moked/מוקד

il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

Ticketless – Hear, O world!

Alberto Cavaglion*
The debate on the uniqueness of the Holocaust has been repeatedly a burning issue and still is today. I have followed the various discussions on this portal over the last week with great interest but also with a touch of weariness. I have found them outdated. I fear that the issue of remembrance and of the policies required to preserve it has been put in the wrong way in Italy, from the very beginning. A naïve, hardly critical memory, leaning towards deeming unspeakable things and crimes committed in different settings as similar, has long prevailed. There is such naiveness in the challenging comparison between the victims of the camps and those of the gulags and foibas, but illustrious victims have also been claimed by the naïve memory of the people looking for a common denominator on a smaller scale. For example, the naïve memory can be seen operating in classifying under the label ‘bad Italian’ the behaviour of the Nazi-fascists towards Jews and the violent acts committed against brigands after the Italian unification or gas bombs used against Ethiopians by Rodolfo Graziani. I feel the same anxiety today when I think about the straightforward comparison that people draw always more insistently with the immigration emergency and the debate over the right of asylum. Human history is littered with appalling facts, and putting all our eggs in one basket does not benefit anyone. Most importantly, it does not help us determine whether an incident in particular is part of simple contingency, whether it is attributable to a state of necessity, a civil war, a colonial war, an economic crisis or whether it is consistent with a power system built upon violence as its first weapon. Such matters must not be placed on the same footing.
In the light of this, we are faced with the other side of the coin, which should not be confused with the former, though related. What role should we play as descendants of Holocaust victims in today’s society? I think it is our duty to exercise, educate in that critical memory, as well as making it available to all, sharing it, not making it the object of hostilities, but rather of concrete discussions, practical proposals. We should take some steps forward in relation with a debate running the risk of repeating what has already been said. For instance, I know there are volunteer groups in Bologna which rightly assist migrants not only in their everyday life, but also teach them the Italian language and history, so why not dealing with the tragedy that took place between the years 1938-43. These pioneering initiatives should be promoted. They would bring us closer to a balance lying in the legitimacy of historical comparisons built on both similarities and differences. The legacy that the Shoah has delivered us could be summed up with this tiresome exercise of sophisticated and critical memory. The effortless historical comparisons are now facing the risk of becoming traps for remembrance, but to think of the Shoah in such a purely self-referential manner is a greater danger. Jean Améry and Primo Levi shared the idea that all particularistic orientations must be rejected; the prayer “Hear, O Israel” was not addressed to either of the two camp survivors. They only felt the need to cry out the admonition “Hear, O World” “with passionate wrath”.

*Historian

Translated by Mattia Stefani, student at the Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreting and Translation of Trieste University and intern at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.