Italians and Holocaust Remembrance Day, the pandemic is burdening memory

Holocaust Remembrance Day has become an event renown to a large number of Italians. An important achievement of values that, however, cannot be taken for granted or considered fully acquired. But there is the risk, if memory is not consolidated, that the attention to the event itself and to all the related subject matters could decrease even conspicuously, progressively abandoning “the mind and the hearts”, as sociologist Riccardo Grassi would say. This is what emerges from the ninth survey on “Italians and Holocaust Remembrance Day” carried out by the research institute SWG in collaboration with Pagine Ebraiche. A diachronic photograph taken over time, capturing the development of this awareness from 2014 until today.
“The pandemic has affected most aspects of our daily life in the last two years. What emerges, regarding Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a slight decline in both the spontaneous memory and the proper recognition of this event” highlighted Grassi, explaining the results of the survey in a debate between the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities’ editorial team and its lead editor Guido Vitale participated also by UCEI President Noemi di Segni and Betti Guetta, sociologist of the Observatory of Antisemitism of the Centre of Contemporary Jewish Documentation. “Therefore, the pandemic, like a big black hole, may overshadow all the other subjects, including the memory of the Holocaust”.
The survey confirms that the number of people that are capable of recognizing “January 27th as Holocaust Remembrance Day” is significantly declining. The percentage goes indeed from 55,6% in 2021 to 52,3% registered this year. Even more unsettling is the decrease in the number of correct answers in a multiple-choice questionnaire. In this case, it drops, in just twelve months, from 57,9% to 49,5% of the total. On the other hand, the personal data on the involvement remained stable, affecting two thirds of the interviewees (67%). Likewise, “the perception that, beyond the personal situation, Italians are not very involved” remains predominant, points out Grassi and this is shown by 58% of the interviewees.
A notable growth in those who believe that Holocaust Remembrance Day must be celebrated, confirms a trend already registered in 2020 and 2021. This is, compared to the past, a sign of a change in the meaning of this day and an updating of its content”. Holocaust Remembrance Day is considered “right” by 39% of Italians, “educational” by 37% and “necessary” by 33%. 10% describes it as “rhetorical”, while 5% as “useless”. One of the most alarming figures: for 23% of the interviewees Holocaust Remembrance Day “is no longer of any use”.
One of the analysed elements is the political leanings of the interviewees. As much as the prevalent perception among the voters of the right-wing political parties Lega and Brothers of Italy is that “it is right to remember this anniversary”, the percentage of those who attribute a rhetorical value to it is very high. Nevertheless, “the percentage of those who believe that antisemitism is widespread in Italy is also increasing within this electorate, even though a gap between such political groups and the others is still remarkable”.
On the other hand, among the voters of the syncretic political party 5 Stars Movement, a large majority perceives it as a due and right deed, while a particularly low percentage considers it as necessary and educational. Among the Democratic Party, one out of two attributes “a necessary meaning to this Day primarily, and a due and right meaning secondarily. The politically undecided interviewees seem to have less clear ideas. Perhaps, a sign of “a general lack of interest in these themes”.
All these numbers together make up a precious support for elaborating interventions and wide-ranging strategies. According to President Di Segni, in view of all the obstacles, this is a necessary effort to create a conscious Memory. The confusion among the public opinion may be also caused by the insidious attempt to compare different events and “Memories” together. “I believe it is important to understand as much as possible if this is the result of a ‘benevolent’ ignorance or if there is more behind, in order to know how and in which direction to work”. According to Betti Guetta, the most difficult aspect is “the increase in meaningless conspiracy theories”.
The last annual report of the Observatory of Antisemitism, now online, points out the same. The universe of antisemitic hatred, in its numerous variations and shades, appears to be ” a complex and ambivalent world and, unfortunately, also a dangerous one, as never seen before”.
The lead editor Guido Vitale is grateful for this productive collaboration and for “the stability of this initiative that, thanks to its nature, allows us to efficiently measure the variations every year”.

Above, the cover of the survey “Italians and Holocaust Remembrance Day” realized by the research institute SWG in collaboration with Pagine Ebraiche.

Translated by Alice Pugliese and revised by Gianluca Pace, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste and interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.