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Conflicts of Memory

The Reception of Holocaust Films and TV Programmes in Italy, 1945 to the Present


Emiliano Perra

Situated at the confluence of history, media and cultural studies, this book reconstructs the often deeply discordant and highly selective memories of the Holocaust in Italy in the postwar era. The author’s core method is one of reception analysis, centred on the public responses to the many films and television programmes that have addressed the Holocaust from the 1940s to the present day. Tied to the heritage of Fascism, antifascism, and the Resistance, public memory of the Holocaust in Italy has changed greatly over the years. Self-acquitting myths of Italian innocence and victimhood, and universalising interpretations grounded in Catholicism and Communism, provided the initial frameworks for understanding the Holocaust. However, the last two decades have seen an increasing centrality of the Holocaust in memory culture but have also witnessed the establishment of a paradigm that relativises other fascist crimes and levels the differences between Fascism and antifascism. Working with the largest corpus yet established of Holocaust film and television in Italy, from the 1948 retelling of the Wandering Jew myth to Roberto Benigni’s controversial Life Is Beautiful, from the American miniseries Holocaust to Perlasca: The Courage of a Just Man, Conflicts of Memory probes Italy’s ongoing, if incomplete, process of coming to terms with this important aspect of its past.


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Chapter One - Introduction 1


CHAPTER ONE Introduction Few historical events are as widely discussed and represented as the Holocaust. The destruction of the European Jews sits now squarely at the centre of global memory culture and public debates.1 However, for many years after the end of the Second World War, Holocaust memory emerged primarily within a national framework of reference, and to a large extent this remains the case.2 In this process of adaptation to different national contexts, the Holocaust has been employed well beyond its specific his- torical meaning by different subjects.3 This also holds true in the Italian context. This book is a study of the public debates generated by Holocaust films and television programmes in Italy, from the end of the Second World War to the present. It is by now a truism that films (especially feature films) and television play a key role in creating and reviving our perception of the Holocaust.4 The encounter between these popular media and a sub- ject like the Holocaust is likely to provoke intense responses. This study reconstructs the various constellations of meaning that were made avail- able to viewers at the time of the release of these visual products. Situated at the junction of political and cultural themes, the debates engendered by such representations in newspapers, magazines, and journals represent a vantage point for looking into the broader construction of Holocaust memories in Italy. This ‘domestication’, in turn, refers to the diverse (and 1 Alan Mintz has defined this process as a shift...

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