Sunday, January 27, 2013

Squandering the Legacy of the Holocaust in Italy and Israel


Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, 68 years from the day Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Judging from some of the headlines today, not everyone is taking history's lessons the same way:

Berlusconi praises Mussolini on Holocaust Memorial Day
"Obviously the government of [Mussolini's] time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it," said Mr Berlusconi, who heads a coalition that includes groups with fascist roots.

"The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well," he added, referring to the 1938 laws that barred Jews from Italy's universities and many professions.
Nevermind the trailblazing legacy of Italy's anti-Jewish laws:
Of the approximately 40,000 Italian Jews and 10,000 foreign Jewish refugees, before the war, 8,000-9000 had been deported with only a small number returning. Historian Meir Michaelis wrote in “Mussolini and the Jews,” although Mussolini “was too much of an Italian to approve of the ‘final solution,’ . . . he and his henchmen helped to create the conditions in which the Holocaust became possible.” While Mussolini did not put Italian forces to work to implement the “Final Solution,” he had legally isolated Italian Jews to strengthen the Rome-Berlin axis. His record can be contrasted favorably with that of Adolf Hitler or Marshal Petain in Vichy France, though that is indeed a low standard.

When considering the record of the Italian people, it is important to remember that Mussolini was a popular leader and fascism was a popular movement. When the racial laws were passed, the most common reaction among Italians was one of indifference, not outrage. That said, the racial campaign also failed to sway most Italians to anti-Semitism. While the most assimilated Jewish community in Europe was betrayed by its government, it found that many Italians remembered their past service to the nation, viewed them as no different than their Catholic neighbors, and stood by their Jewish countrymen.
On that note, a Holocaust Museum will pop up in the former site of Mussolini's home...eventually?
The new museum will be built on the grounds of Villa Torlonia, an elegant 19th century mansion that Mussolini used as his residence from 1925 to 1943. Jewish catacombs dating back to ancient times were discovered by chance beneath the surface of its extensive gardens in 1919.

“It is surely one of the ironies of history that for nearly two decades Mussolini resided on top of a catacomb complex constructed by those whose descendants -- being the main victims of his racial policies -- were the ones he forcefully tried to eliminate from the very fabric of Italian society,” Leonard Rutgers, a Dutch expert on the catacombs, told JTA.
Meanwhile, Israeli policies are remembering the legacy of the Holocaust in some decidedly mixed ways:

Israel admits Ethiopian women were given birth control shots [paywall link]
A government official has for the first time acknowledged the practice of injecting women of Ethiopian origin with the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera.
UK lists Israel as human rights abuser 
The British listing, which puts the regime alongside 27 other countries including Bahrain, follows Tel Aviv's aggressive bombing of Gaza that left over 100 Palestinian civilians killed and another 700 wounded including many who were critically hurt.

The Israeli regime has also announced it would push ahead with the hugely controversial plans to build 3,000 new settler homes on Palestinian lands.
And even Holocaust survivors are getting a bitter commemoration this year:
The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel will be cutting welfare assistance to Holocaust survivors, Ynet learned Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

According to agreements between the Treasury and the foundation, the foundation has so far been hiring nursing professionals to assist survivors. Over the past year, the foundation transferred NIS 370 million (about $100 million) towards nursing hours for some 23,000 Holocaust survivors, from a budget partly supported by the Finance Ministry.
Unfortunately, an annual remembrance of mass murder isn't enough to heal all historic wounds or ease present-day social tensions.

But it's better than letting the world blindly repeat historical tragedies.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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