The following is the speech given by the President of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities on the occasion of the Conference ‘The Racial Laws: Before and After the Shoah: Models, Practices and Heritage’.
Dear Mr. Chairman De Bernardin, Dear Representatives and Guests, Illustrious speakers,
On behalf of the 21 Italian Jewish Communities, I would like to welcome you all to Rome and to share the honor and pleasure of hosting this first cycle of meeting of the Italian Presidency of IHRA.
80 years have elapsed since the enactment in ’38 of the racist laws against Jews in Italy.
Eighty years. What does this anniversary represents? Is it a long period or a short one? Why should we speak today about it?
After decades in which Italian Jewry was fully an integral part of civil society and legally recognized after the emancipation, a series of decrees were enacted. Perfect laws, perfectly approved by all members of Parliament introduced legal exclusion of person who felt so deeply Italian, who often did not even new they were Jewish or that being Jewish would ever make a difference. They discovered that morning that they were not Italian but were Jewish. That the word legal was different from the word Justice.
These were laws that gave formal power to the power of hatred rooted by years of antifascist and Nazi propaganda.
Eighty years after Italy, as many other countries, still needs to make a profound examination of its past, of the responsibilities of the fascist regime, of trials that have never been celebrated and the responsibilities of all the Institutions that have been involved in the enactment and enforcement of the laws. Institutions that have continued to operate also after the war that instead of protecting rights protected the race and with this legitimacy traced the route of railways and trains to deportation and extermination.
This moral but also legal exam of responsibilities, that history has only in part managed to judge, and not enough to research, is today the most important challenge that we are facing. That is the challenge that governing bodies have, both at national, European and International level have. As today we are living history again and its pages of books are guidance to the fierce ones rather that admonishment to governors. Europe is driven more and more by populist and radical parties and masses either ignore the entire story or believe that the past is a real past, and that 80years are meaningful to become past.
So in world that has radically changed and the where geopolitical, social and cultural conditions are totally different from 80 years ago – can the persecution restart? Can laws again become unfair? Can masses accept again the fairness of exclusions?
What is then the alarm signal? When should we start saying stop, and noes? No to a bds conference? No to a demonstration? No to a TV reportage based on false and partial evidences, No to a claimed freedom of press and freedom of speech? No to a proposal of law? What is the index of gravity? How do we distinguish a situation where magistrates are empowered but are irresponsibly underestimating all these signals, from a situation where magistrate do not have any legal reference to consider?
In fact, we are afraid to answer these questions because after all we are afraid to be consistent and coherent. Because masses tend to have the illusion that past is over. And if the past is here again where do we run away? Why shoud I run away?
If we want wars not be seasons then what we need today to share is the courage to answer these questions.
To call all governments and guardians of constitutional values to be coherent with their mission, be and read the signals, complete with determination the process that from protection of race would bring us to a true protection of rights.
After 80 years what we wish to hear is not only the words “we are sorry” prostrated to the Jewish people. We wish them to be mindful of their (our) democratic identity, to protect the Italians and the European citizens from the devastating power of any hatred and legalization of exclusion, to act for us all in the interest of the nation. Make sure that this silence is not anticipating storm.
I cite Chanoch Levin, the Israeli Dramatis and Author: “If I do not live, nobody will live for me”.
We need to understand the 80 and liberation from the darkness of war have not generated sufficient culture of respect and pluralism, nor sufficient fortification of constitutional safeguards, but mere acquaintance with the false friends of freedom.
What we need is education that starts at year one of our children. To educate people to love and to be curious, to perceive the injustice of exclusion. To express it and not remain indifferent. To be able to distinguish truth of history from distorted information. What we need to do – together with all reasoning authorities and agencies, together at IRHA, is to close fast the gaps of legislations, provide magistrate with more tools, adopt definitions and criminal offences, correct myopia, awake all the sleeping guardian of democracy and look at our existence with courage, passing from words to acts. Make sure that what has happened 80years ago stay really as past.
I wish you all a fruitful work and meetings for the next three days and to look forward to learn about your intense and profound debates and proposals.