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Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Italians more aware, but less involved”

By Daniel Reichel

Some good news. Italians are more aware of the meaning of January 27: 61 percent know what this date represents. This is the highest percentage recorded in the last ten years. However, the downside is an increase, compared to the last two years, in the number of people who say they are little or not at all involved in the initiatives promoted for Holocaust Remembrance Day (35 percent).
This is then linked to a sharp decline in the perception of the spread of antisemitism in Italy: if in 2021 55 percent considered it quite widespread, in January 2023 it fell to 42 percent. This decrease is not due to the belief that there has been an effective fight against this phenomenon – explains sociologist Riccardo Grassi, research director at the SWG Institute in Trieste – but it is to be traced “to what appears to be a widespread decrease in sensitivity to the issue”. An issue that deeply touches the work being done in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
These are some of the data emerged from the latest survey on “Italians and Remembrance Day”, now in its tenth year. The survey was carried out by SWG, one of the most important Italian research institutes, with the collaboration of the editorial staff of Pagine Ebraiche, and it is a valuable insight to understand the evolution of the perception in the country of the role of January 27, the Holocaust Remembrance in general and antisemitism. “In the last ten years the interest and attention shown by Italians to the celebration of Remembrance Day has had many ups and downs, – explained Grassi, – both in terms of knowledge and of interest and participation”. There aren’t many surveys that can “count on such a long monitoring”, added the sociologist.
“During the ten-year collaboration with Pagine Ebraiche, there have been social, cultural, geopolitical changes of extraordinary scale. Collecting data over an extended period allows us to grasp the difference between short-term variations, essentially of an emotional nature, and long-term variations, which become structural”. With regards to Holocaust Remembrance Day, an obvious example of this variation is the difference in the percentage of respondents able to correctly identify the January 27 anniversary from 2014 to date. The percentage has hovered at just over 50 percent over the years, with a peak of 61 percent reached in the last survey.

A figure, as mentioned previously, that is positive, as is the evolution over the years of the meaning that respondents attribute to the anniversary. “We have seen how, since 2014 when we began the surveys, Holocaust Remembrance Day has gone from being perceived as a ‘due’ and ‘formative’ occasion, therefore lived with great emotional detachment, to being evaluated as a ‘just’ and ‘necessary’ moment in the civil calendar”, highlighted Grassi “The latter two elements represent a much higher attribution of moral value. And, in general, we see how the recurrence is considered indispensable”. Specifically, January 27 is considered “just” by 40 percent of Italians, “formative” by 37, while it is “due” and “necessary” for 34.

Eleven percent calls it “rhetorical”, while 7 percent calls it “useless” – a small but disturbing increase from 2022, when only 5 percent of respondents called it “useless”. In addition, the survey shows that the choice of meaning appears to be strongly influenced by the political affinity of the respondents: for example, the voters of PD (the Democratic Party), support its need and formative value, while the voters of the right-wing party Lega perceive it more often as rhetorical (23%).
Moreover, an alarming number of Italians consider Holocaust Remembrance Day an anniversary that “serves no purpose”: 22 percent, over one in ten Italians.
According to Grassi, what also highlights a certain detachment from the country regarding the meaning of the Holocaust Remembrance is the antisemitic threat. “While data from the OSCAD (the Observatory for Security against Discriminatory Acts) showed the growth of hate crimes against Jews (tripled between 2015 and 2021, from 555 cases to 1445), the perception that Italians had of the phenomenon was decidedly more unstable, with a clear reduction in the last two surveys of the percentage of those who believe that the presence of an antisemitic sentiment is widespread in Italy (down 13 percentage points, from 55 to 42 percent)”.
If we look at politics, the reduction in this perception is mainly linked to a change in the attitude of the voters of the center-left parties (from 69 percent in 2022 to 56 today), the populist party Five Stars Movement (from 65 to 46) and the undecided (from 50 to 33), while the figure referring to the center-right electorate remains stable (from 38 to 36 percent). “The perception is that these widespread declines are due to the public paying less attention to the antisemitic threat”, stressed Grassi. A further consideration to be made is that this lack of attention is linked to the understanding of the meaning of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The data regarding antisemitism seems to tell us that January 27 is increasingly confined to the past, disconnected from the dangers of the present. For example, we forget that the Jewish world is still subject to discrimination and aversion. We pay no attention to the fact that some of the elements that led to persecution eighty years ago are still present in our society. They may not only concern the Jews, but they exist”, said the SWG research director. “In my opinion, and the trend of our survey shows it, it’s important to work on the narrative around the Holocaust Remembrance before risking that the 27th becomes a moment frayed by the present, almost a folkloric date”.
According to the survey, on average in the last decade just over 60 percent of respondents believed that Italians were little involved in the anniversary, and just under 40 percent admitted little personal interest. These data are confirmed in the 2023 survey, with the trend showing an increase in disinterest, especially at a more collective level. This serves as further proof of the need to find new narratives, added the sociologist.

From the top, the majority of Italians consider Holocaust Remembrance Day useful and formative, but over one in ten think it “serves no purpose” or it concerns only the Jews (orange and blue line at the bottom of the graphic); 61% know what January 27 represents; 11 percent of Italians call it “rhetorical”, while 7 percent calls it “useless” ; although data show the growth of hate crimes against Jews, the percentage of those who believe that antisemitic sentiment is widespread in Italy decreases to 42 per cent.

Translation by Alice Pugliese, revised by Annadora Zuanel, students at the Secondary School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.