Fig. 1: Homepage of the Virtual Museum of Intolerances and Exterminations, http://www.akra.it/amis/english/index.html
Fig. 2: The ‘historical trails’ of the Virtual Museum of Intolerances and Exterminations. http://www.akra.it/amis/english/ricerche_en.html
Fig. 3: A plaque dedicated to Rom and Sinti who died during the Holocaust, located in Via degli Zingari, Rome. Author’s photograph.
“La nostra fratellanza nel dolore”: the Jewish Community of Rome and the ‘Other’ Genocides
by Luca Peretti
This paper investigates how, if, and to what extent the Jewish Community of Rome interacts with the commemoration of other acts of genocide, mass killing, and ethnic cleansing. I focus mostly on the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, and the Nazi extermination of Romani people, and I analyze how the Jewish community has been in dialogue with these communities and their memory practices. As an introduction, I discuss the little-known story of the unmade Museo delle Intolleranze e degli Stermini [Museum of Intolerances and Exterminations], which was planned in the late 1990s to be built in the capital city of Italy. In the conclusion, I highlight how we can speak of a ‘kaleidoscopic’ memorial world of the Jewish community of Rome that includes several different acts of commemoration and memory practices.
The Unmade (or Virtual) Museum
The CER and the Commemoration of “Other” Genocides
During the 1990s and more extensively in the 2000s Italy witnessed an ever-increasing presence of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration in politics, arts, and culture at large. The Jewish genocide now firmly occupies a place in the fabric of the memory of the nation – a place that is, however, neither uncontested nor pacified. This process of establishment of the genocide as part of the national memory was accompanied by the reinforcement of the idea of the Shoah as a paradigm, as the lens thorough which other genocides and massacres can, and perhaps should, be considered. The city of Rome plays a major part in these processes; and in a sense, we could say that, for several reasons, it lies at the center of them: first, because it is the place where the most symbolic and important event of the Italian Shoah took place – the raid and round-up in the former Jewish ghetto of Rome and in the rest of the city which took place on 16 October 19431 – and the commemorations of this event have occupied a highly significant place in the landscape of memory; then, because Rome is the largest city of Italy and its capital; and finally, and possibly most importantly, because Rome has the largest and most active Jewish community of Italy. The peculiar relation of Rome with the Holocaust, and particularly with Holocaust remembrance, has brought Robert S. C. Gordon to note how “in ways both historic and symbolic, Rome has returned again and again as a (perhaps the) prime site of Holocaust stories and images in post-war Italy.”2
There is also another process, however, of memorialization of violence taking place in Italy as elsewhere over this period, one perhaps less mediatized and widely known, but nonetheless present: that is, the increased attention to other genocides and mass killings (mostly modern ones), from other exterminations perpetrated by the Nazis during the Second World War (most notably that of the Romani people) to more recent ones (such as the Rwandan genocide) or to older but still modern instances, such as the Armenian genocide.3 These other memorializations have regularly interacted with and intersected the activities of Holocaust remembrance in Rome, including particularly the activities of the organized Comunità Ebraica di Roma [Jewish Community of Rome, henceforth, CER], which is frequently integrated through its institutional representatives and (semi-)official publications with the memory and awareness of other acts of genocide, mass killing, and ethnic cleansing.4 The CER is by far the largest Italian Jewish community, and it is also one that, especially in the last few years, has enjoyed extensive media attention and often seems to be considered as representing Italian Jews as a whole, and not just one, albeit large, component of the Italian community.5 Its former president, Riccardo Pacifici, enjoyed a particular status and authority: despite being the president of the CER and not of the national body, the Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane [Union of Italian Jewish Communities, henceforth UCEI], he enjoyed high and increasing media attention, becoming a sort of unofficial media spokesperson for Italian Jews.6 But there are other reasons why it is significant to focus on Rome and on the CER, the most significant of which is the fact that Rome as capital and as a city of multiple, global interactions is a site of plural communities of memory where we find the representatives of a number of other communities and different entities with which Italian Jews are (or could be) in dialogue.
As a starting date, I have chosen 2001, the first year of the official Italian national Memorial Day of the Holocaust, the Giorno della memoria [Day of Memory], which takes place on 27 January, subsequently designated at the UN as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.7 The establishment of this Giorno had three consequences that speak to the topic of this paper. 8 First and most obviously, it inserted an official date of remembrance of the Shoah into the Italian civic calendar, something that created the opportunity and indeed the official obligation to organize events that included, in some cases, also the commemoration of ‘other’ genocides - genocides which, even though they did not take place on Italian soil nor were caused by Italians, are nonetheless occasionally commemorated in Italy and by Italian institutions as well, in a European and global framework of shared memorialization. However, as we will see, this inclusion has also created some tensions, as these other genocides are not included in the official definition of the law that established the Day of Memory, which limits its focus to the Jewish genocide.9 Further, the establishment of this Giorno triggered the creation of other commemoratory dates.10 There is thus a double aspect to the question: the commemoration of non-Jewish genocides and massacres has been incorporated into this national day of remembrance, and the CER has participated in the memorialization of these other genocides.11 I begin with a brief investigation of the little-known story of the unmade Museo delle Intolleranze e degli Stermini [Museum of Intolerances and Exterminations, henceforth MIS] in Rome, a museum that was intended to represent a kaleidoscope of different memories and genocides. I focus subsequently on public and official interventions and statements by the leaders of the CER at commemorations, presentations of books, inaugurations, and similar events, and the direct involvement of the CER in the creation of memorials in so far as they bring into often complex contact the Jewish memory of the Jewish genocide and other communities of memory.
The scope and focus of what follows, based as it is on a selection of recent case studies, has shaped its use of local and at times ephemeral sources, including a variety of articles from web-journals and websites, videos, and other content available only online. Despite their limitations, these sources are the most suitable and the most eloquent evidence available for the analysis of the evolution of the CER’s attitude toward and actions in regard of other genocides in recent years.
At the end of the 1990s a group of scholars introduced the idea of a Museo delle Intolleranze e degli Stermini, a proposal for a museum that was planned to have been built in Rome for the year 2000.12 The year was of course symbolic, as it marked the beginning of the new millennium, but was also the year of the most significant Catholic Jubilee of the modern era, which took place in the Vatican and across the Italian capital and was accompanied by urban renovations and constructions of new buildings. On the Advisory Board of the museum we find major scholars in the field of contemporary history, who in a sense legitimated the project with their presence: among others, Claudio Pavone, the historian and former partisan and author of one of the most important books on the Resistance,13 the genocide scholar and historian Marcello Flores, and the historian of Italian colonialism Alessandro Triulzi. The coordinator of the project was Annabella Gioia, director of the Istituto Romano per la Storia d’Italia dal Fascismo alla Resistenza [Roman Institute for the History of Italy from Fascism to the Resistance].
The name of the planned museum is striking in itself: it makes use of charged plural words, such as ‘intolerances’ [intolleranze] and ‘exterminations’ [stermini], which immediately imply a broader scope than the already dominant central genocide of the 20th century, the Nazi Final Solution, and not a focus on any specific topic or genocide. It implies and includes the Enlightenment idea of tolerance, although in its negative iteration, unlike for example the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) of Los Angeles that opened in 1993.14 Furthermore, ‘stermini’ is a much broader concept than ‘Holocaust’ (albeit more restrictive than ‘genocide’): as a term, it is inclusive rather than exclusive, chosen for its capacity of potentially fostering dialogue among different communities and constituencies that have experienced mass killings and violence of different types, including colonial and racial violence – a very important inclusion for a country like Italy which had and indeed has yet to fully acknowledged its colonial past.15 This suggest that MIS would have been a museum like no other in Italy. The goals of the museum in this respect are clearly delineated by Annabella Gioia, one of its creators, who wrote that the museum would:
“document racism, fundamentalism, and massacres which marked the path of history... with the intent of identifying the cultural roots, the social mechanisms and the situations which attracted and favored racism and intolerance. Understanding these phenomena should push the visitor to continually interrogate him/herself on his/her past and identity... Our final goal is to contrast a historical path which still today is threatened by new intolerances and new abuses, from which no-one can feel exempt a priori.”16
MIS was intended as a museum with a strong pedagogical purpose, one that promoted understanding of history and the study of history as a means to a better understanding of the present. Luca Zevi, one of the creators of MIS and the architect of the monument commemorating the San Lorenzo bombings of 1943,17 spoke of two approaches that the museum aimed to employ: “1) an analytical approach focused on retracing facts according to a geographical and temporal sequence, 2) a kind of intertextual approach, which would enable the visitor to find common matrices in episodes even if they took place far apart in time and space.”18
Together with Giorgio Tamburini, Zevi went on to become the architect of the Museo della Shoah [Museum of the Shoah, henceforth MS], planned since the early 2000s and soon to be opened in Rome. The MS can be seen as a ‘foil’ to this failed project of the end of the 1990s. If the MIS was intended to be “a museum which is not born in place of memory and that consequently does not have an evocative and emotive value; its specificity is the central role of history,”19 the MS will be built – or rather it is intended to be built – in the former residence of Benito Mussolini in Rome, Villa Torlonia, which is also the location of one of the two Jewish catacombs of Rome: that is, a highly charged place, where the relationship between the fabric of memory of the space and the museum is extremely strong.20 The dynamic between MS and MIS could have resembled the dynamic between the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum of Washington, which were built in exactly the same year, 1993.21 The Museum of Tolerance, while also maintaining a Jewish focus (it is, after all, associated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center), is much more inclusive in its historical range and has a similar scope to the MIS. The MIS has now a virtual and online existence [Figg. 1 and 2]. By looking at the ‘historical trails’ around which it is organized we can grasp how its scope is much wider than a museum focused only on the Holocaust. These trails are state as: Italian colonialism, East Germany, the genocide of the Rom and the persecution of homosexuals under Nazism, the Armenian genocide, eugenics, and the forced displacement of populations.22 The project is ongoing, at least in its online version; as the curators write on the website, “the seven pieces of research that constitute the section “Historical trails” have been chosen to give preference to the “places of oblivion,” issues rarely investigated and at times repressed. This selection criterion can explain the absence, in this first phase, of a theme such as the Shoah, the central “event” of the twentieth century, and the inclusion of the persecution of the Rom and homosexuals.”23
It is essential to note that two other Holocaust museums are being built in Italy, the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah in Ferrara and the Memorial of the Shoah (Platform 21) in Milan train station, although the latter is more an extended memorial site than a fully-fledged museum.24 In an article for the online magazine Gli Stati Generali, Guri Schwarz has highlighted how ‘Italy does not have yet a Museum of the Shoah, but as many as three are being planned/built’ and how all three have at some point received not just approval from public institutions, including through Acts of Parliament, but also substantial public funding.25 All three were proposed in the early 2000s, in the wake of the establishment of the Giorno della memoria.26
What would have been the place and impact of the MIS, planned before any of these three projects, in this picture? While we can only speculate on this question, it is useful to note that the MIS project did indeed leave some traces: this includes not only a series of conferences, scholarly discussions and events which took place between 1997 and 2000,27 but also in the shape of the above-mentioned virtual museum. It seems that the CER was never officially involved in the project as an institution, even though several members and leaders of the community participated. In its current form (i.e. the website/online museum), the MIS is sponsored by the Lazio Region in collaboration with the municipality of Rome and is hosted in the web domain of the Istituto piemontese per la storia della Resistenza e della società contemporanea [Piedmont Institute for the History of Resistance and Contemporary Society]. As Gordon noted, “Zevi argued that Rome’s Jewish community, because of its particular history, was ideally placed to co-sponsor such a distinctively broad conception of a memorial museum; but [Zevi’s] project [MIS] was reined in and turned towards a more conventional Holocaust-centered plan [MS].”28 Conversely, the CER played and continues to play an active and ongoing role in the planning of the MS and in the Foundation that has been working toward the its construction and completion.29
Among scholars, activists and institutions, there is no general agreement on precisely what a genocide is, and, consequently, which genocides should be included in a hypothetical comprehensive list of genocides.30 It is fair to say that in recent times the CER has participated in the practice of memorialization of at least the Armenian genocide, of the Nazi extermination of the Romani genocides and of the Rwandan genocide, above and beyond the Holocaust of the Jews, with different levels of involvement and different interests. In the remainder of this paper, I will analyze the involvement of the CER in recents commemorations of these three genocides.
In April 2015, the centenary anniversary of the Armenian genocide was commemorated in Italy as elsewhere, providing the occasion for widespread critical attention and remembrance from different institutions, including those that had previously not paid extensive attention to this historical episode. This anniversary coincided with the centenary of Italy’s entry into the First World War, which was also an occasion for renewed attention to those years. Furthermore, the anniversary took place during a time of increased ethnic and political tension within Turkey, successor to the Ottoman Empire where during the First World War approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed. These tensions developed later in 2015 into a series of politically and religiously motivated massacres in Turkey, leading to the Turkish government’s violent repressions of Kurds and leftist political forces.31
In April 2015, a number of important initiatives took place worldwide to commemorate the Armenian genocide (a label that to this day Turkey, together with a number of other countries, still refuses to accept). Among many others, two important but very different institutions – the European Parliament and the Pope – spoke openly and strongly about the genocide. As The New York Times reported, ‘Pope Francis called the massacres “the first genocide of the 20th century” and equated them to mass killings by the Nazis and Soviets. The European Parliament, which first recognized the genocide in 1987, passed a resolution [in April 2015] calling on Turkey to “come to terms with its past’.”32 The commemorations in 2015 also included symbolic acts such as turning off the lights of the Coliseum and the Eiffel Tower,33 or the first ever concert of the Armenian-American band System of a Down, in Yerevan.34
The president of the CER at the time, Riccardo Pacifici, joined in the commemoration, also speaking openly about and linking together genocides: ‘Unfortunately the Armenian genocide took place in the face of the indifference of the people [popoli, plural, in Italian], allowing for other tyrannical minds to conceive other genocides. The Shoah... found its space in that indifference. Unfortunately, today the free world is still unable to fully express a decisive reaction against similar phenomena.’35 Two key features emerge strongly from this statement. First, the link between the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide is not incidental, for Pacifici, but actually causal: the indifference that met and continued to meet the Armenian genocide fed the indifference in the face of the Holocaust. Secondly, Pacifici highlights the continuing danger of genocide and acknowledges that these are not closed pages in history: implicit in this is the suggestion that we can learn how to prevent new massacres by reflecting on these two genocides.
The strong link between the two events was also present in the commemoration which took place a year before, in April 2014, when for the first time ever the Armenian Ambassador in Italy, Sargis Ghazaryan, talked about the genocide in an Italian school: this happened, not coincidentally, at the Jewish school of Rome. As the magazine Roma Ebraica [Jewish Rome] reported, ‘In the building situated at Portico d’Ottavia, where the Roman Jews were gathered to be deported to Nazi concentration and extermination camps, students listened to the history of another massacre, that of the Armenian population, which took place at the beginning of 20th century.”36 This was also the first time that the CER and the Embassy of Armenia in Italy had collaborated. On the occasion Pacifici commented that, “as a Jewish Community we also need to be vessels of the memory of the Armenian genocide and I hope this will set an example for others.” Ghazaryan insisted,” today we are proving our universality – not against someone but against any form of relativism and historical revisionism, as well as any form of negationism. I know I am touching some sensible chords [nervi] in this community ... but these are also ours. We, who are heirs of the survivors, have a message to bear.”37 For Pacifici, there is a further link between the two genocides, relating to what the Turkish people can learn from the process of repentance and overcoming of the past by the German people and their renewed relationship with the Jewish people:
“We would like to imagine that this 100-year anniversary could open the way to reconciliation between the Armenian and the Turkish people. Today in Germany on January 27, the Day of Repentance [Giornata del Pentimento38] is celebrated. We hope that this model of collective and institutional consciousness can be adopted by Turkish society and its leaders, within a spirit of reconciliation that could open way to integration in the European Union, an institution that rejects all xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic sentiment. ”39
The reference to the European Union is a pivotal one, as it highlights how the wider geopolitical context and the transnational nature of memory cultures in contemporary Europe have influenced the decision-making at a local, micro-level in the contact between the CER and representatives of Armenian communities in Rome. This is true of course for Israel as well, a state with which, for obvious reasons, the CER has very strong ties. Since diplomatic relationships between Israel and Turkey have been notably turbulent in recent years, this could have facilitated the strengthened relationship between the CER and Armenian institutions in Rome. Israel is present as well, in different forms, in the practices of memorialization that take place outside of its borders. For example, the CER asked the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael [KKL, the Jewish National Fund] to plant trees in Israel in order to commemorate the Armenian victims of genocide.40 Nonetheless, it is worth nothing that despite some steps in the last year in this direction, Israel still does not recognize officially the events of 1915 as genocide.41
To conclude, the relationship between the CER and the Armenian representatives in Italy is clearly one of friendship and mutual respect. Not only did the CER participate in the commemoration of the Armenian genocide, but the Armenian ambassador also commemorated the Italian Shoah. On 15 October 2015, the day before the commemoration of the deportation of the Jews of Rome, Ambassador Ghazaryan spoke at a presentation of a book on the German soldier and witness of the Armenian genocide Armin Wegner, highlighting how: “[o]ur responsibility as Armenians and Jews who survived the genocides is to fill the void of indifference. Unfortunately, crimes against humanity are not relegated to the history books, but still belong to current events.” Furthermore, he stressed the importance of commemorating the genocides together, Armenians and Jews.42
This increasing attention paid to the genocide of the Armenians reflects how the two genocides, Armenian and the Shoah, are also seen together in Holocaust studies institutions and educational entities. Ian Hancock discusses this in a provocative article, where he uses the Armenian genocide as a foil and contrast to the Romani exterminations:
“…the Facing History and Ourselves organization’s Holocaust Resource Book lists just five pages in the index for ‘Sinti and Roma,’ but eighteen under ‘Armenians’— who weren’t victims of the Holocaust... The 2005 annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust included nothing in its program on Romanies, though it does have a special session commemorating the Armenian Genocide. There is Armenian representation on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council too, but no Romani member.43 There was the Final Solution of the Gypsy Question – but there was no Final Solution of the Armenian Question. Does it take money to face real history?”44
Nonetheless, in Rome, the extermination of the Romani people has been in these past years a topic of remembrance, with the support also of the CER. It is probably fair to say that, in the case of Rome, Adam Jones’s remarks in his Genocide. A Comprehensive Introduction are more appropriate than Hancock’s polemic: “Perhaps more than any other group, the Nazi genocide against Romani peoples parallels the attempted extermination of European Jews.”45 The CER has in fact participated in several commemorative events honouring the Porrajmos.46
But we must first backtrack and discuss the history of the Porrajmos and how it has been acknowledged (or not) in Italy. If in many cases the idea of an Italian Holocaust is still not completely established and often scholars have to explain how the Italian Jews were also affected by the Nazi exterminations,47 conducted with the active cooperation of Italian Fascists, this is even truer for Romani people in Italy. Only recently has the Romani genocide started being a topic for serious academic research in Italy, as well as the subject of a recently established virtual museum48 and a series of publications49 providing useful context and information. At the conclusion of their book Il porrajmos in Italia, Luca Bravi and Matteo Bassoli write: “It is possible to assert that the Porrajmos in Italy existed and had a national character.”50 In Rome there is a Romani community (or, rather, communities) of about 10,000 people,51 largely scattered among camps, both legal and illegal.52 These camps, in Rome and elsewhere in Italy, are often treated and described as ghettos,53 drawing a link—whether voluntary or involuntary—between old forms of social exclusion that plagued Jews for centuries, and the current situation of Rom and Sinti peoples in the Italian peninsula in general and, in particular, in the city of Rome.
Although the Porrajmos has a separate dedicated date of commemoration (2 August),54 it is often remembered together with the Jewish genocide, on the occasion of the Giorno della memoria and other commemorative events. In Rome, a torchlight procession has taken place every year since 2001, ending at the plaque in Via degli Zingari dedicated to the Rom and Sinti victims who died during the Holocaust (see Fig. 3).55 This torchlight procession commemorates the ‘stermini dimenticati’ [forgotten exterminations].56 The march is promoted by a number of different associations, and it has been attended by delegates of the CER, such as Claudio Procaccia in 2015 or Massimo Misano in 2007.57 In 2006, the then president of the CER, Leone Paserman, sent his greetings to the people marching and to the organizers: “We Jews cannot forget our brotherhood in pain [la nostra fratellanza nel dolore] because we shared the same pain in Auschwitz ... I speak for the entire Jewish Community when I say that I am close to you and hope that many citizens participate in your initiative, so that the memory of all those who have been exterminated be kept alive and, moreover, help us build a more just and more humane world.”58
This participation in the commemoration of the Romani genocide is part of a larger effort to build a monument to commemorate other Nazi exterminations in the city of Rome, as reported by Redattore Sociale:
In 2013 a deliberation approved by the Assemblea capitolina [the Rome municipal council] ... gave some hope for the realization of a monument which would commemorate all the victims of Nazifascism who are orphans of memory – as the organizers of the meeting declared – that is, homosexuals, transsexuals, disabled people, Roma and Sinti.59
The CER is involved at different levels in this project, one that include not only the planning of a monument but also projects for pedagogical work in schools and with young people. In the words of the organizers, “in 2009 three associations ... presented to the department of educational policies of the municipality of Rome, together with the CER and ANPI [the National Association of Italian Partisans], a project for Roman schools, which would include the production of a film and a book. The project was then revitalized in October 2013.”60 The project was subsequently restructured and integrated with a larger European project entitled “MEMOIR - Forgotten Massacres. Memories And Remembrance of the Roma, Homosexual And Disabled People Holocaust,” which was presented in Rome in October 2015. The CER is not one of the partners of the project, but Claudio Procaccia participated in the presentation.61
Even more important to note in this context is the involvement of the CER in the installation of the only plaque dedicated in Rome to-date to these ‘other genocides’ perpetrated by the Nazis and Fascists present in Rome, the plaque mentioned above to the Romani in Via degli Zingari.
This is a very important, if not very well known monument in Rome: it is the only one of its kind in a sea of memorial plaques;62 its creation involved the collaboration of different entities working together: the Opera Nomadi (a national Romani group), the CER, the Comune di Roma [Rome city council], together with a Roman school, the Istituto Commerciale ‘Lucio Lombardo Radice’; and it was unveiled on the occasion of the first Giorno della Memoria, in January of 2001. The place was chosen because, as the name suggests, the area had been since the 1400s a meeting place for Roma and transient people travelling to Rome.63 The proposal for the plaque was presented to the Commissione Storia e Arte [History and Art Commission] of the Rome council on 30 November 1998, that is before the approval of the Giorno della Memoria. The Commission approved the placing of the plaque on the walls of a former school64 which belongs to the city, in January 2001. The link between the persecutions of the Romani people and the Jews is here extremely clear, as the plaque declares its commemoration of “Rom, Sinti, and Travellers who died in the extermination camps together with Jews.” The plaque also offers a warning, “… so that this history should never happen again,” and evokes a universalistic and humanitarian principle, “for brotherhood among all the peoples.”65 The way it interacts with the immediate neighborhood is also interesting: much like the former Jewish Ghetto of Rome (which was once a working-class neighborhood and is now a hip, gentrified location), the Monti neighborhood, where Via degli Zingari is located, is undergoing a similar transformation. Curiously, there is no mention of the plaque in the unofficial monthly magazine of the CER, Shalom, which in February 2001 dedicated many pages to the commemoration of the Giorno della memoria.66
Before moving to a conclusion, I turn finally to highlight the CER’s participation in events regarding the commemoration of another event of mass extermination, the Rwandan genocide. The comparison of the Holocaust to Rwanda is far from unique to Rome or Italy. In November 2014, for example, an important conference was organized by Yair Auron (who has worked on Israel and ‘other’ genocides) at the Open University of Israel. Gabriele Nissim, Italian historian author of several books on the ‘Righteous among the Nations,’ was present at the event and he wrote that the conference aimed “not only to compare the two genocide cases [Rwandan and Shoah], but to launch a true debate about the distortions of memory that happen in Israel. While opening the proceedings, [Auron] immediately expressed his sense of emotion: “It’s the first time in seventy years that we in Israel discuss the other genocide cases and look at the Holocaust through different eyes.”67 The event was attended, among others, by the survivor of the Rwandan genocide and writer Yolande Mukagasana,68 who in 2008 also participated in a roundtable discussion hosted at the Jewish school of Rome.69 The CER hosted and organized this event on the occasion of the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, which takes place on 7 April.70 As this demonstrates, the CER has been interested in the commemoration of the Rwandan genocide for several years: we can add that in April 2010 the CER participated in a similar event, organized this time at the Teatro Piccolo Eliseo in Rome,71 and that in November 2015, the CER president Ruth Dureghello talked at the presentation of the recently formed association Ibuka Italia – Memoria e Giustizia – an umbrella organization for the remembrance and commemoration of the victims in Rwanda, which took place at the Italian Parliament.72
In an article of April 2014, Piero Di Nepi remembers the event that took place in 2008 at the Jewish school: Di Nepi puts the Nazi Holocaust in relation to the Rwandan genocide (the subtitle begins significantly, ‘As in the Nazi genocide, the Hutu genocide...’) but also highlights the risk of focusing only on the Shoah: “We should stop being, in reality, Eurocentric: these are names [those of the Rwandan victims] which are worth as much as those we carry with us and list every 27 January.” 73 He also discusses the Rwandan genocide as a post-colonial and neo-colonial one, echoing Michael Rothberg’s important work on the ‘multidirectional’ links between Holocaust memory and the post-colonial era.74
The events and acts of commemoration analyzed in this paper undoubtedly represent a partial list, but they nevertheless give an idea of the involvement of the CER in memorial practices which go beyond the remembrance of the Shoah, of the intersection of Jewish memorialization with the acknowledgement and shared memory of other genocides. Whether or not these interactions are qualitatively and quantitatively ‘enough,’ they exist, and they generate a number of different questions, such as the complex question of the internal and analytical understanding of an idea of common grief (the fratellanza nel dolore, to use Paserman’s words); the idea of the Jewish Holocaust as a paradigm for reading and responding to other forms of genocidal violence; the ambivalences and strengths of the attempt to join forces with other victims in order to prevent future massacres and to focus attention on present ones. These in turn raise further questions: what is to be included in acts of memorialization? What is considered worthy of being remembered, and according to which principles? The answers to these questions from the specific perspective of Rome and its Jewish Community lie in the political-cultural choices of the CER, but it is also important to consider how these practices in some cases may occur as the result of the strong initiative of particularly motivated individuals, organizations, or institutions (embassies, NGOs etc.), or may be influenced by international politics. The CER case study is particularly fruitful for considering these questions, precisely because of its specific positionality within the frame of Roman, Italian, and international politics and culture – and Jewish Roman, Jewish Italian, and Jewish culture. The CER case could be compared with the practices of memory of other Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere, particularly in largely multi-ethnic cities and countries with large Jewish communities, such as the Unites States or Argentina and Brazil – let alone Israel, which presents a completely different set of questions. Comparable studies may be carried out for cities like London and Paris, which have large Jewish communities and which host also an array of different communities and ethnic groups.
I want finally to conclude by noting how these practices are also part of a complex contemporary Italian politics of memory in which the CER is deeply involved. Such practices are far from being peacefully accepted and normalized – on the contrary, in recent years they have sparked conflict, which has sometimes even been violent in nature. Such is the case, for example, of the participation in marches for the anniversary of the Liberation of Italy on 25 April,75 which involved disputes with pro-Palestinian militants, or other occasional confrontations with militants that exploded into fights and brawls.76 The CER also celebrates other events that have affected the Italian nation as a whole: for example, in 2014 the Jewish Museum of Rome organized an exhibition on the participation of Jewish soldiers in the First World War.77 The CER also regularly expresses its position on contemporary matters, often through the presence of large banners on the Rome Synagogue or in other areas of the former Jewish Ghetto area of the city: in some cases these are hung by non-official or semi-official entities, such as the young people of the Community, while other banners have been positioned by official entities within the Community. As an example, a tall banner dedicated to Ron Arad (an Israeli soldier missing in action since 1986) stood for some time next to another banner that advocated the liberation of two Italian marines arrested in India, thus aligning with a campaign that has been spearheaded largely by right-wing constituents in Italy. All of these commemorative practices highlight the kaleidoscopic memorial and political practices of the Jewish Community of the capital city of Italy, within which its interactions with other genocides alongside the Holocaust need to be understood.
This paper, which was written before February 2016, originated in an email chain with the editors of this issue, Robert S. C. Gordon and Emiliano Perra, whom I warmly thank, for their initial inputs and all the comments, suggestions, and endless patience which followed. I also own an acknowledgment to Karen T. Raizen, Damiano Garofalo, Adrian Renner, Massimiliano De Villa, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali (particularly Anna Maria Cerioni and Maria Vittoria Mancinelli). This paper is dedicated to the friends and former colleagues of the Fondazione Museo della Shoah, for all the labor they put into the planning of a museum that does not yet exist.
Luca Peretti received a B.A. in Modern History from the University of Rome and an M.A. in Film Studies from University College, London. He is now a PhD candidate in the Department of Italian and in Film and Media Studies at Yale University. He has published articles on cinema and terrorism, on the director Paolo Benvenuti and on Italian Jewish culture. Together with Vanessa Roghi he edited the volume Immagini di piombo. Cinema, storia e terrorismi in Europa (Milan: Postmediabooks, 2013), and worked as research assistant for a project on ‘cine-panettoni’ led by Alan O'Leary (University of Leeds). He has written essays and reviews for, among others, The Italianist: Film Issue, Cinema e Storia, and The Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies. He has worked as a journalist and held a position as archivist and researcher for the Italian Museum of the Shoah; he has organized several film festivals across Italy.
On the relationship between music and the Armenian genocide, see Jack Der-Sarkissian, “Musical Perspectives on the Armenian Genocide: From Aznavour to ‘System of a Down,’” in The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies, ed. Richard Hovannisian, (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2007), 213-225.
How to quote this article:
Luca Peretti, "“La nostra fratellanza nel dolore”: the Jewish Community of Rome and the ‘Other’ Genocides", in Holocaust Intersections in 21st-Century Europe, eds. Robert S. C. Gordon, Emiliano Perra, Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of Fondazione CDEC, n.10 December 2016