March, 2018

19MAr6:30 am- 7:30 amStudying Survival in the Context of Persecution690 Park Avenue, New York, NY 100656:30 am - 7:30 am Italian Jewish Studies Seminar:Italian Jewish Studies SeminarMemoria:Memoria

Event Details

Groundbreaking research project opens new avenues to understand survival.

Welcoming remarks: Consul General of Italy Min. Francesco Genuardi

Introduction: Andrew Viterbi.

Liliana Picciotto (Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation), Susan Zuccotti (author of Père Marie-Benoît And Jewish Rescue How A French Priest Together With Jewish Friends Saved Thousands During The Holocaust), Mordechai Paldiel (Historian And Former Director Of The Institute Of The Righteous At Yad Vashem)

Presented by Centro Primo Levi, the Consulate General of Italy and the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan.

During the past ten years historian Liliana Picciotto has lead a groundbreaking research project at the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan: the development of a database of case-studies to analyze the ways in which Jews survived in Italy during the Fascist and Nazi persecution. The project, funded by a grant from Andrew Viterbi and Erna Finci Viterbi z”l, resulted in a database and a book Salvarsi, published by Einaudi in 2017.

Liliana Picciotto has previously lead to completion the research on the Jews deported from Italy and the Italian territories. Her work provides historians with essential information on the mechanism of arrest that lead to Auschwitz nearly 10,000 Jews who had remained under the control of the Italian Social Republic.

The new project challenges long-established canons in the understanding of rescue which, for the first time, is addressed as an integral aspect of the history of persecution and as the result of complex dynamics in which Jews and non-Jews were active participants.

Survival has mostly been considered by scholars and lay observers in an ethical and political frame which reduces it to rescue, an act of charity casted by heroes upon victims. The redefinition of survival as rescue facilitated a clear separation of the society that “persecuted” from the society that “saved” ultimately inscribing a history of religious, racial and political discrimination into a martyrological narrative and providing post-war Europe with a  tool of secular redemption and and a new form of exemplary literature.

Reconstructing the historical context, logistic circumstances, decisions made by those who tried to escape and those who surrounded them, rethinking survival and demise as consequences of relations and interactions, opens a new chapter in the study of the anti-Jewish persecution.

It emancipates the evaluation of survival from politically-motivated efforts and helps better understand the nature of collaboration and indifference, the use and abuse of categories such gratitude, danger, protection, and rights.

Besides political motivations, the difficulty of fully grasping the conditions and perception of the individuals who went through these experiences facilitates the inclination to celebrate survival as mere result of heroism.

Celebration however, can significantly simplify the questions asked and ultimately limit our understanding of how totalitarian societies used the dispossessed seeking to have the same control over the means of persecution and survival.

This panel of experts will discuss the Italian database and its implication in offering new perspective in the field.

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