- The Holocaust in Italian Culture, 1944–2010 by Robert S. C. Gordon
Robert S. C. Gordon’s The Holocaust in Italian Culture examines the production and transmission of knowledge of the Holocaust in post-World War II Italian culture by considering a vast corpus of exhibits, including testimonial accounts, literary and cinematic works, scholarly debates, commemorative events, and ritual practices. Gordon’s book represents a significant contribution to studies on the elaboration of Italy’s national memory.
Part 1 comprises three chapters. Chapter 1, “The Shape of Italy’s Holocaust,” doubles as an introduction. In it Gordon defines the conceptual field and the corpus of exhibits that he analyzes in the remainder of his study. He begins by observing how the elaboration of Holocaust memory must be seen as a transnational phenomenon. Gordon also provides a definition of the term “Holocaust” according to four parameters: a Nazi project of genocide; a camp experience including not just Jews but also other prisoners; non-industrialized forms of killing that occurred outside the camps; and a form of violence that became coextensive with modern forms of totalitarianism. The chapter concludes with a brief description [End Page 142] of the clusters of texts and exhibits that constitute the field of Holocaust memory in Italy.
Gordon begins chapter 2, “Villa Torlonia,” by exploring the changing roles of this famous Roman villa, a neoclassical palace that was built close to the site of the catacombs of ancient Jewish communities that have existed in Italy for two thousand years. To Gordon, the evolving role of Villa Torlonia from the fascist period to 2005 exemplifies the site of a “geopolitical complication” (23), indicating the complexity of the Italian discourse of the Holocaust in its relation to local, national, and supranational histories.
In chapter 3, “The Field,” Gordon introduces the spheres of activities that he will discuss. He observes that these activities constitute an eclectic corpus since they comprise the work of associations, institutions, and academies but also that of the culture and information industries. His presentation of associations and institutions provides a detailed account of the work of highly visible groups such as ANED (Associazione nazionale degli ex-deportati politici), UCII (Unità delle comunità ebraiche, later known as UCEI), and CDEC (Center for Contemporary Jewish Research). While discussing initiatives such as Renzo De Felice’s History of Italian Jews under Fascism and the CDEC’s Book of Memory, Gordon briefly addresses the rise of the field of Holocaust studies in Italy, a field that, by necessity, has often intersected with the work of antifascist associations. Gordon concludes this chapter by introducing the works of the culture and information industries, that is, written material, television, and film productions, and artifacts disseminated through a variety of media channels.
Part 2 comprises six chapters. Chapter 4, “New Knowledge,” begins with a discussion of a monument erected in Milan’s cemetery in 1946 to commemorate the victims of the Nazi extermination camps. In Gordon’s view, the monument exemplifies the national difficulty of coming to terms with the experience of the camps. It depended on “an unspecified category of the Fallen” (43) and failed to establish a clear distinction between the reasons leading to deportations in the Lagers (i.e., ethnic versus political). One of the reasons for this lack of clear distinction, Gordon further argues, is that in Italy public recognition of the Jewish genocide only dates from the Nuremberg trials of late 1945. However, even in the early first-person testimonies of Jewish victims, he detects the same confusion that he finds in the monument of Milan’s cemetery, a confusion that was partially resolved between 1958 and 1963. Chapter 5, “Primo Levi,” provides a short but engaging account of Primo Levi as the most [End Page 143] important interpreter and mediator of Holocaust knowledge in Italy for many decades. Gordon discusses Levi’s evolving presence in the national and international arena, focusing in particular on the impact of the “low-level, ‘public’ Levi” (68) in shaping the memory of the Holocaust among school children. Gordon...