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Purely Italian. New Documents and Perspectives on Italian Racial Policies

03Nov10:00 am5:00 pmPurely Italian. New Documents and Perspectives on Italian Racial Policies10:00 am - 5:00 pm(GMT+00:00) Italian Jewish Studies SeminarItalian Jewish Studies Seminar

Event Details

A Symposium presented by Centro Primo Levi with CDEC, Milan, NYU Skirball Department for Hebrew and Judaic Studies, NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò

English-language Holocaust literature has generally portrayed Italy as having saved a high percentage of its Jews from deportation and extermination. However, recent scholarship in Italy offers a more nuanced view of the facts. While Italian Jews were indeed saved in great numbers by Italians of all stripes, tens of thousands of Italians collaborated with the Gestapo in rounding up Jews, and roughly half of the arrests were actually made independently by Italians.

A full appraisal of the history of Fascism before and during the war is crucial to understanding the contradictions of the Italian case.  Recent scholarship in Italy has challenged the claim that the Racial Laws were a byproduct of diplomatic relations with Germany and were left largely unenforced. In fact, new assessments of documents demonstrates that racial prejudice and policies were an integral part of the Fascist vision from the outset. This panel will display some of the revised scholarly work on Fascist antisemitism and the Holocaust in Italy that has been produced during the past twenty years.

Chair: David Engel (New York University)

Speakers: Michele Sarfatti (Director of the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan): The Fascist Anti-Semitic Legislation in Comparative Perspective

Annalisa Capristo (Center for American Studies in Rome): Rethinking Fascist Anti-Semitism – a Historiographical Overview

Ilaria Pavan (University of Pisa): The Neglected Spoliation. The Economic Consequences of the Fascist Anti-Jewish Persecution 1938-1945

Guri Schwarz (University of Pisa): “Razza e Civiltà”: Racism, Italian Culture and National Identity

Discussants: Marion Kaplan (New York University), Ronald Zweig (New York University), Elissa Bemporad (CUNY), Lidia Santarelli (New York University).



The Fascist Anti-Semitic Legislation in Comparative Perspective. Michele Sarfatti
Italy adopted anti-Jewish legislation in 1938, five years after Germany had done so, and at roughly the same time that Romania, Hungary and Slovakia were passing similar laws. The laws however followed years of widespread European violence and persecution. Antisemitic legislation in each country had its own characteristics and included provisions that may or may not have been present in the legislation of other countries. In the years before the start of World War II, differences were more marked. One of the main differences lay in the approach to persecution, which could be “biologically racist” or based on other criteria. Among the more interesting similarities was the way in which persecution at first differentiated between vari- ous categories of Jews. This paper examines how far the Fascist regime acted autonomously in its decisions concerning Jews, compares some Italian and German regulations concerning Jews in the autumn of 1938, and examines the issues of approach and of differentiation in the various bodies of law

Rethinking Fascist Anti-Semitism: an Historiographical Overview. Annalisa Capristo
Why, in 1938, 16 years after seizing power, did the fascist regime decide to adopt an antisemitic policy in Italy? Was it merely an instrumental decision aimed at strengthening the axis with Nazi Germany and at consolidating the totalitarian state after the conquest of Ethiopia and the proclamation of empire? Or was antisemitism instead inherent to Mussolini’s thought and political action before the official turning point of 1938 – however different it may have been from the violence and radicalism of Nazi ideology? In this paper I will analyze the responses that Italian historiography has provided to these questions, dwelling upon the new documentary and interpretative findings that in the past years have offered new perspec- tives on this topic and aroused critical debate.

The Neglected Spoliation. The Economic Consequences of the Fascist Anti-Jewish Persecution 1938-1945. Ilaria Pavan
For many years, the economic aspects of the Fascist anti–Jewish campaign have been largely underestimated and neglected, if not denied. In the late1940s a veil was drawn over the legislative and administrative measures undertaken by Mussolini’s government against Jewish property, their enforcement, and their consequences for Italian and foreign Jews. This chapter of the anti–Jewish persecution has been interpreted within the general framework with which Italian and international histo- rians have interpreted Fascist antisemitism for decades: a mere bowing to the Nazi will, exclusively motivated by reasons of foreign policy. The Fascist antisemitic legislation was thought to lack ideological and political depth and, accordingly — it was said — was applied mildly by the fascist apparatus, especially in its economic aspects. Only recently, triggered by the survey led by the Italian Government Commission for Reconstruction of the Events Characterizing the Acquisition of Jew- ish Assets by Public and Private Bodies, which operated between 1999 and 2000, new studies have clearly demonstrated the fallacy and lack of foundation of these established interpretations. Starting from the analysis of the economic situation of Italian Jewry on the eve of the racial campaign, my talk will illustrate the detailed and pervasive economic persecution, its key features, and its heavy consequences on Jews’ everyday life, as well as the autonomy of the Fascist government and bureaucracy in conceiving and implementing the spoliation of Jewish properties, even during the period of the Nazi occu- pation of the Italian territory.

“Razza e Civiltà”: Racism, Italian Culture and National Identity. Guri Schwarz
For quite a long time the study of fascist racism and antisemitism – the cultural origins and the practical development of the racist policies enacted by Mussolini’s regime – has been underplayed by Italian historiography. With only a few exceptions, researchers coming from various academic schools, and with sensibilities ranging all through the political spectrum, have demonstrated a lack of interest in a phenomenon that has been considered of scant relevance in Italian history. The climate has changed since 1988: in the last decades a number of studies have shed light on the birth of racist and antisemitic poli- cies, their implementation, and their long-term social and economic consequences. Although new data and documentation have come under public scrutiny, much work is still needed to reconstruct the cultural roots of the phenomenon, to describe and analyze its strains, and to fully understand how the racist discourse contributed to redefining national identity. This paper contributes to understanding fascist racism as a cultural (and political) phenomenon by analyzing Razza e Civiltà, the official magazine of the “Demorazza”, published irregularly between 1940 and 1942. This understudied source is undoubt- edly one of the most interesting cultural operations developed as part of an ongoing political battle among supporters of di- verging conceptions of racism and its role in shaping Fascist society.



David Engel is Maurice Greenberg Professor of Holocaust Studies, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and Profes- sor of History at New York University. Among his books are: In the Shadow of Auschwitz, Facing a Holocaust, Between Lib- eration and Flight, The Holocaust: The Third Reich and the Jews, and Historians of the Jews and the Holocaust.

Michele Sarfatti  is the director of the Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea CDEC in Milan and editor-in-chief of Quest: Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. An expert in contemporary Jewish history and antisemitic persecution in modern Italy, Dr. Sarfatti has been a member of the Commis- sion of Inquiry into the Confiscation of Jewish Property in Italy 1938-1945 and of the Government Commission of Inquiry into the Library of the Jewish Community of Rome, confiscated by the Nazis in 1943. Dr. Sarfatti serves on the Board of Direc- tors of the Foundation for the Shoah Memorial in Milan and on the Scientific Committee of the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah in Ferrara.

Annalisa Capristo received her degree in Philosophy from the University of Rome La Sapienza and her spe- cialization in Library and Information Science from the Scuola Vaticana di Biblioteconomia. She has held fellowships from the Is- tituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici di Napoli, the Biblioteca Vaticana, and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. She is a librarian at the Centro Studi Americani in Rome. Dr. Capristo’s extensive research on the antisemitic and racist policies of fascism resulted in the seminal study, L’esclusione degli ebrei dalle accademie italiane (Zamorani, 2002), and in many important case-studies.

Ilaria Pavan obtained her doctoral degree from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa where she currently teaches. Dr. Pavan has been a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of European Studies, University of California, Berke- ley, and a fellow at the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research in Jerusalem. Between 2000 and 2001 Dr. Pavan was a researcher for the Government Commission for Reconstruction of the Events Characterizing the Acquisition of Jew- ish Assets by Public and Private Bodies. She has published many articles and essays on the persecution of the Jews of Italy and the postwar construction of historiography and memory. Her latest article A betrayed community: the Italian Jewish Community Facing Persecution is forthcoming in “Holocaust and Genocide Studies” (24, 2010).

Guri Schwarz obtained his doctoral degree from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa in 2002. He has been a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bologna, fellow of the Luigi Einaudi Foundation (Turin), and research fellow at the Department of His- tory of the University of Pisa. His research interests concentrate on the history of the Jews in contemporary Italy, the politics of memory in post-World War II Europe, and the transition from fascism to democracy. He is author of Ritrovare se stessi. Gli ebrei nell’ Italia postfascista (Laterza, Roma-Bari 2004); and coauthor of Dalla Guerra alla Pace. Retoriche e Pratiche della smobili- tazione nell’ Italia del Novecento (Cierre-Istrevi, Verona 2007). He edited (with Ilaria Pavan) thh volume Gli ebrei in Italia tra per- secuzione fascista e reintegrazione postbellica (La Giuntina, Firenze 2001). He has recently published a critical edition of the diaries of the Jewish partisan Emanuele Artom, Diari di un partigiano ebreo (1940-1944), Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2008.

Marion Kaplan is the Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History in the Dept. of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU. Her books have included: The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family and Identity in Imperial Germany (1991); Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (1998); and Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosúa, 1940-1945 (2008). The first two received and the last was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.

Ronald W. Zweig is the Taub Professor of Israel Studies, Skirball Dept. of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, NYU. He has also pub- lished widely.on restitution, reparations and indemnification for Holocaust survivors, including German Reparations and the Jew- ish World: A History of the Claims Conference” and The Gold Train.

Elissa Bemporad is Jerry and William Ungar Assistant Professor of History at Queens College (CUNY) specializing in Eastern European Jewish history, and the social, cultural, and institutional history of the Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union. She holds an MA in Slavic studies from the Faculty of Humanities at Bologna University, an MA in Modern Jewish Studies from the Gradu- ate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and a PhD from the Department of History at Stanford University. Dr. Bemporad taught at Stanford University, Hunter College, and The New School. Her book Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in a Jewish Metropolis, Minsk 1917-1939, is forthcoming with Indiana University Press.

Lidia Santarelli joined the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU in January 2008 as Assistant Professor/Fac- ulty Fellow. She earned her Laurea in Arts and Humanities from the Universitá degli Studi “La Sapienza” and her Ph.D. in His- tory and Civilization from the European University Institute. She has held post-doctoral fellowships at Princeton University, Columbia University and the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C. Dr. Santarelli’s research interests focus on Italian fascism, nations and nationalism in the Balkans, and collective memory in post-1945 Europe. Her forthcoming book, Spazio Vitale. Guerra e occupazione italiana in Grecia 1940-1943 (2007), explores fascist Italy’s occupation of Greece. Dr. Santarelli is co-author and historical consultant for Italian Brava Gente. A Film Documentary on Italian War Crimes in African and the Balkans. She is currently conducting research on the Holocaust in Greece.


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