After Mussolini: The Reintegration of the Jewish Communities in Post-War Italy
Guri Schwarz(University of Pisa)
Introduction: Ruth Ben Ghiat (New York University)
Respondent: Paul Arpaia (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
This seminar is based on Guri Schwarz’ new book After Mussolini: Jewish Life and Jewish Memory in Post-War Italy, Valentine Mitchell, 2012
From the Preface:
Once the Second World War was over, the surviving remnant of European Jewry attempting to return to their homes wasn’t of course greeted with an affectionate embrace. To comprehend the post-war situation, we must remember that the anti-Jewish sentiments that had offered fertile ground for racial persecutions could not disappear all of a sudden.
Furthermore the economic situation was dire all over the continent, and everywhere intense political struggles characterized the post-war situation. All Europeans were, in different ways, survivors.
Traumatized by the war, divided by ideological and political clashes, all had dramatic issues to elaborate, and there was little or no sensibility for the specific Jewish plight.
While more research is still to be done, it must be noted that in recent years the history of European Jewry in the aftermath of racial persecutions has been the object of several studies. The post-war situation has been studied with a main focus on the German case – from various perspectives, ranging from the persistence of anti-Semitism, to the economic consequences and the problems connected to restitution and reparations, the issues of memory, the new distribution of Jewish presences across the continent, the life in Displaced Persons Camps, the migrations to Palestine and later the State of Israel, the reorganization of community life. The aim of this book is to offer a reconstruction of the consequences of Fascist anti-Semitic policies, analyzing the rebirth of Jewish life in post-war Italy, concentrating on the process of social and cultural re-integration, the reorganization of community life, as well as the transformation in the minority’s identity.
Since 1945, in Italy as elsewhere in the West, the small Jewish minority has played the delicate role of cultural intermediary both as regards the memory of the Shoah and the Middle Eastern conflict. A role which has partly been imposed by events and the post-war cultural climate, and which, to a certain extent, individual Jews and Jewish institutions have voluntarily taken up.
Certainly, Judaism, Jewish culture and life, cannot only be confined to remembrance of Nazi mass murders or to the relationship, which in any case can vary greatly, with the Zionist dream and its realization. Nevertheless in an extensively secularized society, which has lost touch with traditional culture, these are undoubtedly two of the most visible and prominent aspects in which contemporary Jewish identity publicly manifests itself. Therefore, piecing together the history of the Jews in Republican Italy requires a reconstruction of the processes that have led to the assigning of that role of testimony and mediation, as well as considering the meaning and repercussions of that historical process.
While taking into account this range of questions and problems, this work is not, however, restricted to examining the role of the Jew in the post-1945 Italian collective imagination. In fact, I felt that it was appropriate to contribute to a rediscovery of real Jews, and thus did not limit this study to the analysis of the role and nature of the imaginary Jew. I therefore chose to carry out the research from an internal vantage point, aiming first of all at portraying the dynamics of the Italian Jewish Community itself rather than dealing with the attitudes of friendship, hostility or indifference of the surrounding world. It is however implicit that there is no intention of isolating the Jewish community from the wider context; the interest in studying the Jews in the post-war period also arises from the fact that it offers a particular point of view from which to interpret the Italian Republic’s social, cultural and political history. A reflection on the Jewish condition in post- Fascist Italy touches, in particular, on the problem of the continuity between Fascism and the postwar period, as it entails evaluating the long-term effects of the racial persecution. Perhaps it is only in considering the post-1945 events that it is possible to understand fully the vast range of social, cultural and psychological changes triggered by the racist policies. Recognizing this can help to overcome the temptation which emerges periodically of minimizing the relevance and the impact of those events.
Traditionally, Fascist anti-Semitism has not merited much consideration in either the Italian or foreign historiography. Italy is often described as an exceptional nation, virtually free of the modern anti-Jewish hatred that thrived on the rest of the continent. The Italian debate on the subject was quite limited until the end of the 1980s. After the important pioneering research of Meir Michaelis and Renzo De Felice, who demonstrated definitively that Fascist racist policies were not imposed by Hitler on Mussolini, a general stagnation persisted for several years in this field of study. However, those two very important works did not deal with several salient questions: what were the cultural roots of Mussolini’s racist shift? How autonomous were the Fascist racial ideology and practice in Italy? How were the racist laws implemented? What long-term effect did they have on Italian society (and on the local Jews in particular)? Such crucial questions were set aside for a long time, as the consensus was that the racist policies in the country had little or no roots and had been implemented with a certain degree of mildness.
Since the fiftieth anniversary of the Fascist regime’s racist twist, which was marked in 1988, a new period of systematic in-depth research and lively debate unfolded in Italy.
New scholarly works soon set out to re-examine the traditional interpretations: the cultural origins of the phenomenon were actually revealed to be deeply rooted in Italian culture; and the implementation of the racist laws was shown to be both systematic and merciless. While Fascist anti-Semitism did not lead to exterminationist policies, it was the fruit of the peculiar Italian cultural development since the late nineteenth century. Therefore, it must be read considering its autonomous and peculiar history, and not merely in comparison to Nazi ideology.
These steps forward soon raised a new problem: if we accept the results of recent research, then how is it possible that a set of representations tending to absolve Italian culture took form and gained a practically hegemonic grasp on post-Fascist public opinion? Such a collective absolution was directly connected and intertwined with the formation of the anti-Fascist national identity that was nurtured after the war, becoming one of the foundations of the Italian Republic. The myth of the good Italian, as this self-representation was defined, has marked for decades the way Italians perceived themselves, easily obscuring the many atrocities committed during the Fascist regime and the war years (from the civilian massacres in the Balkans and in Greece, to the use of nerve gas in Ethiopia, up to the anti-Semitic campaign).
I believe that the study of post-war Italian Jewry is of fundamental importance to fully grasp how such a myth came to be, and how it rapidly gained consensus both in Italy and abroad. In fact we can assert that without the support of Italian-Jewish intellectuals and institutions, such a simplistic depiction of Fascist racism, its origins and consequences, could not have imposed itself so strongly on public opinion as well as on the scholarly community. This work will illustrate how Italian- Jewish institutions, as well as single individuals, contributed to create and legitimate that cultural representation, offering insight on its function within the framework of the minority’s processes of socio-cultural reintegration.
The limited amount of scholarship available and the extreme dispersion of the documentary material, stored in several Italian archives (often awaiting appropriate cataloguing), but also in Israel and the United States, do not, today, permit the drawing up of a complete, systematic and exhaustive account of all aspects of Jewish life in post-Fascist Italy. What is here proposed is, rather, an initial analysis of some crucial, problematic points, which could shed a critical light on issues that â€“ as we shall see – were closely related: the reorganization of the community Italian- Jewish, the remembrance of the Shoah, the relationship with Zionism and the State of Israel.
The account which follows tackles these problems starting from research on archive sources and printed matter, which systematically covered the period 1943-1961 (from the arrival of the Allied armies in Italy to the trial of Eichmann); due to the inaccessibility of consistent documentary material, only brief mention is made of the subsequent period, without claiming to provide a thorough treatment. Considerable space and attention have been dedicated to the delicate transitional period of 1943-1948, because of the significance of the political and cultural processes which, having emerged clearly in that first phase, have had a lasting effect on the direction of the development of Jewish life in Republican Italy.
The book is divided into two parts: the first part elucidates the changes in the organization of the life of the community and the structuring of the minority’s collective identity, while the second part is concerned with the Jewish memory of the Fascist persecution, its relationship with the general cultural climate and its influence on the development of the memory of the persecution and of the early historiography.
Finally, I feel that I should point out that the nature of the available documentation has led me to favor an institutional perspective, paying attention to the life of the community as it emerges from the documents of organizations and associations or from reports of the Jewish press. This does not mean that I am not fully cognisant of how Jewish life, in Italy as elsewhere, unfolds, more often than not, far from, or in fact outside the institutional framework: there are many ways of being and of feeling Jewish. This issue is undoubtedly of very great interest for the historian and, however difficult it may be to grasp what is firmly enclosed in peopleâ€™s hearts, I have tried to confront with this delicate question, turning to literary sources and memoirs in undertaking the exploration of those mental nebulae which constitute the individual and collective identity of Italian Jews.
Guri Schwarz (Milan 1975) obtained a Phd summa cum laude in Historical Disciplines at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa in 2002. Currently he teaches Jewish History at the University of Pisa and Contemporary History at the Italian Rabbinical College. He has been post-doctoral fellow at the University of Bologna, fellow of the Luigi Einaudi Foundation (Turin), research fellow at the Department of History of the University of Pisa, visiting scholar at the International Institute for Holocaust Research-Yad Vashem (Jerusalem), research fellow at the Deutcshes Historisches Institute (Rome). He is member of the Interdepartmental Center for Jewish Studies of the University of Pisa, and since 2005 he is member and coordinator of the scientific board of the Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea (Milan).
He is one of the editors, and one of the founders, of the online journal Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History.
His research interests concentrate on the history of the Jews in contemporary Italy, the politics of memoryÂ in post II WW Europe, the transition from fascism to democracy.
After Mussolini: Jewish Life and Jewish Memories in Post-Fascist Italy, Vallentine Mitchell, London-Portland (Or), 2012.
Tu mi devi seppellir. Riti funebri e culto nazionale alle origini della Repubblica, UTET, Torino 2010.
Critical edition of the diaries of the Jewish partisan Emanuele Artom: Diari di un partigiano ebreo (gennaio 1940- febbraio 1944), Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2008 (soon to be translated in Hebrew and English by the Yad Vashem publications department).
Dalla Guerra alla Pace. Retoriche e Pratiche della smobilitazione nell’Italia del Novecento (with M. Mondini), Cierre-Istrevi, Verona 2007.
Ritrovare se stessi. Gli ebrei nell’Italia postfascista, Laterza, Roma-Bari 2004.
Editor (with L. Brazzo), Jews in Europe after the Shoah. Studies and Research Perspectives, Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History, n. 1, 2010.
Editor (with B. Armani) Ebrei borghesi. Identità famigliare, solidarietà e affari nell’età dell’emancipazione, «Quaderni Storici», n. 114, 2003.
Editor (with I. Pavan) Gli ebrei in Italia tra persecuzione fascista e reintegrazione postbellica, La Giuntina, Firenze 2001.