Righteous Bricklayer at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Fellowship  |  January 26, 2021

Entrance to Auschwitz, where Lorenzo Perrone saved Primo Levi
Entrance to Auschwitz

An Italian bricklayer forced to work at Auschwitz, Lorenzo Perrone saved the life of Primo Levi, the Jewish chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor.

During work building a wall at Auschwitz, Lorenzo Perrone befriended Levi, as both spoke the same dialect of Italian. Throughout 1944, Perrone gave the Jewish man his extra food rations and extra clothing to wear underneath his camp uniform.

In his book, This Is a Man, Levi not only details his own time fighting the Fascists and his imprisonment at Auschwitz, he remembers Lorenzo Perrone, this advocate and ally who saved his life:

“…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.”

The two met for the last time on a night during which the Allies bombed Auschwitz. As Perrone sneaked a bowl of soup to Levi, the bombard mentinjured the bricklayer. Yet he did not let on to his wounds, merely apologizing that dirt had gotten into the soup.

This “pure and uncontaminated” man died shortly after the war of tuberculosis. But he was remembered, not only by Primo Levi who wrote of Perrone and named his two children after this man who selflessly saved his life, but also by Yad Vashem, who named Lorenzo Perrone Righteous Among the Nations.