An extract from Auschwitz Report by Primo Levi with Leonardo De Benedetti on Holocaust Memorial day.
Two Survivors (from the introduction)
On 27 January 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated what was left of the network of concentration, labour and extermination camps near Auschwitz in southern Poland. The first part of the camp they stumbled upon was Buna-Monowitz (Monowice), or Auschwitz III, a satellite of the central Auschwitz-Birkenau complex which was run by the Nazis in collaboration with the industrial chemical corporation IG Farben. Until days earlier, 12,000 enslaved labourers, mostly Jews, had been kept there in appalling conditions.
Amongst the several hundred sick and dying left behind by the retreating Nazis were two Italian Jews, both from Turin: 46-year-old doctor Leonardo De Benedetti and 25-year-old chemistry graduate Primo Levi.
We are black, it is true, but tell us, gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? ... Yes, gentleman, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right that you pretend to have over us ... We are your equals then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colours within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white.
This excerpt is from a letter written in July 1792 by the leaders of the revolution of Haitian slaves. The letter has been republished in the collection of writings of the black leader Toussaint L'Overture, The Haitian Revolution, which includes also the correspondence between him and Napoleon Bonaparte. In the late eighteenth century, Toussaint L'Overture and his supporters established the first black republic in the world.
In the United Kingdom, October is Black History Month. The celebration was originally introduced in 1926 on the initiative of Carter G. Woodson, the editor of the Journal of Negro History. In 2007, no fewer than 6,000 events were held in the UK as part of its programme. Here are some key Verso titles past and present that are relevant to the study and celebration of African and Caribbean history.