"If not like this, how? And if not now, when?"
This line is said by Gedale, one of the main characters of the novel towards the end of the book, but its meaning is wider.
While reading many good and dramatic accounts from the Shoah there's a question that often comes to mind and mouth:
"Why did all these Jewish people let themselves being humiliated, robbed, prisoned and killed by Nazis and anti-semites without trying to resist?"
After all, most of the times, they had numbers on their side.
"Maybe - we may answer to ourselves - it has very much to do with their own religion, with fatalism, with the confident acceptation of the will of God. They were caught by surprise - we may also say - they could not believe to what was going on around them. Most of the times they were simply hiding because confident of help by Ally or even Soviet forces".
Well some of them, did not simply wait for the storm to come and pass, falling like leaves in an autumnal wood. The Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw is a good example of a Jewish-planned and made revolt against the Nazi forces. And then there are less known uprisings in places like Treblinka where it was even hard surviving not even to mention fighting.
Gedale is a fictional character created by Primo Levi (and this story is not "history") but he speaks for thousands of people who really existed, fought and eventually won staying in the shadow.
Gedale is Polish. Gedale is Jewish. Gedale is a partisan.
He fights because it has to be done. He kills because he has to.
Jewish Partisans were a less known phenomenon like many others in WWII (who knows about the braveness of the Polish forces led by general Anders, or about the sacrifice of many Indian Sikh in the British troops, or about Brazilian soldiers fighting in Europe?) and Primo Levi did such a great job in narrating us about them.
There is an impressive work of research behind this novel and not a single moment characterized by sectarian view. Levi doesn't hide the unpleasant thirst of revenge that sometimes leads Gedale and its bunch of Jewish Partisans.
In this book there is no overindulgence at all and this is an important part of its worthness. Not forgetting the way Primo Levi has to take the reader through thousands of kilometres on an unknown side of the Eastern European front from Russia to Italy passing through Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and already occupied Germany.
I also think each main character here has a convincing and realistic personality and development, even if it may be easy to make confusion among them at some point. Still "If Not Now, When?" is a must reading.