I was invited to stand outside the Italian Consulate in New York yesterday to participate in a public reading of the names of 6,800 Italian Jews who perished in the Holocaust. It is a special day (the liberation of Auschwitz) set aside by both the European Union and the Italian Parliament. I chose not to attend.
While Holocaust remembrance must never fade away, it was a European not American tragedy. Here, we speak of holocausts inflicted on Indigenous peoples and African Americans. There is plenty of misery to go round, on every continent, every year. But it seems the New York consulate has a special motivation for the Jewish Holocaust. Neither the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC nor its other consulates around the country have a comparable event. The French Consulate, which lost more Jews to the Holocaust than Italy, is marking Auschwitz Liberation with a tweet, no physical event.
I would suggest that the New York consulate finds its motivation from the Primo Levi Center (PLC). The PLC is a Holocaust think tank based in Italy with a branch in Manhattan. One of its dreams is to create and sustain a level of anti-Semitic guilt among Italians comparable to Germans. The PLC objects to the concept of “la brava gente” (the nice people) that grew out of WW II to describe the relatively decent behavior of Italian military occupiers. The Center is leaving no stone unturned searching for Italian war criminals, albeit without success. A parallel track has them revisiting the cases of “righteous” Italians who saved Jews during the Holocaust ̶ some 500 such individuals are registered at Yad Vashem in Israel ̶ to weed out phonies. One target is Trieste police chief Giovanni Palatucci whom Yad Vashem documented as saving many Jews, even giving his Swiss exit visa to his Jewish girlfriend. Unable to escape the Nazis, Palatucci was arrested for treason and died at Dachau. The PLC claims he was a shakedown artist and was arrested for corruption not treason. Notwithstanding PLC efforts, he is still listed as righteous at Yad Vashem.
The PLC has now attached itself to the Italian Academy (Casa Italiana) at Columbia University. The Academy board is already heavily (half) Jewish with not a single Italian American. (Remember, we created the place in 1927 and ran it for 63 years.) The Academy also promotes Holocaust events and endless papers on the 1938 Racial Laws in Italy. What the Academy and the consulate do not commemorate may be worth mentioning.
The European Union also has a Roma (Gypsy) Holocaust Memorial Day every August 2nd but neither the consulate nor the Academy mark that day.
Another little known WWII atrocity was the murder of some 15,000 Italians in Istria by Yugoslav Communists who shot and dumped – dead or alive – men, women, and children into rock crevices (“foibe”) to ethnically cleanse that peninsula (Chef Lidia Bastianich’s family escaped this fate.) I suspect spotlighting Communist atrocities may be hitting too close to home for some Italian diplomats.
Neither the Academy nor the consulate holds a remembrance for some 50,000 Italian soldiers who died in German prison camps after Italy’s surrender in 1943.
Apropos of injustice in this country, neither the consulate nor the Academy marks March 14, 1891 when eleven Italians were strung up by New Orleans vigilantes. Nor do Italian board members ask the Italian Academy to hold seminars on the 1942 persecution of 600,000 Italian Americans by the U.S. government, a stain on our republic.
Studies of the Holocaust and the anti-Semitic 1938 Racial Laws could be an excellent segue into current injustices worldwide. For example, in Israel, it is forbidden for Palestinian citizens to mark their painful Nakba (the 1948 “Catastrophe”) which cost them their homeland and sent them into permanent refugee camps. Or, the Academy could compare and contrast the Italian Racial Laws to the second class status of Arab-Israeli citizens today.
But, it seems misery does not like company. -JLM