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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 Six - From the Centrality of the Resistance to that of the Holocaust 149


CHAPTER SIX From the Centrality of the Resistance to that of the Holocaust This chapter analyses the shift that occurred between the 1980s and 1990s in public discussions about the war which saw the centrality of the Resistance give way to that of the Holocaust. This process peaked in 1997, which I define as the Italian ‘year of the Holocaust.’1 As with the shifts discussed in previous chapters, this process combined international and domestic factors. The 1980s witnessed a consolidation of the Holocaust’s centrality in Western memory culture. The post-Cold War dissemination of its memory was characterised by the coexistence of two apparently diverging processes. One was the interpretation of the Holocaust as a unique (and uniquely Jewish) event, and as a privileged vehicle for the construction of contem- porary Jewish identity. This particularist pattern was counterbalanced by the rise of the Holocaust as a moral touchstone for societies as a whole. Although exceedingly optimistic in their conclusions, Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider correctly identify in Holocaust memory a measure for universalist and humanitarian identifications in the current age, at least in the West.2 In Italy, the rise of Holocaust memory coincided with a crisis of the role of the Resistance in the foundation of the Republic, a shift marking the most relevant element of discontinuity in public memory of the war. The crisis originated by a wave of historical revisionism, or ‘anti-antifas- 1 This is how the ABC show Nightline dubbed 1993 for the United States. See Cole 2000:...

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