Future

If This Is A Planet: Celestial Body Named For Author, Auschwitz Survivor Primo Levi

The Italian Jewish author and scientist lived through the worst that mankind has wrought. Now his name lives on beyond his work, and beyond the earth, in a 17-km-wide celestial body -- discovered in 1989 -- that has now officially been named planet Primol

Primo Levi, author and chemist (RAI)
Primo Levi, author and chemist (RAI)

TURIN – Ever since it was discovered in 1989 between Mars and Jupiter, the minor planet 4,545 existed without a proper name. It has one now, and it is indeed worth a closer look. The celestial body has been officially named Primolevi – one word, according to astronomy registry rules -- after the renowned Italian author and chemist, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The number 4,545 has indeed gained new meaning. Primo Levi, an Italian Jew, left Auschwitz in 1945. Furthermore, he kept for the rest of his life on his arm the record number 174,517, tattooed by his Nazi captors.

Mario Di Martino, astronomer of the Observatory of Pino Torinese, had the idea to the name a minor planet after Levi. The International Astronomical Union, the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies, has now approved his proposal. The minor planet description reads: "Primo Levi (1919-1987) was an Italian chemist and writer. He was the author of two novels and several collections of short stories, essays and poems. His best-known work is If This Is A Man, his account of the period he spent as a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp.

Minor planet Primolevi was discovered in 1989, by Belgian astronomer Henri Debehogne, with a telescope of the European Southern Observatory in the Andes Mountains of Chile. It is 17 kilometers in diameter, situated in the asteroid belt between March and Jupiter. It logs a five-year orbit, which has been studied in 1,084 observations – most recently on October 28, 2011. Debehogne, who died in 2007 at 78, was an astronomer at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, specialized in astrometry of asteroids and comets, and discovered more than 700 minor planets.

On Armstrong's step and Challenger disaster

The choice of name is more than a simple recognition of Levi's literary work and human suffering. The planet Primolevi is also an acknowledgment of his scientific profile. Levi, a professional chemist, in fact was passionate about astronomy and wrote often about it. He wrote articles for La Stampa about the Apollo 8 mission, the first manned voyage to orbit the moon; the first human landing on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969; and the disaster of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. In Levi's short story A Tranquil Star, an astronomer saw his family weekend ruined because of the explosion of a supernova which happened thousands of years before.

An article published in Scientific American on black holes and Galileo Galilei inspired Levi's poems Dark Stars and Sidereus nuncius. In News from the Sky Levi wrote that he considered the discoveries of astronomy and atomic physics as the human intellectual redemption after a 20th century of horrors of two world wars. "I believe that what is being discovered about the infinitely large and infinitely small is sufficient to absolve this end of the century and millennium," he wrote.

Levi's passion for astrophysics sometimes was more subtle. In the last story of his collection The Periodic Table, he wrote about the different lives and shapes of a carbon atom, which at the end was captured in a sugar molecule and provided Levi with the energy to finish his story. The carbon atom, which for a million years has remained still on a rock, Levi wrote, "has already a very long cosmic history." So too, we could say, will the author himself.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - RAI

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ