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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 Seven - Postwar Debates on the Vatican during the Holocaust 187


CHAPTER SEVEN Postwar Debates on the Vatican during the Holocaust This chapter is a diversion from the chronological order followed so far. Discussions of the role played by the Vatican during the Holocaust have a history of their own, which benefits from separate analysis. This task is facili- tated by the debates engendered by three cultural products: Rolf Hochhuth’s play Der Stellvertreter (The Deputy, 1963), and the films Rappresaglia, and Amen. (Costa-Gavras, 2002). The analysis of how these works were dis- cussed upon release offers a vantage point for understanding the shifts in Italian public debates on the delicate issue of the ‘silences of Pius XII.’ As with the rest of the book, the main focus of the chapter aims less to discuss the extensive and complex body of scholarly historical research, than to address the treatment of the subject-matter in more popular media. The rationale for this choice is that, as noted by Michele Sarfatti, in Italy more than elsewhere issues involving the Vatican automatically hold a national and political value.1 Moreover, as Anna Foa and Agostino Giovagnoli have pointed out, discussions of Pius XII’s response to the Holocaust in mainstream media are often characterised by their political use,2 and have been influenced more by shifting cultural attitudes than by archival findings.3 The debates analysed in this chapter corroborate those claims. Different political and cultural contexts did indeed result in remarkably different approaches to the theme. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the Holocaust was not yet a...

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