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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 Five - The Non-Event: The Broadcast of Holocaust 117


CHAPTER FIVE The Non-Event: The Broadcast of Holocaust This chapter focuses on the analysis of the TV miniseries Holocaust, broad- cast on Rete 1 (formerly Programma Nazionale) between 20 May and 19 June 1979. While the films discussed above were at least co-produced by Italian companies and directed by Italian filmmakers, the subject of this chapter is an entirely American production. As stated in the introduction, the relevance of the cultural products examined in this study pertains less to the homogeneity of the medium (films), or the context of their production (Italy), than to the way their press reception highlights important themes in the process of the domestication of the Holocaust in Italy. In this sense, the wealth of responses generated by Holocaust worldwide offers a valuable case study for understanding the specifics of the Italian case. In this chapter I argue that the heavy politicisation of the Italian context and the dominant narrative about the Second World War positing Italy as an innocent and victimised country resulted in a very selective process of acknowledgement of the country’s involvement in the Holocaust. Moreover, the reception of Holocaust in Italy presented a rather peculiar version of the debate on the so-called ‘trivialisation of the Holocaust.’ This was mainly due to the fact that the Holocaust was perceived more as a by-product of general Nazi brutality than as a specifically Jewish tragedy. Linked to this was the fact that the lack of a strong cultural presence of organised Jewry in Italy allowed...

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