Three distinct motions on Holocaust Remembrance were approved by the Italian Senate last week.
“This morning, the Senate was called to vote on some motions on the implementation of more cogent and effective Remembrance policies. The majority responded positively to all three motions, which were presented by different political groups. Their focus were Italian students’ annual school trips to Holocaust sites and educational policies. It is a significant sign of the government’s future engagement, which should be picked up and which we very much appreciate at a time when hate speech and acts of hatred seem to take over in all fields and jeopardise democratic achievements and values which seemed to be well-established,” the President of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni commented.
“We hope the assumptions of these motions, i.e. the defence of historical truth and the fight against negationism in all its forms, are shared by everyone. Because of the complexity of the issues at stake, which should not be a matter of political debate, we would have appreciated if a joint motion had been put forward with a text conceived, drafted and voted unanimously,” she added.
The motions were proposed by representatives of the Northern Ligue, Brothers of Italy and the Democratic Party. Senator for life Liliana Segre did not attend the session.
“A joint motion – underlines Di Segni – would have showed unity of vision and purpose on this topic, which calls for everybody’s awareness and on which it would be desirable to work in close cooperation with the anti-hate commission established by Senator for life Liliana Segre and with the national antisemitism coordinator Professor Milena Santerini. It should also be taken into account that the Council of Ministers has adopted the working definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and by the antisemitism commission of the Ministry of Education, University and Research.”
The first motion, whose first signatory is the Northern Ligue’s leader Matteo Salvini, reads, “At a time when racial hatred, and especially antisemitism, reappears ever more frequently, it is vital that the new generations get to know the inhumane treatment suffered by a large part of the Jewish population, and more, because it is of the utmost importance not to forget and to be vigilant, in order to immediately identify and eradicate even the slightest of racist attitudes.”
The motion goes on reading, “Anyone who has visited one of the concentration camps in Europe will not be able to forget what they saw. They are intimately changed and bound to reject and condemn any racist attitude. Thus, it is crucial for schools to organise these trips to Holocaust sites and concentration camps.”
In the Northern Ligue’s motion, it is also underlined that “Although similar projects are already in place, both at regional and national level, they can only involve a very limited number of students due to limited allocation of resources every year. Providing as many students as possible with this essential growth and learning experience has become necessary to the maturation of a full awareness for the rejection of any kind of racial hatred. In this view, it is fundamental that broader funding is allocated to upper secondary schools intending to go on this kind of trips.”
The government is asked to “foster initiatives to involve the largest possible number of students, also through suitable economic support to ensure that young generations are offered the fundamental educational experience of Remembrance trips to Nazi extermination camps.”
“The portal Skuola.net – reads the second motion, whose first signatory is Forza Italia Senator Anna Maria Bernini – interviewed 3,000 students from lower and upper secondary schools and found that 37% of interviewees have no idea how Adolf Hitler died (he committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin), or even 54% of them if only lower secondary school students’ answers are considered. 33% of students do not know where Auschwitz is (50% of lower secondary school students don’t) – among the alternatives, 19% of them place it in Germany, 8% in Austria. Also, more than 20% do not know why International Holocaust Remembrance Day is celebrated on January 27th. Only 67% know that the inscription “Work sets you free” (Arbeit macht frei) was placed at the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. One in two interviewees blames it on the school in the first place – according to students, the subject is little and poorly addressed at school.” For the proponents of the motion, “schools do too little”, or “do not do enough”.
The government is asked to “take effective action to ensure that International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not forgotten, but instead continues to be vigorously celebrated through the years, and that we find new ways to communicate, in the awareness that survivors’ testimonies, accounts, documents and history are helpful sources not only for present, but also for future generations, so that no similar horror happens ever again in history.” The government is also asked to “introduce annual allocation of resources to municipalities which foster initiatives and projects for the celebration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
The third motion, whose first signatory is democratic Senator Andrea Marcucci, mentions different initiatives adopted by the government, some of them in collaboration with the institutions of Italian Judaism. Moreover, it mentions the findings of studies by Cdec Foundation and by the research institute Swg (in collaboration with Pagine Ebraiche).
Among the crucial points of the motion are the following: “In giving examples of behaviours which represent antisemitic acts, HIRA’s document makes a precise reference to many situations, among which are denial and banalization of the Holocaust. Phenomena such as antisemitic hatred and teaching about the Holocaust should be addressed in such a way that takes into account the complexity of the circumstance instead of focusing on a single initiative, important as it may be. It is crucial, and it can no longer be postponed, that revision is carried out on the legislative framework regarding negationism, apology of Fascism, the requirements and evidence for recognition of merit to the victims of prosecution by the Nazi regime, and the crimes with aggravating circumstance of racial hatred.”
The motion submitted by PD and supported by representatives of the Five Star Movement and the Mixed Group calls for the government’s commitment on 6 issues, “In supporting, also through resource allocation, the institutions and sites dedicated to Remembrance in keeping the memory alive and passing it on, in order to prevent and contrast antisemitic incidents; in fostering and promoting the digitalization of archives containing the original documents on racial laws, on discrimination and deportation and the mapping of all prison and extermination camps in Italy; in outlining and updating, in collaboration with the coordinator for the fight against antisemitism and with the scientific societies of historians, guidelines for schools of all levels and universities on contents and educational projects specifically focused on antisemitism and Holocaust Remembrance, in order to enhance degree programmes in universities and integrate civic education teaching in schools of all levels; in adopting the necessary initiatives for universities to classify the fight against antisemitism as one of the objectives of the so-called third mission, which should be implemented with a view to interdisciplinarity; in promoting initiatives related to the fight against antisemitism, in cooperation with the coordinator for the fight against antisemitism, also involving all local institutions, at regional, provincial and municipal level, so that those same initiatives become the starting point for the establishment of coordination forms which will benefit the multiplication and circulation of their contents; in keeping on promoting and supporting trips to Holocaust sites, also through resource allocation.
*Translated by Claudia Azzalini and revised by Sara Facelli, both students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University and interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities