This is not a man

Questo non è un uomo

I have decided today to post the poem by Adriano Sofri, a prominent and controversial Italian political activist and critic, because of its depth and value. My English translation is posted just below the Italian original poem.

This poem is inspired by the famous poem ‘If this is a man’ (Se questo è un uomo) by Primo Levi, which was written by the well-known survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp to convey the feeling of degradation and inhumanisation experienced by the people kept in the Nazi extermination camps.

Voi che vivete sicuri / You who live safely
Nelle vostre tiepide case / In your warm houses,
voi che trovate tornando a sera / You who find warm food
Il cibo caldo e visi amici / And friendly faces when you return home.

Considerate se questo è un uomo / Consider if this is a man
Che lavora nel fango / Who works in mud,
Che non conosce pace / Who knows no peace,
Che lotta per mezzo pane / Who fights for a crust of bread,
Che muore per un sì o per un no. / Who dies by a yes or a no.
Considerate se questa è una donna / Consider if this is a woman
Senza capelli e senza nome / Without hair, without a name,
Senza più forza di ricordare / With no longer the strength to remember,
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo / Vacant eyes, cold womb,
Come una rana d’inverno. / Like a frog in winter.

Meditate che questo è stato / Realise that this has happened.

Vi comando queste parole. / Remember these words.

Scolpitele nel vostro cuore / Engrave them in your hearts,
Stando in casa andando per via / When at home or in the street,
Coricandovi alzandovi / When going to bed, when getting up.
Ripetetele ai vostri figli./ Repeat them to your children.
O vi si sfaccia la casa / Or may your house be destroyed,
La malattia vi impedisca / Illness bar your way,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi / Your offspring turn away from you.

This poem, which is of extraordinary strength, focussed on the humiliation of the camps that sought not only to destroy people physically, but also – and especially – emotionally. People there were not to be people anymore. The key aim of the Nazis was to make these prisoners forget they were humans too, and, as such, had natural rights.

Sofri’s poem posted above is a serious cry for help – help for those black people in Southern Italy (Rosarno – in Calabria, region just North-East of Sicily) who this week (January 2010) have rebelled to the constant racism that reigns over their difficult and sad lives  They rebelled against the racism of the locals (e.g. spitting at them in streets, shouting insults at them) and against the slavery-like treatment reserved to them for years in the fields where oranges and other typical southern-Italian products are grown and collected. This market is under the control of the Mafia from many years and the immigrants, whether they are legal or not, are taken under what is real modern slavery. They earn 1 euro per hour or less, they live under what can hardly be called rooves, and they wash in the streets. These black men and women have been humiliated in the streets, attacked, hit and killed because they ‘disturb’ the town.

This has caused a very big debate amongst Italian politicians as to whether the local inhabitants are ‘racists’. Some politicians seem to think the key problem in this case is that there are far too many immigrants. The problem of uncontrolled immigrants is real and under everybody’s eyes. However, few people (and politicians) seem to have the courage to denounce what is the real problem: the Mafia, which encourages people from abroad, who live in appalling conditions and thus have nothing to lose, to migrate to Italy with the promise of a safe and honest job to help their families. These people abandon their families to go to the ‘promised land’ only to find themselves trapped in a condition of slavery and illegality, without the protection of law, since for the State they are ‘non-existant’ individuals hidden by the Mafia. Once their job is no more required, they are abandoned in their situation of desperately poor immigrants (60% of the immigrants involved in the situation in Rosarno were legal immigrants) and they are not accepted by the population that attributes their condition to their own lack of attempt to be follow the ‘welcoming country’s laws’.

The poem by Sofri wants to remind us all that no matter whether legal or illegal, an immigrant is a human being like any one else: someone who has a right to a dignified life and a right to be treated as equal to any other man or woman. Let us stop manipulating a reality which we, Italians, have greatly contributed to create and let us stop closing our eyes in front of the atrocities which are being committed against these poor people.

The Poem

In the Ghettos of Italy
This is not a Man

by Adriano Sofri

Once again, again consider
if this is a man,
like a toad in January,
who is on his way when it is dark and foggy
and returns when it is foggy and dark,
who collapses on the side of the road,
at Christmas smells of kiwi and oranges,
who knows three languages yet can speak none,
who fights his meals with mice,
who has two spare slippers,
an asilum request,
an engineering degree, one photograph,
and he hides them under cardboards,
and sleeps on the Rognetta cardboards,
under an asbestos roof,
or without a roof,
who lights a fire from the rubbish,
who stays in his own place,
in no place,
and comes out, after shooting,
“He got it wrong!”,
of course he got it wrong,
the Black Man
from the black misery,
of the black market, and from Milan,
after begging for attenuating circumstances
they write in big letters: BLACK,
discarded by a corporal,
spat in the eye by a miserable local man,
hit by his owners

chased after by their dogs,
what an envy for your dogs,
what an envy the jail
(a good place to hang oneself)
Who urinates with dogs,
who bites the dogs without owners,
who lives between one No and another No,
between a Police office for mafia
and a last welcome Immigrants Centre
and when he dies, an offer
of his brothers paid one euro per hour
sends him overseas, over the desert
to his land – “To whatever land!”
Meditate that this has been,
that this is now,
what a State this is,
Reread your essays on the Problem
you who adopt from a safety distance
in Congo, in Guatemala,
and you write in your warm homes,
neither here nor there,
neither goodness, something left to charity,
nor brutality, something left to internal affairs,
tepid, like a gun in the night,

and you move your eyes away from her

who is not a woman
from him, who is not a man
who has not got a woman
and his sons, if he has sons, are far
and prey again that your newborns
will not turn  their faces away from yours
in disgust.

3 thoughts on “This is not a man

  1. Pingback: Arbeit Macht (Nicht) Frei | Little Explorer's Blog

    • This happened a year ago. Unfortunately, in recent news coverage, it was reported that the situation of those immigrants has barley changed after one year, all despite the wide-spread coverage that followed the protests.

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