Not Nazis, But Not Perfect
Italy’s Jews suffered a more complex fate
My father—like many American Jews, an avid amateur Italophile—loves to point out that, despite being Germany’s first and arguably most important ally during World War Two, Fascist Italy did not go along with Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy, and not a single Italian Jew was shipped off to bad places until after the Germans essentially took over in 1943.
Well, sorry dad. The latter part of that is true. But a steady stream of new revelations have shown that Italy did indeed enact plenty of anti-Jewish policies. In Italy in 1938, Jewish children were forbidden from attending school; Jewish professors were banned from universities; Jewish bankers were banned from plying their trade; Jewish soldiers were banned from serving. There was much dispossession besides.
Reports the Times:
After the war, encouraged in part by Italy’s American occupiers, Italians embraced a spirit of national reconciliation that “allowed the construction of a sanitized collective memory,” said Alessandro Cassin, the publishing director of the Centro Primo Levi, a research institute in Manhattan that promotes the study of Italian Jewish history, and that organized the panel discussion.
The whitewash was possible, in part, because by comparison with the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany, the Italian government was “not as lethal,” said Guri Schwarz, an adjunct professor at the University of Pisa. It did not sanction physical abuse of Jewish citizens, did not execute anyone in the internment camps established for Jews in southern Italy, and did not begin to send Jews to Nazi concentration camps until the German occupation in 1943, he said.
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