Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Robert Gordon's "The Holocaust in Italian Culture, 1944-2010"

Robert S. C. Gordon is Professor of Modern Italian Culture at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College. He is the author of Primo Levi's Ordinary Virtues (2001) and 'Outrageous Fortune': Luck and the Holocaust (2010).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Holocaust in Italian Culture, 1944-2010, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Holocaust in Italian Culture, 1944-2010 finds us in Rome, in a series of courtrooms and prisons. The book as a whole explores the remarkable and troubled field of responses to the Holocaust in post-war Italy, as the country struggled to come to terms with its ambiguous status as both prime historical ally and victim of Nazi genocide and brutal violence. I argue that these responses are best understood by drawing an elaborate cultural map of the field, showing how specific moments, events, voices, artistic forms and places permitted Italians collectively to give shape and sense to the Holocaust; and also, crucially, to gloss over and veil certain aspects of their involvement in it.

Page 99 comes from a chapter on Rome: ever at the heart of Italy's history and identity, Rome was the stage for a series of appalling and unnerving events under Nazi occupation, events that were to resonate throughout the post-war era, amplified by Italy's shaky sense of nationhood, by the proximity and power of the Catholic Church, by the small but valiant anti-Fascist Resistance, and by the presence of Rome's ancient and beleaguered Jewish community. Between 1943 and 1944, the Nazis demanded of that Jewish community an absurd tribute of 50 kilograms of gold; they rounded up and deported to Auschwitz over 1000 Roman Jews; they massacred over 300 Romans (including 75 Jews) in the most murderous 10-to-1 reprisal of the war in Italy, shooting them in the back of the head at the catacombs at the Ardeatine Caves. After the war, trials of sorts were held, of Nazis and Roman police officials responsible for these hideous acts, but the trials came in what I describe as 'an uneven patchwork', incomplete and compromised, occasionally both violent and corrupt. The courtroom could not quite perform the necessary cultural work of processing this history of war, Fascism, occupation, and genocide. This was what I call on p.99, citing historian Michele Battini, 'Italy's missing Nuremberg'.

The rest of the chapter, and the rest of the book, work to suggest how the gaps and inadequacies, the patchwork of the courtroom history, when set alongside a mosaic of other cultural moments and processes, build a picture of how this very worst of modern atrocities became part and parcel of Italy's own modern history.
Read an excerpt from The Holocaust in Italian Culture, 1944-2010, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue