Certainly it reminded me of my time in Spain. For a couple of years I had a Spanish girlfriend and she lived in the family flat with mother, father and brother (and before they died grandparents and uncle). There is an embarrassment in contemporary British society that looks askance at children staying in the family home for too long. I don’t have any cultural axe to grind here it simply struck me that a sense of personal worth is deeply dependent on the norms of one’s society and our internal sense of who we are ( when that society descends -or ascends - in moral terms we have little choice but to move with it and adapt).
Auschwitz, in an odd way, acted as a rite of passage for Levi. Despite its obvious horrors, on occasion, Levi also described it as his ‘university’ or what we might call these days, his ‘university of life’ experience. He learnt in Auschwitz that on the other side of the wire human beings (guards and inmates alike) lose the rubric of morality i.e. good, evil, just and unjust are smothered by a grey blanket of existence where survival and brutishness are the essence of living. As he said ‘One had to ... strangle all dignity and kill all conscience, to enter the arena as a beast...’ Having been so far from humanity and humane-ness it was his wife Lucia Morpurgo with whom he was able to’ become a man again’.
Levi named his children after the Italian worker, Lorenzo Perrone, who regularly brought him food in Auschwitz (his daughters were called Lisa Lorenza and Renzo) which again struck a note with me having just named my second daughter (with my wife) Freya Constance. Our reasoning being that Freya was a Norse goddess and, as with our first daughter Isla, that meant an association with the north and my family name being Dalgleish this seemed apposite. And Constance because Sarah my wife liked it for its strength and (moral) solidity. How such things reflect us and our times is interesting and relevant to who we are and what our lives consist of. In our own small way we are all a part of history, and it is largely luck as to whether we experience history as a storm or as a still summer’s day. History also ebbs and flows and returns. The migrants dying on the coasts of Turkey and Greece could be you or I, or worse, our children. Before the Nazi Maelstrom swept across Europe many people stood by and did nothing, are we (those of us who are doing nothing) guilty of an equivalent lack of reading the way the wind is blowing?