Mirna Cicioni

Primo Levi’s works of testimony, from If This Is a Man to The Drowned and the Saved, seek not only to connect history and memory but also to provide general social and political perspectives relevant to the end of the twentieth century. The voice of this diaspora Jew has had echoes in a country which has recently begun to acknowledge its historical responsibilities. Levi’s thoughts on shame, on violence and on the need to face collective responsibilities have been applied by Australian intellectuals to two specifically Australian issues. The first is a literary hoax which triggered a major cultural controversy in 1995, now widely known as the ‘Demidenko affair’. The second is the relationship between Australian identity and the ‘stolen generations’ of Aboriginal children and young adults forcibly taken from their families between 1910 and 1970 and compelled to grow up isolated from their culture. The aftermath of the forced removals has produced widespread debates about national responsibility and the need to offer a public apology to Aboriginal Australians for this and other wrongs. I attempt to show how dialogue with Levi’s reflections expands the ethical and political dimensions of Australian self‐examination, particularly in some works by the philosopher Raimond Gaita (who comes from a Romanian‐German background) and the political scientist Robert Manne (son and grandson of Holocaust survivors).


Keywords: Primo Levi; Australia; dialogue; ʹDemidenko affairʹ; ʹstolen generationsʹ