THE ITALIANS AND THE HOLOCAUST: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival by Susan Zuccotti

THE ITALIANS AND THE HOLOCAUST: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival

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The amnesia some European countries and leaders have toward the Holocaust stems in part from fear that national guilt would emerge from any honest confrontation. Zuccotti means to provide Italians with just such a confrontation here. Her unflinching honesty allows us to discover why, in Fascist Italy, 85 percent of Italian Jews survived the Holocaust. Using numerous personal testimonies along with narrative history, the author weaves a tale of survival without forgetting those who did not survive. There are some tentative answers to the riddle of Jewish survival, but each answer alone seems insufficient. For instance, the time of most significant danger for Italian Jews was the German occupation. This was brief and occurred very late. But the same situation was true of Hungary, where 380,000 Jews were deported in two months. The nature of Italian Jewry was more important, however. It was small and had adequate financial resources. It was fully assimilated. Italian Jews, like their Catholic countrymen, tended toward the individualistic and had a joyful contempt for rules. Italian non-Jews had rational reasons to help, too. The small number of Jews made such help a practical endeavor. The time factor put a limit on the duration such help would be needed. Such sensible reasons, however, fail to get at the unselfish, often heroic efforts by people who didn't have to help. Of course, not all Italians did so. Some were active Fascists who contributed to the death of 6,500 Italian Jews. While Italy's record was an admixture, the overwhelming evidence is that Italians were uncommonly humane. Without exaggering their effects, the author justifies her focus on the Holocaust in one country by marking off some of the unique national characteristics that defined their humanitarian reaction to the horror. Italians can face their confrontation with the past without flinching.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1987
Publisher: Basic Books