The carpet-eater of Braunau am Inn started off by admiring someone who was once Churchill’s favourite Italian. (In January 1927, he wrote to Mussolini: “If I had been an Italian I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”)
Sadly by 1938 it was the other way round. The Italian racial laws implemented that year forbade all those of Jewish descent and other minority groups to hold property, marry white Italians etc. etc. M was truly sucking up to H. This poster dating from that year sums it all up:
(Jews can’t …….)
It’s interesting to note that the terms ‘racialist’ or ‘racist’ at the time meant those who believed in the implementation of the theory of a superior race: quite the opposite of what the term means today, as these posters from post-1938 Italy demonstrate:
To the credit of Italians the majority of that nation was shocked by such grossly xenophobic rules. For years Jews had been integrated into Italian society in a way often unimaginable in other European countries. They had contributed profoundly to the peninsula in terms of culture politics and science and fought with distinction in the First World War. Jews and those of African descent were also fully integrated in Mussolini’s ‘balilla’ fascist youth movement’:
Just to name a few Italian composers of Jewish descent the following come to mind: Giacomo Orefice, Leone Sinigaglia, Felice Boghen, Fernando Liuzzi, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Aldo Finzi (a relative of the English Gerald Finzi, also a composer), Renzo Massarani and Vittorio Rieti.
The contribution of Jewish-origin people to Tuscany was particularly significant and the ‘Ebrei/Jews in Toscana/Tuscany’ exhibition in the Galleria delle Carrozze (next to the Medici-Riccardi palace on its right) brought out this contribution in an excellently designed and documented display which, opening last December, continues until 26th February from 10 to 6 daily..
From the relaxation of mediaeval persecutions to the establishment of thriving communities, particularly in Livorno and Florence, the exhibition documents, with flair, the essentiality of Jewish culture in Italian society and culture .
It’s unfortunate that the Jewish ghetto, together with the old market, in Florence’s mediaeval centre was torn down by misguided town-planners in the late nineteenth century, One has to go to such places as Pitigliano (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/imposing-pitigliano-with-its-little-jerusalem/) to savour the atmosphere of these ancient centres and, of course, visit Venice where the original ‘ghetto’ was founded back in mediaeval times in an area of that city with the same name.
As compensation one can visit Florence’s beautiful synagogue where the exhibition continues:
When faced with the draconian racial laws several Italian ‘Schindler equivalents’ saved many Jews from being entirely ostracized. However, after the establishment of the Repubblica di Salò puppet state in 1943, when Italy was divided between Nazi fascists and Allied-army supporters, anti-Semitic persecution got really bad. Underground movements and the Catholic Church provided shelter and escape for Italian Jews; the numbers finishing up in the gas chambers were far less than those in other parts of the Third Reich. Around 7,500 Italian Jews were victims of the Shoah as distinct (for example) from 500,000 Hungarian Jews,(and Hungary had a total population of just nine million as compared to forty-five million Italians in 1940….)
I have already written posts about particular people of Jewish extraction (see my post on the great Piero Nissim at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/a-plea-for-justice-and-civility-in-italy/) and also his ancestor, Giorgio Nissim.
Giorgio Nissim, an Italian Schindler)
On my mother’s side of the family (my mother originated from northern Italy) there was at least one marriage between Gentile and Jew. Eliezer Turri (whose son now lives in Denmark with his Danish wife, and where he directs a media company) was a distinguished artist and writer. I remember him, particularly from childhood days, when a visit to his house was a supreme treat, for Eliezer was fascinated by model railways and had built an incredible Rivarossi set complete with local and international express trains. The display even incorporated a tram system. It was thanks to the absence of racialist sentiments among his friends that Eliezer was able to avoid a real-life train journey to Silesia’s extermination camps.
It’s important to realize this and reflect on danger signs that are returning to impinge on our society today. There is no need to remind intelligent and tolerant citizens of what these signs are. We got one yesterday…
Indeed, this Monday in Fornoli, at 10 am, there will be a ceremony in the peace park in memory of little Liliana Urbach from Bagni di Lucca who wasn’t so lucky and was the youngest Italian to die in a death camp. (For more information on her do look at my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/from-bagni-di-lucca-to-auschwitz/)
It’s so important to remember what happened in Italy to a seemingly well-integrated community. It doesn’t take a demagogue to change opinions – all it requires is indifference.
(Platform 21 at Milan Stazione Centrale – final destination Auschwitz)