The Waffen-SS was a military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the combat wing of the Schutzstaffel (Protective Squadron) or SS. The SS grew from a small paramilitary unit to a powerful force that served as the Third Reich’s elite force.
The Nuremberg Trials concluded that the SS were responsible for the vast majority of war crimes perpetrated under the Nazi regime, and condemned them as a criminal organisation. In particular the SS were charged with being the primary organization that carried out the holocaust. The SS were directly associated with the planning and administration of Nazi Germany's concentration camp system.
In 1942, the guard and administrative staff of all the concentration camps became full members of the Waffen-SS. By 1944, the concentration camps were fully integrated with the Waffen-SS. A practice developed of rotating SS members in and out of the camps, based on manpower needs, and to give assignments to wounded Waffen-SS officers and soldiers who could no longer serve in front-line combat duties. This rotation of personnel lies behind the argument that the entire SS knew of the concentration camps and the crimes committed therein.
Lorenzo Perrone (1904—1952) was one of a group of skilled Italian bricklayers working under contract who were transferred to Auschwitz to work on the camp's expansion plan. As such, he was a civilian worker, compensated for his work and not subjected to the abuses of camp inmates.
He met Primo Levi in the middle of 1944, whilst working on the construction of a wall at Monowitz. Levi overheard Perrone speak in his own dialect and a friendship between the two developed. Until December of that year, Perrone gave Levi daily additional food from his rations, saving his life. He enabled him to contact his family in Italy and gave him clothing to protect him from the cold.
Levi and Perrone remained in contact after the war, when Levi learnt that he had helped many others at Auschwitz. Suffering from depression, Perrone was never able to properly resume his life after his experiences around the camp. He died of tuberculosis in 1952; his death affected Levi profoundly, who always maintained that he had died of survivor's guilt.
The names of Levi's children were chosen in homage to Lorenzo: his daughter was Lisa Lorenza, and his son Renzo. Their friendship is detailed further in Levi's later work The Drowned and the Saved (1986).
In 1998, Perrone was included in the Righteous among the Nations by the Yad Vashem museum of Jerusalem.