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Octomber, 2006

17Oct6:00 pm- 8:00 pmThe Banality of Good: Rescuers in Italy at the Time of PersecutionCenter for Jewish History, 15 West 16 Street, New York, NY 100116:00 pm - 8:00 pm Memoria:Memoria

Event Details

Organized by Centro Primo Levi in cooperation with the Consulate General of Italy, Wagner College, the Center for Jewish History and the Italian Cultural Institute. With the participation of the International Raul Wallenberg Foundation and the Order of Sons of Italy.

Hosted by Senator Seymour Lachman, Distinguished Professor, Wagner College. Opening remarks by the Consul General of Italy, Honorable Antonio Bandini.

Panelists: Simon Levis Sullam, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer, Department of Italian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Liliana Picciotto Fargion, Archivio Storico Centro Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea, Milano, Eva Fogelman, Historian and psychotherapist, author of “Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust”. Walter Wolf, survivor and author of “Bad Times, Good People”. Vincent Marmorale, Holocaust Memorial Committee of the Order of the Sons of Italy.

A panel of historians, survivors, and rescuers will explore human, social, and political aspects of those instances in which Italian citizens and public officers chose to help persecuted Jews by opposing the anti-Semitic policies of the government at the risk of their lives. Based on the books “The Righteous of Italy,” which is part of the Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, and “History of the Shoah: the Crisis of Europe, the Extermination of the Jews, and the Remembrance of the 20th Century.”

In her book “The Jews Deported From Italy: 1943-1945”, the historian Liliana Picciotto Fargion, who will be one of the guest speakers at this event, said that of 33,000 Italian Jews 8,890 were deported and 7,860 died. Of these 303 were murdered in Italy.

What story do these numbers tell? And what are the different ways in which this story is remembered and understood today? If it’s true, that many German and Eastern European Jews found their way to safe haven in Italy up to 1941, what happened to the Jews of Italy after the racial laws and later after the armistice, when the Germans became occupiers? To which extent some government and church officials found organized ways to save Jews using the power of their positions, and to which they acted purely on a personal level without engaging in a broader dissent? It is true that many Italian Jews found help among their fellow citizens, but it is also true that the Italian society as a whole did not oppose the sudden removal and eventual betrayal of its most ancient minority. How are these contradictions to be read and understood today and what happens when they are used to support contemporary politics?

With a panel of historians, survivors, and rescuers, this program will explore human, social, and political aspects of those instances in which Italian citizens and public officers chose to help persecuted Jews, at the risk of their lives, by opposing the anti-Semitic policies of the government. The program is based on the books, The Righteous of Italy, which is part of the Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, and History of the Shoah: the Crisis of Europe, the Extermination of the Jews, and the Remembrance of the 20th Century.

They are less than 400: the Italians who helped Jews in a country that had promptly embraced anti-Semitism under the Fascist regime. Citizen of Jewish religion who up to that time had been highly integrated in the Italian society became victims of a widespread persecution that culminated – after the signing of the armistice – in the deportation of 8,600 Jews.

After the 1938 Racial Laws that cut Jews out of all aspects of social life and deprived them of their assets and means of survival, Italian Jews found themselves in a complex situation where benevolence and betrayal, persecution and relief coexisted side by side.

Between 1943 and 1945, amidst the general indifference and collaborations, some Italians chose to help their fellow citizens of Jewish religion who were trying to hide or flee the country. But who were these people? Who were these righteous, who refused to be silent and accept the unjust fate suffered by their Jewish neighbors, colleagues, classmates, and friends?

The Righteous – writes Avner Shalev, president of the Yad Vashem commission to the project- are the symbol of humanism, the essence of the idea of free will, the ability of humankind to chose between different options and make a difference for themselves and others.

The stories that Yad Vashem collected with the assistance of the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan (www.cdec.it), are for a great majority, stories of ordinary people who were saved and ordinary people who saved them.

They are stories of successes and failures, moving testimonies of people of all walks of life, the old and the young, the priest, the atheist, the fascist and the anti-fascist, equally turned off by the magnitude of the Nazi and Fascist crimes. We find Mr. Arnaldi, who drove a group of Jews to the Swiss border and died fighting the Germans in 1944. The lawyer Giuseppe Brusasca, who created an underground relief network in Monferrato, saving the families Foa, Sacerdote, and Donati. The baby nurse Ida Brunelli who saved the life of the three Jewish children of the family for which she had worked.

In spite of the official silence of the Vatican, some priests and nuns hid Jews in monastery and convents. Well known is the case of Father Benedetto Maria who turned the convent of Via Sicilia into a transit center for hundreds of Jews. There are the farmers Attilio e Lidia Pigliapoco who managed the property of the Morpurgo family near Ancona and hid their employers throughout the war.

To the marvel of the media and the younger generations, rescuers have always responded with greater surprise: “It was the only thing to do. What else could one have done in my place?”.

This program explores the tragic contradictions and complexities in which the Jews of Italy found themselves after they were deemed outsiders in the country were they had dwelled for over two thousand years.

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