steady himself and fell.
Ferdinando Camon, who endorsed the suicide version at first but later changed his mind, received a letter from Levi three days after his death. Shaken, Camon thought: "Now he explains to me why he is about to commit suicide. He feared Gallimard had lost the copy of The Drowned and the Saved and wanted to send another. Recently Camon said that Levi posted it that very Saturday morning during a walk he took before his fatal fall.
Understandably, Camon cannot square this act with a suicide. Several additional signs indicate that his depression, though no doubt very real, did not drive him into an idle stupor or turn him into a recluse. A few days before his death, he canvassed the wonders of using a personal computer for word-processing with his publisher, Giulio Einaudi; Levi promised to tutor him if he decided to buy one. In the week in which he died he was debating with friends and acquaintances about the prospect of becoming the president of his publisher, Einaudi, as part of a financial rescue operation. Maybe Levi was worrying about his ability to continue writing.
But shortly before he died, Levi wrote a short Storia Naturale published posthumously by La Stampa on April 26, , and delivered chunks of his new novel to Ernesto Ferrero, his editor at Einaudi. The day before he died, he promised to resume his regular conversations with Giovanni Tesio, who was writing a biographical piece on him. He even arranged an interview with a journalist from La Stampa for the following Monday.
This chain of events suggests that if he did commit suicide he certainly did not plan it. Levi left no will. This is uncharacteristic of his style, as by all accounts he was a considerate man. And he did not give any hint of his intention to family or friends. Had they had any immediate fear-his son lived in another apartment on the same landing-they would not have left him home alone that day.
Even if he contemplated suicide it seems virtually certain that he did not plan it in that way and at that particular time. The succession of the events is puzzling. Just a few minutes after receiving his mail from the concierge in his usual amiable style, he goes back into his apartment, then suddenly opens the door again, walks to the banister, steps over it and jumps. These considerations challenge the plausibility of suicide, however, only if we have in mind the premeditated kind.
In The Drowned and the Saved , Levi calls him "a theoretician of suicide. He says only that suicide is a philosophical act, and reveals that he thought about it both before and after but not while in the camp. One is too busy trying to survive there-he said-to have any energy left to think about anything else, even suicide. We cannot, however, rule out the possibility that he committed un premeditated suicide, lucidly or otherwise.
He may have decided on impulse, through an internal chemistry we shall never discover. Or a sudden resolve may have been sparked by something that happened at that particular time-something that suddenly threw him back into a dark depression. Could he, for instance, have read something unbearably upsetting in his mail?
This seems unlikely, since the concierge said that the items she delivered that day consisted of "a few newspapers and advertising leaflets. Moreover, had he been the object of threats or abuse, his family would have no reason to keep that secret. Judging by Renzo Levi's words, the family does not blame an external event as the trigger of the tragedy. But an unpremeditated act does not have to be the result of a clear-headed decision: perhaps Levi was simply overtaken by depression.
In , Cesare Musatti, the most famous Italian psychoanalyst, said: "Levi did not decide to take his life lucidly. It was a raptus [a mental seizure] due to a melancholic depression of a psychotic type. It was a sudden folly that brought him to self-destruction. Auschwitz has nothing to do with it. The truth is that Levi was ill, because depression is a serious illness. He was "appalled" by the "many worldly writers and scholars" who vented the view that Levi's suicide had "demonstrated a frailty, a crumbling of character they were loath to accept.
Recent research suggests that in a lifetime, 15 percent of patients with major depression will eventually die of suicide-a staggering fifteen to twenty times the corresponding population rates. There is also evidence that suicide is more likely to occur after "having been treated for a medical or psychiatric condition" and that "the typical suicide completers [as opposed to suicide attempters] are older men," and that "sometimes [they do it] seemingly out of the blue.
Levi does indeed appear to have been a subject at risk. Still, population statistics are no evidence on which to settle individual cases. If fifteen depressed people out of one hundred take their own lives, 85 do not, and countless offspring of suicides die of natural causes. Speculating about a person's mental chemistry to establish whether the person committed suicide leads us to a dead end. The motives of his suicide-as both Norberto Bobbio and Claudio Magris said-are ultimately inscrutable.
All we can do is to check whether the facts convincingly exclude the possibility of an accident. Could Levi have unintentionally fallen over that banister? As David Mendel later acknowledged, his first reconstruction was partially inaccurate. Primo Levi did not fall immediately after climbing the staircase to return to his apartment. He was in the apartment and had been there a while. If he died accidentally, something must have prompted him-just a few minutes after the concierge's visit-to open the door again, walk to the banister, and lean forward.
Why would he do that at that particular moment in time? The simplest supposition is that he was looking for someone. Perhaps his wife. She was out shopping and actually returned just a few minutes after Levi's fall. He might well have wanted to check to see whether she was on her way back. Or perhaps he was looking for the concierge herself. He might, say, have found an envelope addressed to someone else accidentally stuck in one of the newspapers and wanted to give it back to her.
Remember that the concierge said that after descending from Levi's third floor apartment she had just entered her cubicle when she heard Levi's body hit the ground. She does not mention having stopped at any other apartment, so the time lapse may have been under five minutes. Levi may well have approached the banister in the hope of finding her in the staircase.
The alternative hypothesis-that soon after the concierge's visit he suddenly reopened the door and went to the banister for the purpose of hurling himself down the stairwell-seems to me less convincing. Levi was not very tall 5 feet, 5 inches , and the banister-which is 3 feet, 2 inches-must have reached only as far as his navel, or even slightly below.
Furthermore, if Levi had been looking for someone, he would naturally have approached the banister at the ninety-degree corner where the horizontal part, which limits the landing, meets the descending part. From this perspective one has a better view of the lower floors and of the elevator entrance on the ground floor. This possibility is compatible with the point from which Levi must have fallen, which we can infer from the known point where his body hit the ground.
This is to the left of the elevator, in the section of the landing where the descending ramp begins. The banister's height on the sloping segment at the corner drops by about six inches every step and offers decreasing protection. So perhaps he positioned himself to look down from the corner by holding, arms wide, the horizontal banister with one hand and the sloping one with the other. In such a position one's balance is precarious as it depends on one's hands' grip. We know that Levi was recovering from the prostate operation, was on anti-depressants, and must have been feeble. If he became dizzy and lost consciousness while looking down the stairwell, the weight of the upper half of his body might have been sufficient to tilt the rest of his body over and drag him into the void.
Race, Nation and Gender in Modern Italy
The proportional contribution of the head to one's total weight is greater the thinner one is, and Levi was thin, about pounds. He also fell without a sound, a circumstance, which while not proving anything, is consistent with how an unconscious person would fall. I asked my father, who is slightly built and about Levi's height, whether, when he visited Levi's apartment building, he thought he could fall accidentally in that way. It gives one a greater sense of void than a square one.
On the strength of this reconstruction, the possibility of an accident cannot be safely ruled out. The mystery surrounding Levi's death does not end here. Two years ago, on the tenth anniversary of his death, Elio Toaff, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, made a startling disclosure. At a commemorative gathering at a high school in Rome, he revealed that Levi called him on the telephone "ten minutes before" he died. Levi sounded distressed.
He did not tell the Rabbi he was about to kill himself, and the Rabbi, much to his chagrin, did not guess what was about to happen. The Rabbi recollects that Levi said: "I can't go on with this life. My mother is ill with cancer and every time I look at her face I remember the faces of those men stretched on the benches at Auschwitz. He also told me that out of discretion he had never spoken about that episode to anyone before, not even privately. He said he decided on impulse to reveal it during the anniversary gathering out of love of truth: "too many preposterous things were being said.
Bibliography of Italian Studies in North America 2005 *
This is the first strong circumstantial evidence that Levi's death might, after all, have been correctly ruled suicide. What the Rabbi says Levi told him, moreover, shows that the memories of Auschwitz were indeed haunting him at the very end. But how reliable is this evidence?
Now in his eighties, Toaff appears to be lucid and energetic. Still, the circumstances surrounding that telephone call are not very clear. Levi was not religious. It seems odd that he should approach the Rabbi. Rita Levi Montalcini, who persists in her doubts about the suicide, retorted that she spoke with Levi on the telephone the night before and that he sounded in good spirits.
Giovanni Tesio, who also spoke with Levi the day before, confirmed to me that he had the same impression. Furthermore, Toaff told me that he did not know Levi and had never met or spoken with him before that day. So we need to perform a difficult leap of imagination. We have to imagine that Levi, sometime after his walk when he posted the letter to Camon and around the time he got his mail from the concierge, managed to find not just the motive and the energy to call the Rabbi, but also his phone number. The Rabbi's home phone number is not listed in the Rome directory.
Still, it is not implausible to think he had Toaff's number already for some reason, or that he managed to find him at the synagogue.
Even so, we must still stretch our imagination. We have to imagine that Levi brought himself to confide his deepest sorrows to the Rabbi by phone, in a relatively short time, though he had never met or spoken to him before. The really perplexing fact, however, is the day of the telephone call.