Pilpul – Protesting

anna foaBy Anna Foa*

We’re still commemorating the anniversary of the Racial Laws of 1938. Eighty years ago, a different law targeted the Italian Jews every day, while the Fascists cheered and all the others kept quiet. As we know, the people who remained friends with the Jews were accused of do-goodism – oops, I meant pietism – and most people didn’t say anything. I wonder what would have happened if these “pietists” had opened their mouths to protest every day when someone acted in an anti-Semitic way, and obviously I’m not talking about the government anti-Semitism. I wonder if a different public opinion could have emerged and been hostile to the Racial Laws and maybe able to influence, even just a little, that terrible consensus.

Today we’re not living in a totalitarian regime and we can open our mouths and take action without being incarcerated or exiled. But up until now, few people have taken action when someone attacked a person for the color of their skin. I remember the brave lady of the Circumvesuviana railway line in Naples and the young man who reported the train conductor for being racist against the Romani people. What if all of us, everywhere, open our mouths to respond, without fear and without hate but with firmness, to every episode of this kind? Could we not possibly provoke a general reaction that washes away the racist violence like a tidal wave? And maybe if we Jews did this, we could have the right to complain and condemn the indifference of 1938. But if we remain silent, we risk loosing this right.

*Anna Foa is a historian. Translated by Sara Volpe, student at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, intern at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.