An evening dedicated to Paolo
An evening dedicated to Paolo Milano and Renato Poggioli, two Italian intellectuals instrumental in the development of a cultural dialogue between Italy and the United States, particularly in the fields of literature and comparative literature.
Paolo Milano came to the United States in 1938 due to the racial laws and remained until 1957; Renato Poggioli, a fervent antifascist, left Italy as well, in 1938, never to return, but maintaining strong bonds with his country of origins, so much so that he founded an Italian magazine called Inventatio (Inventory).
Franco Baldasso and Mattia Acetoso will speak, respectively, about Milano and Poggioli. With the presence of Sylvia Poggioli, the daughter of Renato, a correspondent from Italy for NPR.
Paolo Milano (Rome, 27 July 1904 – Rome, 2 April 1988) was an Italian literary critic and journalist.
He is best known for having been the literary critic of the weekly l’Espresso from the late fifties to the mid-eighties. He was literary critic of l’Italia Letteraria and Editor in chief of Scenario magazine before, due to the fascist racial laws of 1938, moving to Paris, then, in 1940, to the United States. Together with his wife Rachel and his son André he lived for fifteen years in New York, where he taught theater history at the New School for Social Research, then Romance languages and comparative literature at Queens College, collaborating in English with various newspapers and periodicals. In the fifties, together with friends Nicola Chiaromonte, Dwight Macdonald, Niccolò Tucci, Mary McCarthy, he supported the dialogue between American and European intellectuals, outside the limits imposed by the Cold War. In 1957 he returned to Italy. In 1991, Adelphi published Note in margine a una vita assente, an anthology from Milano’s journals from 1947 to 1955 edited by Laura Gonzales. Two years later, Gonzales edited for Sestante the short story Racconto newyorkese that Milano wrote in 1953, elaborating on a story reported to him by Saul Bellow (who, in 1947, had dedicated to Milano, his second novel, The Victim).
Renato Poggioli (Florence, April 16, 1907 – May 3, 1963), was an Italian academic specialized in comparative literature.
From 1938 he lived in the United States. At the time of his death, he was Head of the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. A prolific writer and translator, fluent in five languages, he is considered one of the founders of the academic discipline of Comparative Literature in the United States. In 1929 he received his doctorate in letters with a major in Slavic literature at the University of Florence. He also worked as a translator and critic. He was an exchange professor at the University of Prague. In 1938 Poggioli, who wished to leave fascist Italy, came to the United States with his wife to teach in a summer program in Vermont. Virtually upon his arrival in New England, he became involved in anti-fascist initiatives that led in 1939 to the creation of the Mazzini Society, of which he also served as interim president. In the fall of 1938 Poggioli was hired as a visiting lecturer in Romance language and literatures at Smith College where he gave a course in Dante. The following year he became Assistant Professor of Italian Literature teaching graduate students at Brown University, with an interruption from 1943–45 when he served in the United States Army as a translator. The academic year 1946-47 saw his first stint as visiting professor at Harvard. During the summer of 1947 he also taught at the University of Chicago.
Poggioli’s most ambitious project during this period was founding, with Italian writer Luigi Berti, who was based in Florence, the Italian language literary periodical Inventario (1946-1963) to which Poggioli contributed numerous articles and translations. The publication was intended to expose Italian readers, whose horizons had for years been narrowed by Mussolini’s censorship, to a broad range of new publications in contemporary literature of all countries. It published literary and critical works by and about such important writers as Giuseppe Ungaretti, Pablo Neruda, T.S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov and Boris Pasternak. Poggioli’s own magnum opus, his Teoria dell’arte d’avanguardia, which traced the connection between the twentieth-century avant-guarde and the legacy of nineteenth-century Romanticism first appeared in Inventario. In the fall of 1947, Harvard University, as part of its ongoing expansion of its department of Slavic studies, hired Poggioli. In 1951 he became head of the Department of Slavic Studies, switching over in 1952 to head the Department of Comparative Literature, a position he held until his death, caused by a car accident.
Poggioli is briefly mentioned in Saul Bellow’s 1964 novel Herzog.
Sylvia Poggioli, daughter of Renato, is senior European correspondent for NPR’s international desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe and the Balkans.
Franco Baldasso (Ph.D, New York University) is the Director of Italian Studies, Assistant Professor of Italian, and Director of the Study Abroad Program in Italy at Bard College.
Mattia Acetoso is an Assistant Professor of Italian at Boston College. He received his PhD from Yale University in 2012.
In the dystopic short story
In the dystopic short story Best is Water, Primo Levi ponders the ecological collapse produced by human alteration of the biosphere and by the widespread indifference to the environment. His concern for the impact that science and technology, if left unchecked and divorced from ethics, can have on the earth, was strictly connected with to his reflection on the fundamental “flaw” of the rational discourse that enabled, and continues to facilitate violence and atrocities.
Best is Water’s epilogue is, at the same time both an evocation of the past and a warning for the future: “Before we knew what was happening, we were ambushed by this evil, and now all of Europe is afflicted.”
To open the year of Primo Levi’s centennial and on the occasion of Giorno della Memoria, we have decided to take inspiration from Levi’s sustained reflection on science and nature.
Guest speaker at the Italian Cultural Institute, is Prof. Roberts J. Lifton, psychiatrist, and author who has dedicated his life to studying the holocausts, mass violence, and renewal in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Lifton’s books include The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize), Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (winner of a National Book Award), Home from the War: Learning from Vietnam Veterans (nominated for a National Book Award), Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China, The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation, and Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir.
In his latest book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival, Lifton argues that we are living through a time of increasing recognition of the reality of climate change, a psychological shift he
refers to as a “swerve,” driven by evidence, economics, and ethics.
Lifton has been a leading public intellectual and anti-nuclear activist and is a founding member of the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He opposed American wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Lifton was born on May 16, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. He enrolled at Cornell University at the age of 16 and graduated from New York Medical College in 1944. He interned at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn in
1948-49, and had his psychiatric residency at the downstate medical center in Brooklyn from 1949-51.
From 1951 to 1953 Lifton served as an Air Force Psychiatrist in Japan and Korea. He has since been a research psychiatrist and teacher at the Washington School of Psychiatry, Yale University, Harvard University, the City University of New York, and Columbia University.
This program is free and open to the public. Reservations are required at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us for the ceremony
Join us for the ceremony of the reading of the names of the Jews deported from Italy and the Italian territories. Consulate General of Italy, January 28th, 2o19 from 9 am to 3:30 pm.
January 31, 1946
Report by Massimo Adolfo Vitale on the persecution of the Jews of Italy, Centro Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea, Digital Library, www.cdec.it
The tragedy of Italian Jews and of the foreign Jews who lived in Italy and were deported to Germany, is expressed in the following numbers: from Italy: 7,500, from Rhodes: 2,500, foreigners: 2,500, returned: 522 Italians, 44 foreigners. No one knows the numbers of the deportees from Libia.*
The hope that others may arrive fades every day, and no news has arrived from Germany, Austria, nor from Poland on the unfortunate victims.
All of those who returned agree the all people of age, or sick, the children, the women with children, have been killed in the gas chambers upon arrival in the German camps.
The number of deportees, remarkably high for such small Jewish population in Italy (42,000 before the racial laws of 1938-1939, 35,000 after those laws), is due to the impossibility of the majority to foresee what would happen. Improvidence was caused for some by lack of means (part of those who were in better financial conditions had left Italy upon the promulgation of the laws […]. For the most part, it was prompted by the belief that the spirit of politicians and of the Italian people would not arrive to painful extremes. They trusted that they would limit themselves to the implementation of those decrees that removed the Jews from public office, limit their activities and their rights, deprived them of the majority of their assets, but would let them “physically” unharmed.
For a certain number of individuals (particularly for foreign Jews), the implementation of those rulings meant to be sent to concentration camps (disseminated in all Italian regions) or to be interned in remote Italian villages.
Of these measures, all terribly unjust, were nothing compared to those that followed in the years from 1940 to 1944 and the first months of 1945.
Internees were forced to a hard and demoralizing discipline. It is important to illustrate this topic with precision to document the extent of the indignity to which the Fascist government arrived in regard to innocent citizens. […]
- As of 2015, the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan identified 9,800 deportees including 1,834 people from the Dodecanese islands and about 750 individuals, mostly refugees, who still remain to be identified. Approximately 12% survived the death camps.
Starting in the last months of World War II, surviving family members of Jews who had been deported to extermination camps prompted the first attempts to locate their loved ones and gather information about their journeys and fates. Soon after, in 1945, the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities created the Comitato Ricerche Deportati Ebrei, CRDE, (Research Committee on Jewish Deportees). Adolfo Massimo Vitale, a colonel of the Italian army dismissed during the Racial Laws who had long lived abroad, led the Committee. It was Vitale who compiled the first list of the Italian deportees.
In 1955 the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation opened in Venice with the mission to reconstruct Jewish life and preserve the remnants of its past. Vitale’s list became indispensable in tracing the destiny of the Italian deportees and in writing the history of the Shoah in Italy. Without Vitale’s early work, much of would have been lost forever. Following this first phase, the research was advanced under three of CDEC’s directors, Roberto Bassi, Guido Valabrega and Eloisa Ravenna. During this time CDEC moved its headquarters from Venice to Milan, where records concerning the deportees were permanently transferred.
In 1972, CDEC’s staff decided to cross-reference Vitale’s list in order to follow proper historiographical standards. They initiated new research aimed at collecting every available document in any relevant archive inside and outside of Italy. This phase was entrusted to Giuliana Donati, who was involved with the project until 1974.
Under Donati’s guidance, CDEC acquired a large archive of handwritten documents, containing individual name cards for each victim. The available biographical data for each name was thoroughly checked and new data was added. In 1979, CDEC considered publishing the complete list of all Jews who died in Italy or were deported from Italy in the 1943-1945 period. This project was directed by Liliana Picciotto.
In the meantime, new documents come to light: the census of 51.000 individuals the fascist government recorded as Jewish in 1938, the registry of Italian jails with the names of Jews who were arrested, the records collected by prosecutors during the trials of Nazi war criminals operating in Italy. Vitale’s original list was vastly expanded through these new documents.
In 1986, CDEC received its first computer, a rarity at the time, which transformed research capabilities: the data collected up to that point was merged into an innovative database. In 1991 Liliana Picciotto published Il Libro della Memoria. Gli ebrei deportati dall’Italia (1943 – 1945), (The Book of Remembrance. Jews deported from Italy 1943 – 1945, Mursia, 1991).
Three subsequent editions came out as the research continued to expand. In 2013 the database– which in addition to Jews deported from the Italian peninsula included those from Italian controlled Aegean Islands– was finally made available online. CDEC also made available the database of foreign Jews interned in Italy, a work-in-progress curated by Anna Pizzuti and the late Francesca Cappella at the Scuola Normale di Pisa.