This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Primo Levi, the internationally renowned Jewish Italian writer, intellectual, scientist and Holocaust survivor. On this occasion, the Jewish Museum of Australia and CO.AS.IT. Museo Italiano (under the banner of Multicultural Museums Victoria), the Jewish Holocaust Centre and the Italian Cultural Institute partnered to develop a first class program of cultural initiatives, including courses, lectures, theatre and film nights, and Jewish Italian meals. CO.AS.IT. was proud to contribute to this program with a lecture by Dr Paul Forgasz titled “Italia Ebraica: The Jews of Italy – A historical perspective” and a lecture by leading Australian intellectual Professor Raimond Gaita. Gaita’s presentation title, “ ‘One of those books we cannot do without’: Reflections on Primo Levi’s If This is a Man”, is a quote from Inga Clendinnen’s book, Reading the Holocaust.

Clendinnen’s conviction is that we cannot do without If this is a Man if we want to understand the ethical character of the Holocaust – and also, arguably, that humanity needs such an understanding if it is to understand itself. In a well-received talk, Gaita explored the increasingly common criticism that thinking this way hinders our understanding of our common humanity, in part because it diminishes our appreciation of other crimes, rightly called crimes against humanity, suffered by non-European peoples. In keeping with CO.AS.IT.’s tradition of a high-quality accessible cultural program, and in collaboration with three important Melbourne cultural institutions, the participants thoughtfully engaged with Levi’s life and work. Placed within the relevant historical and cultural contexts, the audience looked at the momentous moral, political and philosophical issues tackled by Levi and reflected on their ongoing relevance to our lives in today’s world.

Certainly, this is an initiative the four partners can be collectively proud of.