Monday, January 30, 2012

Front Page of i-Italy January 30, 2012

ON THE SURVIVAL OF JEWS IN ITALY 1941-1944


From the correspondence with Dr. Cappelli of the Calandra Institute prior to publication:

Due to constraints of space, which I exceeded by 10 words, I was unable to quote supporting sources, but they can be found in the Holocaust Encyclopedia of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Wiesenthal Center, www.HolocaustResearchProject.org and Renzo de Felice's The Jews in Fascist Italy: A History, among many other scientific documents.

I am aware of the recent trend by some in academia, most of them part of the post-WWII generation, to interpret racial laws in Italy as more native than previously established. However, I must point out that most of these studies take their conclusions from subjective interpretations of official documents. I speak of factual survivals as an objective result of the sheltering which so many Italians provided to fleeing foreign Jews. It is a historical fact that Italians as a people hated the Germans; if they were saving Jews for that reason alone, it would not diminish the magnitude of the results.

I too have read every word Primo Levi wrote about his experiences, as well as words of lesser know Italians, such as a late friend of mine, Sergio Sarri, a non-Jew imprisoned in Germany, who wrote Bits of String about his capture as an Italian Partisan from Torino. I have had long discussions by email, letter and telephone with Ms. Indrimi
[of the Primo Levi Institute in NY], before I gave up on trying to convince her that survival of any number of Jews is also a part of the story of the Holocaust. Every country seems proud that some of its citizens behaved admirably; why would Italy be different?

But  .... I refrained from .making my case ad hominem. All that the few of us remaining survivors are asking is that we not be denied now, as we surely will be denied once we all die away and make the point mute. It is my hope that the "reverse-denial" as I call it will not work in the end.

Once again, thank you for letting me set the record straight.


When I recently found on your digital pages a veiled attempt to deny the significance of the fact that many Italians helped foreign Jews survive the Holocaust, I asked to be given an opportunity for an opposing view. I thank you for allowing me to do express it.

 As an active Yugoslav Jewish antifascist in 1930s, I was too young to be accepted as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, but I got my chance to take action against Italian fascism in Split in 1941. There, I have earned my credentials against Mussolini and the black shirts on the streets of occupied Split in 1941. I have lived the whole of my 90 years opposing dictatorships and genocides, and what I have to say must be taken in that context.

I escaped my hometown from the Nazis because I was a Jew and my life was in danger. Had I stayed, I would have ended like more than 90% of Yugoslav Jews who perished for no other reason but for being Jewish. In Italian occupied Dalmatia, to where I fled, I was the enemy not for being a Jew but for being antifascist, a member of the underground. That was a fundamental distinction, which became even clearer in retrospect than it was at the time.

Territories occupied by fascist Italy were known to Jews from Salonica to Marseilles, everywhere in Europe, as the lesser evil; those Yugoslavs who did not perish in the Holocaust survived only because they escaped into Italian-held areas of Dalmatia and Montenegro.

 Uprooted and barely 19 at the time, I was taken as a civilian prisoner of war to an Italian hamlet in which the natives may have been circumspect about the foreigners, but not because we were Jewish. The churchgoing greengrocer’s wife asked us “sono veramente Ebrei”?, perhaps surprised that we didn’t look as sinister as the antisemitic propaganda was painting the Christ killers. She was the one who always gave us more than the prescribed rations of milk and bread “per gli bambini.”

I did not hate the fascists less because of that happenstance. But the Italians in Asolo did not behave as  one would have expected of members of a fascist nation.

When Mussolini fell in 1943 and we dispersed in various directions but all towards Rome, we were spared the fate of Italian Jews whose addresses were known to the new rulers - the Nazis and their Italian collaborators.  The refugees from Asolo, escaping with false documents given us personally by the highest government representative in the city, the Podesta, were not alone. Surviving with us were thousands of other foreign Jews from all over Italy, often thanks to active help from ordinary Italians.

This doesn’t by any means exonerate fascist Italy from being a participant in a bestial alliance with Hitler.

My political memoir, Requiem for a Country, juxtaposes our survival and the cruel fate suffered by Italian Jews deported in cattle cars from Milan, or burned in a crematorium in Trieste. The fleeing Jews were invisible to the authorities and that may have been the only reason they survived, but all along their route to salvation they found Italians who helped them hide, get food, move from one hideout to another.

I am to this day critical of the policies of Pius XII as being at best wishy-washy towards Hitler, but that doesn’t stop me from reporting that many a refugee, including myself, got assistance from at least some clergy in the Vatican. Was their number statistically significant? I don’t know. But I know the saying about the statistically tested parachute; I prefer that I had a good one at my side even if “scientifically” some may called it anecdotal. To the thousands of foreign Jewish survivors in Italy, escaping alive is a statistic, not an anecdote.

There are a diminishing number of us who still bear witness that in the barbaric times of WWII many Italians behaved better than most Europeans with the exception of the Danes. In my own country, we witnessed cruelties against Jews which made even the supervising SS cringe.

The modest joy at finding survivors in that corner of Europe only amplified the horror of the death of millions of others , including Italians, who perished in the Holocaust simply for being Jewish.

Honoring the good Italians does not dishonor the memory of the eight thousand murdered Italian Jews. It serves the historic truth.

2 comments:

10 Day Book Club said...

Thank you for sharing your message. I am glad you are here to tell the story.

Jasha Levi said...

Dear 'Sarah':

Thank you for acknowledgng the need to tell the story of hope for humanity:
In the sea of barbarism of WWII, many ordinary Italian citizens refused to follow their government's fascist dictum and helped a great number of Jews survive. They and the Danes must be sigled out for their humanity in face of its enemies.

Cordially,

Jasha