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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 Three - ‘You Are One of Us’: The Early 1960s 49


CHAPTER THREE ‘You Are One of Us’: The Early 1960s Holocaust debates between the end of the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s were closely linked to discussions of Fascism, antifascism, and the Resistance. These, in turn, were influenced by developments in the Cold War and by domestic issues. In stressing the importance of the Resistance- Holocaust link, I argue that, unlike Holocaust memory in Israel, West Germany, and the United States, the Eichmann trial did not represent a landmark event of the same magnitude in Italy.1 The Resistance in the 1950s At the height of the Cold War, celebrating the Resistance or debating fascist crimes were low on the priorities of Italian governments, whose attention focused rather on anticommunism. As Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi explained in 1952 to the American Ambassador in Italy Ellsworth Bunker, ‘no doubt [fascists] would fight on our side in case of war, while the same is not true about communists.’2 As in West Germany, the Cold War required less ‘memory and justice […] and more “integration” of those who had 1 On Israel, see Segev 2000: 11; Loshitzky 2002: 16; Zertal 2005: 67; Shapira 2004: 20. For West Germany, see Herf 2004b: 41; Schlant 1999: 19, 53. The impact of the trial in the US has been discussed by Shandler 1999: xviii, 81; Novick 1999: 133. Comparative discussions of the trial’s impact in Israel, Europe and America are in Cole 2000: 47–72 and especially 62 and 68; Levy and Sznaider 2006:...

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