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Articles by: Marina Melchionda

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Vino 2010. Sipping the Italian Nectar of the Gods in NYC

    The number one event dedicated to Italian wine outside of Italy; 400 Italian producers; more than 50 distributors; 4 Italian regions participating (Apulia, Calabria, Tuscany, and Veneto); 3,000 wine buyers, marketers, sellers, journalists and educators; 120 never-before imported wines; 3 days of seminars, conferences, and degustations. These are just a few figures that describe Vino 2010 - The Italian Wine Week, which on February 3rd in New York.

    Giuseppe Morandini, member of the board of the Italian Trade Commission, indicated the three objectives that the Italian Trade Commission had in organizing the event during the inaugural press conference: "First of all, with Vino 2010 we aimed to group together big and small enterprises, consortia, chambers of commerce, regional institutions. Under this umbrella we find the best representation of Made in Italy wine, which we put together with great effort. Four important results come with this: the optimized utilization of the limited budget we have at our disposal for promotional activities; a structuralization of such initiatives; efficacy of public investments; institutionalization of a one and unique interlocutor for the US market".

    Mr. Morandini indicated as a second objective the creation of a promotion that can easily reach the American consumer and understand its demands. "Let's not forget that the US is our prime market of exportation: 30% of our wine production is imported in this country, and our sales reached the value of 1.5 billion USD in the last year. Consider that just the sale of our sparkling wine increased of a an average 14% in the last year. "The third objective, finally, is to overcome difficulties posed by such a large market as the US, which has a very complex chain of distribution".

    It was the Consul General of Italy in NYC Francesco Maria Talò that pointed out another important goal to be reached through initiatives such as Vino 2010: "Italy, which is 2/3 the size of California, is the largest producer of wine in the world. Where ever you go in the country, you have different wines, according to the regional traditions. In a globalized world, we need to catalyze the attention on local excellency, and start a 'glocal' operation", said the Consul General of Italy in New York Francesco Maria Talò during the inaugural press conference. "Together with the Italian Trade Commission, which has always been the flagship of Made in Italy, and with the Ministry of Economic Development, this year the Italian Wine Week enjoys the participation of BuonItalia and VinItaly, that confer it even more prestige", he continued.

    The new collaboration, set under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture,Food, and Forestry Policies was indeed one of the main novelties featured in Vino 2010. VinItaly, the International Wine and Spirits Exhibition held every year in the month of April in the city Verona, figures as a lead event in the world with 4,213 exhibitors and 151,216 visitors from over 100 countries in its 2009 edition. BuonItalia Spa, on the other hand, was founded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry Policies with the aim of providing the Italian agricultural and food system with a control mechanism to reinforce the country's competitive capacities in the global marketplace for agricultural products.

    "BuonItalia believes it is crucial to emphasize and strengthen the relationship between the product and its territory of origins and, at the same time, become a single point of reference for the internationalization of the Italian agricultural system. In order to achieve this, we start from the absolute awareness of the extraordinary value of our products", said the director of BuonItalia Spa Franz Mitterutzner.

    The importance of a greater collaboration among Italian producers was indeed recognized by four of the major Italian Wine consortia Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Monetepulciano and Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, that launched on the occasion the new US Promotional Campaign "The Italian Wine Masters". Their participation was another novelty presented by Vino 2010, and enriched the fair with a grand tasting hosted on Feb. 4 at the Waldorf Astoria, featuring more than 150 producers from these prestigious Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G) wine producing regions.

    It comes apparent that "for anyone working in the business of buying or selling wine with a focus on Italy, this is the most important conference in the US to attend this year", as Mr. Aniello Musella, Trade Commissioner and Executive Director of the North America branch of the Italian Trade Commission, stated.

    Yet... how to keep track with the dozens of seminars going on? How to contact and stay in touch with producers and importers? The Italian Trade Commission responded to this need launching Virtual Vino, a dedicated program for wine bloggers aimed at opening dialogue with online wine enthusiasts both nationally and internationally. It was another novelty introduced this year and allowed participants to tweet and post comments on VINO 2010's Twitter and Facebook Pages. The initiative was also at the center of one of the dozens of seminars taking place during the Week, "Virtual Vino: Millennials & Social Media decanted", focused on the impact of digital media on the education and spread of Italian wines.

    Vino 2010 registered even more presences than last years' editions, both in terms of importers and distributors and in terms of producers, and proved that Americans love Italian wines and constitute a constantly expanding consumption despite of the current economic contingencies. Giovanni Colombo, PR Director of VinItaly, defined it as the American twin of the important fair held in Verona. "China, Russia, Singapore, India, Japan, Brasil...delegations from all of these States will be attending this year's edition of our globally famous fair. Among the 120 countries participating, last year, the United States represented the 17% of those attending, a figure that we expect to increase this year. That's why we consider it fundamental to be co-sponsors of Vino 2010. There is a strong bond between America and Italy in the field, and it is our goal to strengthen it. This said, I invite all of you in Verona on April 8-12 to continue with us this fascinating journey through Italy and its vineyards".

  • In the Camp of Fossoli

    Memory is a category of the present. We are shaped in our memory by the politics and the culture of our days, bur memory is also the main channel through which the past enters our minds and conscience. However, we need not only to remember, but also to know what has happened in order to make of it the basis of our present. One of the purposes of today's program is to fill the gap between knowledge and memory.

    With these words the director of the Primo Levi Center Natalia Indrimi began one of the main events organized to celebrate Remembrance Day 2010. On January 31, the huge auditorium of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Downtown Manhattan was absolutely packed, the tickets having been sold out well ahead of time.

    Without a doubt, the day's program was very appealing. The screening of the documentary "Gli ebrei di Fossoli" ( The Jews of Fossoli) - a collection of intense and powerful testimonies of Holocaust survivors that spent a period of internment in the Fascist camp of  Fossoli - preceded a round-table with Doris Schechter, hidden as a child with her family in Italy; Alessandro Cassin, journalist historian, and author of The Duce's Camps; and Carlo Spartaco Capogreco, professor at the Università della Calabria and president of Fondazione Ferramonti, which is dedicated to preserving the memory of the largest Jewish internment camp in Southern Italy.

    Siting in the front row were some eminent representatives of the Italian and Jewish community in New York who were present at the event from its beginning. Among them, Consul General Francesco MariaTalò, Deputy Consul Maurizio Antonini, and Journalist Andrea Fiano - son of Nedo Fiano, one of the survivors that collaborated to the documentary - and journalist and writer, Ruth Gruber.

    It was apparent that the screening of the "Jews of Fossoli" is an important history lesson. Very little is known about Fascist concentration camps in Italy, the life lived there, and the "sense of humanity you could still feel". The daily fighting against fleas and moths; the evenings passed sitting on the doorsteps eating a cup of vegetable soup while watching the free peasants walking by on the other side of the barbed wire; entire days when you could "work or not, at your own choice"; the negotiations at the black market, where you could sell your golden cuff links for just a slice of bread: they were all moments of a captivity, mostly remembered as "paradise", a the world used by one of the victims in the interview, as compared to the "hell" that was waiting for the interned once deported out of Italy.

    Nedo Fiano was the protagonist of one of the most touching moments of the movie when I recalled the day his mother presented him with two jars of jam. "She came to me after an interrogatory with this gift. I was hungry and I emptied the jars in no time at all. I can't forget the look I saw in my mother's eyes. I was starving and she fed me. She was happy as only a mother can be when she provides for the wellness of her child. I think that it was the most beautiful gift I have ever received in my life".

    The tones of the movie changed drastically towards the end. We could feel the anguish of the victims when they recounted of their final days in the camp, before the final deportation. The "perfectly crazy Nazi system"didn 't leave anybody behind, everybody had to get on those trains, whatever were his conditions."There was a 90-something-year-old woman missing at the roll call. Four of us were sent back to look for her, and took this half-dead body all the way to the train. I don't event know if she arrived to the destination alive".

    It was with these images in our mind that we saw Doris Schechter stepping on the stage at the end of the screening. Her witness experience consisted in the reading of an extract from her father's memories. When she was just a baby, her family escaped from Austria and lived during the war years in a small town in the region ofAbruzzo, Guardiagrele . It was at the end of the conflict that they decided to move to the Unites Stated but, as her father wrote in his memories, "I am glad that my daughter goes to school and we are on the way to forgetting all the horrors that we went through. But I can not be happy because I miss everything that I had before. After all, I have renounced everything for freedom. Will I become a person again like all the others?"

    The last question in Doris' lecture started the round table featuring the presence of Prof. Capogreco. Interviewed by Mr. Cassin, he took us on a historical journey through Fascist Italy, and acknowledged the regime's interment camps, little of which is known nowadays. "Initially there was no mention in the racial laws either of internment or of the camps. They were persecuting Jewishness as an "idea", not the physical people themselves. Thus it would be wrong to say that the camps were a result of the racial laws. They are an issue of the war."

    Mr. Capogreco explained to us that the Fascists did not use the concentration camps for  extermination purposes. The camps were very similar to those destined to war prisoners, and the term itself was already common in the military jargon. Being a dictatorship, in fact, the Fascist regime placed people in the camps who could not have been persecuted in a democracy, such as members of the political opposition. Thus, some of the 48 camps present in the Italian territories were designed for people suspected of conspiracy against Fascism and its leaders. "In the others, of course, those interned were mainly Jews. In Italy we did not have a great tradition of anti-semitism, beside the 'religious one'. However, the racial laws of 1938 are still a phenomenon that must be kept in consideration and studied, also because they resulted in a gradually growing persecution and in the final deportations of October-November 1943".

    Before passing the microphone to the public for the Q&A section, Mr. Capogreco felt it necessary to give a final statement on the issue. We are reporting it in its entirety, for it clearly explained how racism affected life in Italy and how sometimes the government and the population had different attitudes towards the Jewish community: "These places can be considered, and have been, the antechambers of freedom and salvation, or of death, depending if the Allied troops liberated them on time. People could not be indifferent to what happened, there was some sort of solidarity and tolerance among them in Italy. After all, the country was disgraced and poor, and had just been sold by the king to the Fascist regime. The government "Repubblica di Salò", however, was just as racist as the preceding dictatorship held by Mussolini, and in the case of the camp of Ferramonti in Calabria, the deportation was already planned in July 1943. The first who were supposed to go where the foreign Jews. And then, everybody else".

  • Life & People

    An Italian Kitchen in Gramercy

    Stepping in Michele Scicolone's apartment, located right in the heart of Gremercy, NYC, makes you feel like you are entering a cozy Italian nest, far away from the crowds and noise of the city. The lights are soft, and the table just at the right of the door looks like it is waiting to be set for a friendly dinner. The open kitchen on the left features dozens of hand-painted Italian porcelain plates decorating the wall, and overlooks the small terrace, where Michele cultivates, among the rest, Italian basil and lemons, giving it the smell of a garden in Sorrento.

    She welcomes us with a smile as we sit in the cozy living room with her newest book, "The Italian Slow Cooker", placed on a side table right next to us.
    Michele is the successful writer of  15 cookbooks, some of which are bestsellers; she holds cooking classes in New York and maintains two blogs, one of which is on i-Italy, sharing with her readers her passion for Italian cuisine.

     

    This interview is meant not only to introduce you to our Food and Wine editor and her latest work, but also to share with all of our readers the story of a true Italian-American who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the Italian-American neighborhood par excellence. Michele always felt a strong connection to her heritage and chose to carry on an "Italian way of life" as hard as it might be in a city like New York. She dedicates much of her time to writing about and researching Italian food, observing its evolutions both in Italy and America.

    Here is our nice chat...bon appetit!

    So, let's start from "the end". How did you come up with the idea of writing the "Italian Slow Cooker"?
    Well, Slow Cookers are very popular in the United States. I was in Italy and I saw "a fiasco" with cooking beans in a restaurant's window. Every time I passed the restaurant there would be this fiasco and they would serve the beans in the evening. That's when I thought to myself" Well, that's like the original slow cooker". Nowhere in Italy had I seen an electric slow cooker or a crock pot, but I realized that there are so many Italian dishes that are cooked for a long time, slowly, and they taste best that way. So I decided to adapt some of those recipes to the slow cooker. I bought one and the first thing I did is try it with those beans. And they really were the best beans I have ever made.

    What kind of recipes we can find in your book?
    There are all kinds of foods that I thought could be adapted to the slow cooker. There are a lot of soups made with legumes and beans, vegetables, and they are all from different regions of Italy. Then I talk about polenta, which turns out great in the slow cooker. And that's something that I would have never expected! Then there is a section on fish that emphasizes attention when cooing it because it can overcook so quickly. But, for example, if you are preparing a fish stew, you can prepare the base for the soup and then just add the seafood at the last minute and cook it for a short period of time. It comes out perfectly. Then in another section there are plenty of meats because slow cooking is the ideal way to prepare tough-cut meats like shoulder, ribs, and shanks: it really melts the connecting tissue down and meats come out really tender, and fall off the bone. Finally, I experimented with desserts...

    Can you really prepare sweets in the slow cooker?!
    Yes, it was really interesting to discover how tasty a cheesecake is when prepared in the slow cooker. It keeps all the moisture in, and cooks very evenly and at a high temperature. So if you cook a cheesecake with that it doesn't crack or overcook. In the book I also propose recipes of custard sweet cakes, flour-less chocolate cakes, and fruit cakes. They are delicious.

    How long did it take you to put all these recipes together?
    It took me about a year to put together the 125 recipes of the book. I do a lot of traveling, writing, and teaching too. So in some periods I could not work on it, but there were days in which I planned to work on 5-6 recipes, so I bought the ingredients and started working on them. It took me an average of a couple of days to get to the desired result, and another couple to write them down and organize them.

    You always convert Italian measures into American ones, and that's an important part of your work, since it makes it easier for your readers to follow the recipe. Did you do it for this book?
    In this case I didn't start from Italian original recipes, but I took most of the recipes from my past cookbooks. So they were already transcribed in American measures and weights. Also, I don't think that you can typically take an Italian recipe and just recalculate it in ounces and pounds and have it work exactly the same way.  There are ingredients that are very different, so you have to test them and make adjustments.

    Why is the slow cooker not so famous in Italy?
    I don't know. Italians have some wonderful gadgets that I have never seen here in America, such as the electric polenta maker, but they do not have the slow cooker. Instead, it would be perfect for them since it consumes very low energy and cooks food the "Italian way". However, even if you don't own one, you can adapt most of these recipes to the stove or the oven.

    Why should an American cook use the slow cooker?
    Well, because it's a great way to cook healthy comfort meals, including Italian ones. Plus, it gives the cooker a chance to do ten thousand things while the food is cooking. You can put the food in, go out all day long, without standing there and fussing over it, and when you come back you find it ready for dinner. Or, another example, you can start the slow cooker before going to bed, and find the soup ready in the morning, refrigerate it, and warm it up at dinner time.

    How much do you use it in your daily life?
    I use it several times a week I would say. This week I just made a big bunch of chicken soup, because I was feeling a cold coming on. It was easy and I could refrigerate what was left over for another meal.

    This is the last book you wrote. Among all of those you wrote before, to which one do you feel more attached?
    That's like saying "which of your children is your favorite!" You put your heart and soul into each one of them... But if I really have to choose, I have a couple of real real favorites. My book 1000 Italian recipes was a book I worked on for a number of years, it took a lot of effort. I refer to it all the time, it is kind of my Bible whenever I need an idea, or I have company. And then, First taste of Italy was kind of a break-through book for me because I was able to put into it a lot of the things I discovered while traveling around Italy that I had not yet seen in this country.

    Where does your passion for cooking come from?
    It comes from my family and my Italian-American heritage. My father's family is from the island of Procida, and my mother's is from outside of Naples, Afragola. Both of my parents were very good cooks.  I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the Italian-American neighborhood par excellence and my dad had a grocery business, a delicatessen. Food was a very important part of our life; it characterized every holiday and occasion, even the sad ones. The food could be part of the celebration or the consolation. We ate well every day, and we would have big parties with all of our relatives and friends.

    What is the traditional meal that reminds you the most of your time together with your family?
    My mother took on a lot of the recipes from my father's mother, to "please her husband" (that was the way the Italian women thought in those days). My grandma used to make la "genovese", and it was always a special dinner for us on holidays. There was a particular pasta shape that she would make to go with the sauce. And I also remember the smell of my grandma's pastiera... it was out of this world. She passed the recipe to me and I still make it every year for Easter.

    What is your favorite Italian recipe?
    Oh, this is a very hard question! If I really have to choose, maybe I would go for a very simple tomato sauce made with good tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. It is fast, delicious, and always sathisfying. It is probably the best meal I can think of.

    You teach cooking classes. What is the first thing you tell your students about Italian cuisine?
    To keep it simple. It is not about the secret herbs and spices, or lots of garlic. But unfortunately that's what Americans think it is all about. One herb will do...

    What kind of people come to your lessons?
    It's amazing to see so many different kinds of people coming. There were some from Syracuse, Texas; some read my books already and followed my career; and others came just because they liked the topic of the class. It is always fun though, because you can see that they are all people who love to eat. They love Italian cooking because it is simple to make and affordable. I guess that when they watch food channels and see cooking demonstrations they feel discouraged by the richness of the ingredients and the preparation some recipes require. They must think "I will never be able to make this". With Italian food it is different, all you need is 3-4 ingredients and a sprinkle of love for food.

    What is the future of Italian cuisine in America?
    I think it has a brilliant future. It may not be the same food you can find in Italy but that's OK... In my "Fresh Taste of Italy" I talk about America as the 21st culinary region of Italy, because we love Italian food and cook it. We don't cook it as they would in the different regions of Italy, but in our way. That's because we have access to very different ingredients, and we have many more influences on our taste - we live in such a melting pot!

    You also travel a lot to Italy. Do

    you think Italian cuisine there is changing?
    How?
    Yes, it is changing a lot. It's amazing to see the changes that are taking place. A lot of chefs are adapting ingredients that I never saw them using before.  Young chefs I see today say "We don't want to cook the old way anymore, we don't want to follow tradition. I don't cook like my grandma cooked. I went to France and Japan, and I want to bring in new influences". Also, there is a great influx of immigrants that are bringing in their flavors, and many work in restaurants. I think that these changes can be very dangerous. It is important to save your roots, and the culture and tradition.

    A number of years ago, when I was writing my Italian Holiday Cooking, I asked people "So, it's Christmas. What is the traditional recipe your family makes on this occasion?" I can't tell you how many times they answered something like "We buy some ravioli at the pasta store. We don't have time to make those dishes; we don't cook anymore the way our grandma used to". I found it very sad.

    One traditional dish you really love is pizza. You wrote a book about it with your husband Charles...
    We first went to Naples in the 1970s and returned in the mid-1990s. On that second trip we had an amazing time. The city was beautiful, clean, people were very helpful, and the restaurants were superb. We had pizza at least twice a day, in the streets, in the restaurants... I felt an affinity with the people, and we found everything very enjoyable. On our way back home on the plane, Charles said "When are we going to get pizza like that in NY?". So I teased him answering "Oh, you have to make it yourself!". Sure enough, he started experimenting, reading and researching, until he finally made a good home-made pizza. Our editor thought it was a great subject to write about, and so we came up with our Pizza Book, with lots of different recipes and tips. We had a lot of fun working together.

    Beside writing books, you also maintain your own blog. How does it differentiate from the thousands cuisine blogs you can find on the web?
    There are so many voices out there speaking and expressing their opinions on Italian cuisine. There is no way to verify them, and that's the real problem with blogging. Some of them are accurate and excellent, but others are just a disaster. Anyone approaching a blog should find out a little bit about who's writing there, if he/she ever went to Italy, or has any kind of personal or professional experience with Italian cooking. Since I have been traveling in Italy for 40 years, and I am Italian-American, I can share with my readers "something more" about the national cuisine, the way to live it, the "religious", geographical, and historical aspects of the food...
    The good thing about blogging is that you are free to write whatever you want. If I wanted to talk about some unknown cheese from Basilicata, I can do it without worrying of having trouble selling the story to a magazine.

    So, what's coming next?
    I  want to go back to Italy as soon as possible...discover, taste, research... I already have another book in mind, and I think that a trip like that will give me the right inspiration to start writing again!

    Michele Scicolone is a cookbook author and writer who specializes in food, wine and travel. She is the author of 15 cookbooks.The latest, published by Houghton Mifflin is The Italian Slow CookerThe BLT Cookbook, co-authored with chef Laurent Tourondel, was nominated for a 2007 James Beard Award.   Entertaining with the Sopranos was published by Warner Books in 2006. Her previous book, The Sopranos Family Cookbook, co-authored with Allen Rucker, was a Number One New York Times bestseller published in 9 languages.

    She authored several books for Williams Sonoma including Savoring Italy, Essentials of Italian Cooking, and Mastering Pasta.  Her book 1,000 Italian Recipes was nominated for a 2004 James Beard Award and was a main selection of The Good Cook book clubItalian Holiday Cooking (Morrow) was chosen as one of the Top Ten Cookbooks of the year 2001 by Food & Wine magazine.  Michele is also the author of Savoring Italy, published in 1999 by Williams Sonoma and Time LifePizza--Anyway You Slice It! was co-authored with her husband Charles and published in 1998 by Broadway Books.  The book received high praise in a New York Times review.  A Fresh Taste of Italy was nominated for a Julia Child Award as the Best Italian Cookbook of 1997 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and was chosen as one of the ten best cookbooks of the year by Amazon Books.

      La Dolce Vita, a collection of recipes for "life's sweet pleasures" Italian desserts, was nominated as the Best Dessert Book of 1994 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.  Her previous book, The Antipasto Table, was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Best Italian Cookbook of 1991. 

    Michele’s articles have appeared in Bon Appetit, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Wine Spectator, The New York Times, Gourmet, Cooking Light Eating Well, Prevention, and many other publications.  Television appearances include Emeril Live, The CBS Morning Show, Good Morning America, and Cooking Live, as well as many local television and radio programs.

  • 50 Italians. Should it be Screened in Schools?

    On the occasion of Remembrance Day 2010, and as part of Rai Fiction Week 2010, on January 20 the Calandra Italian American Institute hosted a double screening at the CUNY Graduate Center, "50 Italians" and "Memories of Anna Frank".

    The documentary "50 Italians" focuses on the gestures of 50 Italian men, Fascist diplomats and generals, who found a way to help  50.000 Jews escape from persecution and death in the concentration camps, or offered them help of different sort

    The work, directed by Flaminia Lubin  and produced by Francesco Pamphili , was presented by Paolo Galimberti, President of RAI. " This movie is  part of a strong effort to educate new generations on the crimes perpetuated by the Fascist regime. In Italy Remembrance Day is an important date to commemorate, and is strongly felt among all of our citizens. We believe that it is important to hand down the memory of what happened in our country just 60 years ago to our children, grandchildren, and all of those who will come in the future. That is why I am particularly glad to see the students of the Scuola d'Italia Guglielmo Marconi, college undergraduates, and so many young people in the audience. Many of their friends will see this movie, since we are planning to screen them in several schools of Italy".

    The Director of the Primo Levi Center Natalia Indrimi who was watching the movie with us on that morning, didn't find in it what she expected. Talking with her, we understood that actually some aspects and parts of "50 Italians" could be pretty controversial. We tought it was important  to share with our readers her opinions and comments.

    " '50 Italians' narrates a very partial story, seen from a very partial viewpoint. It seems to me that the work of the historian is to document and articulate the complexities and contradictions of the past. What I have watched today does the opposite: replaces documents with memories and simplifies the context to present a packaged message: that Italians were good because of some essential quality.

    "Would you then minimize the importance of the rescuers?

    "Of course we must recognize acts of courage, humanity and solidarity. But implying the existence of a national character follows the same irrational principle that animates prejudice. Why then shouldn't 7,000 Polish rescuers and the now increasing number of German rescuers that are being documented make good nations? Or a Jew who saved himself by reporting another make a bad nation? The generalizations of national rhetoric must be regarded as such, not used as historical realities. If this history teaches us anything it is that pushing the rhetoric to an extreme can produce dangerous propaganda."

    Wouldn't it make things easier to understand, help more people learn about this history?

    "A film that offers comforting answers and does not raise many questions, is not ideal in an educational setting. Someone with no other information may come out of the screening thinking that Mussolini was moved by Christian values and that the Italian army had a code of honor that made it by default save women and children. It is difficult to relate these statements to the way in which Italian Jews were outcast and eventually sent to their death, or to the massacres perpetrated in the colonies and territories, including Croatia."

    The film,however, does not embrace the after-armistice period...

    "Would you say that the responsibilities for the atrocities that happened after the armistice are of the Allies?

    Or that perhaps we cannot continue to consider the Fascist dictatorship a laughable joke that turned sour in 1938 or '43?"

    What do you think was missing to make these personal memories viable documents? 

    "The context. In the introductory scene a teen-age boy, I believe the son of the director, says that there is a controversy about the rescuers and that some people believe they acted for reasons other than goodness. He continues: "But I don't believe so". And goodness triumphs. Which controversies is he talking about? And with which authority does he answer?

    Controversies may exist on individual stories, but there is an overall historical picture that, especially today, when we know a lot more than we knew 20 or 30 years ago, cannot be completely avoided.

    How can we discuss the actions of the Italian Army on the Croatian front in 1942 without at least a few references to the broader picture and without even mentioning their full extent, including the fact that Jews and Yugoslavians were treated in very different ways? It would have for instance been useful to ask an historian to map out some basic events like the entry of the US in the war at the end of '41, the first defeats of the Nazis in the Soviet Union in '42, and the internal schisms of the Italian army and the Fascist élite in preparation of the deposition of Mussolini. Between the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943 even Germany began to destroy the evidence of the massacres of the Jews in Eastern Europe.

    It seems to me that it is legitimate to ask whether the atmosphere of preparation for an aftermath that might not have been 1000 years of Reich affected the actions of certain factions of the Italian army. "

    What should be the role of single testimonies in the preservation of the memory of the Shoah?

    "Witnesses are not  historians per se. They had an experience that touched their lives in unimaginable ways and that's what they remember. The accounts of camp survivors are checked thousands of times against one another and then against the records before they can be considered valid historical reconstruction. The refugees' perception that the Italian army saved them is indeed correct. And the feeling they express for the soldier who brings them a piece of bread or a cup of milk can also be taken at face value. However their feelings cannot replace factual information on the people who helped the Jews and the context in which they acted. "

    The doc also featured an interview with historians from NYU and Yad Vashem. Was there a balance between the “historical truth” and the “truth of memory?”

    "I found it interesting that not one of the two or three historians who are the experts in the history of the Fascist camps, especially the Croatian camps, were included in the film. Marcello Pezzetti, director of the Museum of the Shoah in Rome briefly addresses the larger reality of Fascist anti-Semitism, but his comments are unrelated to the core topic of the film. The statements of Yael Orvieto of Yad Vashem and Ruth Ben Ghiat of NYU are cut so short that they come across as very generic, whereas rather repetitive testimonies on the goodness of Italians receive a great deal of space. This is a filmic choice."

    The doc starts with a conversation between two Jewish kids. One of them is about to enroll in the Israeli army, and states that soldiers there serve their country in the name of the memory of the Holocaust. What kind of message is sent out?

    "The representation of the Holocaust as raison d'etre of the State of Israel and foundation of its national identity is another generalization. As  such, it is used by the leaders of the country as well as by its most virulent attackers. I don't understand how it relates to an historical documentary on the Italian diplomats who rescued Jews."

    Is it proper to propose this kind of work on such an occasion like Remembrance Day?

    "I don't think there is a rule, and certainly not a limit, on what's appropriate and what's not. This documentary offers an opportunity to address a certain rhetoric that is very common and thus an important opportunity for debate."

  • Facts & Stories

    Ogni limite ha una pazienza

    It was a quite Saturday afternoon and I was laying on my bed writing an article when I heard a “tuc” on the computer. It was my sister contacting me on Facebook. While I was chatting with her, I scrolled the “news feed” and there it was: the director of i-Italy had just posted on her wall the SAD news that McDonald’s just came out with a new sandwich… McItaly!!!

    Now… I can’t even describe my reaction. As an Italian-American who lives in New York since 2008, I can proudly say that in these two years I had a lunch at Mc Donald’s (restaurant??) only once. And that’s only because I was “forced” by a friend of mine who does nothing but eat junk food. And actually I do eat garbage too sometimes, but Mc Donald’s stuff just disgusts me. In fact on that day I had a salad…

    Let me ask you a question:  how can you find pleasure in a ¼ inch hamburger topped with tons of sauces of all different kinds that completely cover its flavor? (if it has one). Why do people have a BicMac and drink Chocolate Milkshake in the same meal??? Now you could tell me that I have been “spoiled” by Italian cuisine and that  I am too picky. Well, let me tell you: thank God!

    Sometimes I feel like the Italian government is testing my patience. As a journalist, when I write about Italian food, I try to explain to my American readers why the Italian/Mediterranean diet should be considered the best in the world: it is simple, tasty and HEALTHY. I WAS proud of how the government was supporting the “Made in Italy” as a synonymous of tradition, genuineness and taste. Now the Italian Minister Luca Zaia comes along and says that McItaly is the fruit of a collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture and McDonald’s. Argh! (Remember that Mr. Zaia is the same person that wants to ban "foreign" food from Italian cities to “protect” Italian cuisine from “foreign influences”…).

    As The Guardian reports, the reasons why he promoted such a partnership is “to give an imprint of Italian flavors to our youngsters”. Are you kidding me?! You are telling me that serving junk-Italian food will help young people to rediscover the tastes of Italy? Does he really believe that an hamburger made with National meat will be any testier than an American one? Or that a milkshake made with Italian milk will have less cholesterol and fats?

    Besides the fact that I feel teased, at this point I need to make three considerations:
    1)Why the government didn’t support such an initiative with Arabian, African, or Middle-Eastern restaurants instead of forcing them to close? Why can a Mc Donald’s sandwich be prepared with Italian products, and a Kebab can’t?

    2)A recent survey financed by the European Union has shown that 2 Italian kids out of 10 are overweight. We are talking about the 21,2% of the entire population of Italian children between the age of 2 and 6, the highest percentage in the Union. Given the situation, a campaign like “McDonald's speaks Italian” is AT LEAST inappropriate.

    3)The world of cinema has come out with a bunch of movies denouncing how dangerous McDonald’s food is for our diet. Besides the American “Supersize Me” - that already scared me quite a bit – in Italy we had “Focaccia Blues”, the story of a small focaccia store in the Apulia region that forced a nearby McDonald’s to close. The film was a hymn to Italian and regional culinary traditions, a reminder that “Italians eat in dialect”, and a GREAT success of public. The shop in the small town of Altamura was the David who defeated Goliath, it was local food vs globalized fast food. And he won with the “weapon of unbeatable taste ”. Now, who asked the government do defeat David???

    Now, let’s look at McItaly from another point of view, the economic one. The Guardian lists the ingredients of this new sandwich: “artichoke spread, Asiago cheese and lettuce, all produced in Italy
    including the hamburger meat and the bread”. Mr. Zola claimed that one of the reasons why he supported the project was to help the “National agriculture industry to come out of the crisis”. In other words, Italian farmers can’t sell enough products because of the concurrency of lower-priced fruits and veggies coming from abroad. So the deal is: “Mr. McDonald's, you buy our products and transform them in junk food. Don’t worry, a bunch of kids will eat McItaly and you’ll make good profits. And our farmers too”. The health issue was out of the contract. Calling this “a myopic policy” is the list.

    I can’t help it but ask myself why the government didn’t look for the support of the Slow Food movement to “give an imprint of Italian flavors to our youngsters” and to “support the agriculture sector”. Founded in 1989 by Carlo Petrini, the international movement is committed to educate young generations, and people in general, to the culture of good food. The initiatives they organize to reach children, teen-agers, and young adults, are countless, and they are doing much. It represents the “revenge” of Italian traditional eating habits against the spread of fast foods in the country. Their principles have inspired several restaurateurs to relaunch in a modern key old traditional local dishes.

    In Naples, as an example, there is a tiny shop called “’A Merenna” (the snack) On the door there is a huge “M”, very similar to the McDonald’s one, and a smaller sticker placed in the middle of the shop window indicating that it is a “Slow food eatery”.  

    They serve sandwiches with grilled sausages and mushrooms or broccoli, Neapolitan salami, rice balls, and pizza… of course. Their prices are just a little higher than McDonalds’, but the quality of the products is incomparable. I bet they wouldn’t disdain a cooperation with the government to buy the ingredients they need from Italian farmers…

    Matthew Fort,  who wrote the piece for The Guardian was just as “unhappy” as I am. So were some representatives of the opposition in the Italian Parliament. Their criticism induced the Minister to write to the editor of The Guardian.

    YOU MUST READ THIS:

    The left wing, with its loudspeakers, persist in baying at the Moon, finding themselves further away from the real problems and fenced in their own sterile moral orthodoxy, which impairs any kind of development and hinders a clear vision of reality (…) With regret, we are forced to deliver bad news to this kind of left: Stalin is dead. And we can safely bet he never set foot in a McDonald's”
     

    Of course, it is not health that we are talking about; it is not about what is best for the citizens. All Mr. Zaia could say is that Matthew Fort and those politicians’ objections mirrored a “leftist sterile moral orthodoxy”. Once again, “evil opposition” is sabotaging the “good initiatives” of the government.

     
    Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Zaia: I am not a communist, but I will never eat a McItaly, just as Stalin wouldn’t. 

  • Life & People

    Thousands of Names and Emotions on Park Avenue

    On January 27 Italy woke up to the news that somebody had written on the walls of Via Tasso in Rome "Io non ho memoria" (I have no memory). This was particularly meaningful since it was Remembrance Day. We heard about this here on the "other side of the pond", in NYC, while getting ready to go to the Italian Consulate on Park Avenue. 

    This is the fourth year that the Italian and Italian American community  gathered there to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We attended and participated in a very special, moving, and heartfelt ceremony: the reading of the thousands and thousands of names of the Jews deported from Italy during the Fascist era.  
     
    Italy was once again the only country that organized an open air event for the occasion. It was freezing cold, but we stood in front of the Consulate for hours and hours with the knowledge that it was well worth it. We could tell how necessary it was by looking into the wondering eyes of those walking by, by their "What are you doing out here?" questioning looks and in our "We are commemorating the innocent Italian victims of the Holocaust" answers.  

     

    People of all ages, walks of life, and cultural backgrounds offered to read a page or two. Some people stood behind the lectern for much more than that, others for a very little time... reading those names was not easy. Sometimes you could find the same surname repeated dozens and dozens of times in a row, and you understood that entire families had been completely destroyed by this insanity.  

     
    Under each name you could find a brief bio of the person, and of course most of them ended with "killed", "died in an unknown place and date"... It was so rare to read "liberated", "survived", that you felt incredibly relieved all of the sudden, just as it had to do with a member of your own family.  

     
    During the seven hours of reading, people came and people went, but we were there the entire day to meet all of them. The Consul General of Italy Francesco Maria Talò and the Director of the Primo Levi Center  Natalia Indrimi welcomed us and all of those who came after. Italian, American, and foreign media arrived one after the other. Getting such huge coverage was also important: the word could spread widely, our message could reach a significant number of people.  

     
    Many non Italians joined us. The Consul General of Germany Horst Freitag and the Consul General of Poland Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk came early in the morning. They were at the same time testimonies of a common past of war and ambassadors of a shared future of peace and human and social justice.  With them, the Consul General of Israel Mr. Asaf Shariv.

    The Jewish community in New York was also widely represented  by the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gabriela Shalev, Rabbi Potasnik, Rabbi Weiss, the Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and, we must say, it was extremely moving to see him sharing the four podiums with Apostolic Nuncio to United Nations Celestino Migliore, the Archibishop of Brooklyn Nicholas Anthony di Marzio, and finally Cardinal Egar: a further demonstration of the significant efforts towards reciprocal respect and recognition that the two religious communities are making.  

    As regarding the Italian-American community, the presence of Cav. Joseph Sciame, President/Chair of the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee, NY, Inc., and  a National Past President of the Order Sons of Italy in America; Cav. Tony di Piazza, Chairman of the Federation of Italian American Organizations of Brooklyn & Queens and Matilda Cuomo, former First Lady of the State of New York and mother of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, stood out.  

    And of course, many, many Italians... they were there not only to present their personal tribute to the victims, but also as representatives of organizations, foundations, and various groups. Andrea Fiano, son of Nedo Fiano, a survivor of the camps and journalist for Milano Finanza, was among the first to open the ceremony. Silvana Mangione, Secretary of CGIE - General Council for Italians Abroad, joined him together with Gianluca Galletto of Mantica Ventures; Ilaria Costa, director of IACE - Italian American Committee on Education; Massimo Magliaro, director of Rai Corporation; and, of course, the Italian Ambassador to the United Nations Cesare Ragaglini.

    The Italian government was well represented by the Consulate and the Italian Cultural Institute's officials. Deputy Consuls Maurizio Antonini and Marco Alberti supported Consul General Talò in the welcoming of all the guests arriving and in managing the event.  
     

    It was a rich day, that was made even more precious by the afternoon arrival of the students of the Scuola d'Italia Guglielmo Marconi, the bi-lingual Italian-American school of Manhattan, accompanied by their Dean Anna Fiore and some of their professors. It was important that they participated, both for us and for them. It helped us understand that you're never too young or too old to remember; and it taught them one of those lessons you can't learn in class: history is all around you, and even if it might not have affected your personal past, it is certainly shaping your present. And you will be the one who, starting with it, can decide what is going to happen in the future.  

    The day reached its apex when the students of the Park East Synagogue Day School joined their Scuola d'Italia's collegues. It was amazing to see them together sharing this common memory, chatting, and finally laughing. They were alike; there were no boundaries between them. We knew it. They knew it.  
     

    As the hours went by, we of i-Italy asked some of the people mentioned above to share their impressions and feelings about this anniversary with us. We are reporting them here to give you a number of different points of view on this universal issue. 


    Matilda Cuomo Former First Lady of New York: "I came here not only to represent my family, but also as a former teacher. I have two sons-in-law who are both Jewish, and I must say that I am very proud of them. They actively work for the community, helping those in need, the ill, and spreading the message of cooperation, reciprocal help and support among those they come in contact with. I look at them and love them as if they were my own sons, because they teach people the same values I once taught to my kids" 
     

    Nicholas Anthony di Marzio, Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn: "Last Sunday at mass, I told my parishioners that I would come here today. I am here not only as a man of God, but to represent a diocese that embodies the idea of coexistence among people of different races and cultural backgrounds. Both the Jewish and Italian communities are significantly big in my borough, and it is amazing to see how they live side by side, loving and respecting each other. Their kids are friends... Sometimes I look at them and I just can't believe that not too long ago Italy allowed something like the Holocaust to happen. It seems so far from reality. But it's not...That's why you have to keep remembering what happened in the past...so that in the future Jewish and Christian kids can still play together...." 
     

    Edward Michael Egan, Archbishop of New York from 2001 to 2009. "Having lived for over 24 years in Italy, I feel so close to that country that I almost define myself as an Italian. So I am here to share an important moment with a group of people that I see as my own co-citizens. Moreover, I thought that my presence could be important also in view of the recent visit of the Pope to the Synagogue of Rome. Symbolic moments like that one should happen not only in Rome, but in every part of the Christian world. Being here, I commit myself to the effort of  further dialogue with the Jewish community of New York". 
     

    Silvana Mangione, Secreatary of the General Council of Italians Abroad: "I just finished reading pages of names, sorry if I still can't restrain my emotions. These are feelings that you can't hide: to stay here and hear the same surname being pronounced 10, 20, 30 times in a row kind of hits you right in the stomach. I express all my sympathy to the Jewish community of New York, and as an Italian I also apologize on behalf of my co-citizens for the shameful words found this morning on the walls of Via Tasso in Rome. It encourages me even more to attend this kind of event and express all my sorrow for the past tragedy. We have the duty to prevent it from happening again, it's a commitment that we should take seriously!" 
     

    Alfio Russo, Educational Director at the Consulate General of Italy. "I am extremely pleased that so many students got involved in this initiative. The Italian school system is strongly engaged in the mission to keep the memory of the tragedy of the Holocaust alive. Every year the Scuola d'Italia, as an example, organizes workshops, laboratories, and monographic lessons focused on this moment of history allowing its students to become very knowledgeable on the subject. As an example, just a week ago, Dean Anna Fiore took her older students to attend the screening of "50 Italians" at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan. The documentary tells the story of 50 Italian Fascist soldiers that saved 50.000 Jews from persecution, offering the audience new elements about  that historic period. The students' presence today is thus particularly appreciated, representing another step towards our goal to preserve memory among new generations". 
     
     
    Gianluca Galletto, Partner, Mantica Ventures: "I am not Jewish but for family reasons I feel very close to this people for what it has endured in the past. It's not the first time that I am participating in this initiative and I must say that every year it involves me more. This time the event is particularly meaningful to me. I woke up with the news of the writing on the wall in Via Tasso and I felt disgusted. While the "American Italia" is here commemorating a tragedy in a universally shared spirit of mourning, in our country people are feeling more and more legitimized to think and write those kind of offenses. It offends me, and the personal experience I am having today. Before I was standing there waiting for my turn to read and on the page I had before me I could not find even one person that survived. I started reading all the bios with personal anguish until, finally, I found a "liberated" and...I felt liberated too".

  • Life & People

    From Vatican II to Ratzinger. Evolutions and Devolutions of Jewish-Christian Relationships

    As Professor of Church History, is it true that the church attempted to convert the persecuted?
    There was no planned attempt to convert persecuted Jews. We do know that the long tradition of forced baptisms and the discipline of the “favor fidei” have left indelible marks that in some cases even outlasted the great tragedy of the Holocaust. So much so that in some situations we know there were Jewish children who were baptized, often with the belief that they were orphaned not only in terms of family but in a larger sense of belonging to a community.

    We also know that in other situations – one became famous because of Pope John Paul II – where priests and religious people adopted them because the children hidden in religious or Catholic homes were handed over to the community where there few survivors. We also recognize that this situation brings up difficult discussions. In France, for example, Msgr. Roncalli the nuncio was an old acquaintance of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul and had expressed his commitment to the return of Jewish children to Jewish authorities. The Holy Office, however, produced a statement which reiterated the old principles of Christianity and disapproving of the temporal power of the Jews. Children baptized as “invitis parentibus” were to be brought up Christian, as if Israel were a kind of global ghetto where baptized Jews should never return. In that debate, a clever game of delays and postponements that was played among the secretary of state, the nunciature, and the episcopate managed to avoid the issue and went on to become an international disaster. But it is revealing that despite the rescue that did exist (and in several cases was very brave) it could not change the mindset that saw baptism as the best thing that could happen to a Jew.

    Two popes, John Paul II and Paul XII, will soon be canonized. The first is generally beloved while the second is a controversial figure because of the political line adopted during the Fascist period. In a recent interview published in H2ONews, Father Giancarlo Centioni testified to the clandestine network created by Pope Pius XII to help Jews escape the Holocaust. According to Father Centioni hundreds of these Jews were aware that it was Pius XII who was helping them, through priests, through the Raphael’s Verein, through the Verbiti German Society in Rome. This is a little-known truth. Will it serve to give this pope a place in history?

    These canonizations have not yet taken place. There is talk that John Paul II’s canonization will occur in October, but there is no date for Pope Pius XII’s. In December Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree attesting to Pius XII’s heroic virtues that could be taken into consideration, depending on assessments by the pope and the secretary of state who also evaluate related political acts such as the theological opinion within Catholicism. But in view of this act there has been a great mobilization campaign that has tended to say that the debate over Pius XII’s canonization was the result of a conspiracy hatched by the USSR, Israel, and Polish Catholics angered that on the morning of September 1, 1939 the Pope did not say the word “Germany” and that soon after Yalta left Poland under the Russian heel.

    By the mid-Sixties, when the accusation of Pius XII’s silence exploded in public opinion, Paul VI who had closely collaborated with Pacelli, decided to publish eleven books of Acts of the Holy See during the Second World War. There was no unifying theme, but it was an attempt to suggest that the Holy See knew little because he feared a worse reaction by denouncing the Holocaust and that through the diplomatic network he had acted against the perpetrators of the Holocaust who attacked Europe from the east and west. Today the trend has reversed, that is to say that the rescue operations put in place during the war and especially in Rome can now be traced back to the pope’s orders.

    Therefore Pius XII will be canonized for just this reason. In my opinion, there is a fundamental weakness – at times very prudent in terms of history, at other times blatantly apologetic – in many of these positions. Pius XII’s choice to remain silent was full of awareness. After Roncalli’s publication of his diaries, we know with certainty that his choice led him to never say the word “Jew” from 1939 to 1945 and to never speak of the Holocaust from 1945 to 1958 when the topic appeared in public historical and theological debates. It is obvious that this is not evidence of sympathy for the Nazis, which there never was. It is evidence of a belief in the neutrality of the Vatican and the Bolshevik threat that was expressed until the end of 1943.

    There was also the belief that there was bad anti-Semitism and good anti-Semitism that needed to look at baptized Jews in a different way, and was part of this intricate maze of illusions, attitudes and choices which also helped the unfortunate victims who knocked on the doors of houses of worship. In this, his Father Pacelli fully represents the contradictions of the church.
     

    On the testimony of Father Centioni, the chaplain of the Fascist militia who was close to Msgr. Hudal and able to go and speak with Kappler (to complain about the lack of brothers who could absolve the poor victims of the Ardeatine graves) I ask myself two questions that stem from the assumption that obviously this ancient prelate was telling the truth and that his memories are accurate. One, if this life-saving rescue effort was really that wide-spread and authorized by Pius XII himself (since Paul VI could not have not known about it), wouldn’t it have been documented in some way by the Sixties? And two, if the underground rescue network that saved the Jews must test this absurd idea that history should “prosecute” a man half a century later, how should we judge this network, through which Nazis passed through, often coincidentally, while fleeing to Latin America, and who was ultimately responsible for it?
     

    I think there is a lot to work to be done on this, and this work will not come to a close the day after the secret Vatican archives are opened. What emerges from any archive, especially one that contains millions and millions of documents, is always a complex picture, a series of meanings and events that will take years to be properly framed. The idea that a pope like Pius XII needs hasty lawyers who want to transform doubts into merits and hasty accusers who transform facts into guilt basically shows that he is not the problem, but rather what the Holocaust has taught us about the Church, Europe, and the man we would like to deal with by finding a couple of guilty people (or a couple of heroes) to answer these questions.
     

    The declaration “Nostra Aetate” by the Vatican II Council was the first official effort made by the Catholic Church to begin a dialogue with other religions. Several representatives of the Jewish faith at the time claimed that this gesture came too late and that the Church was one of the main institutions that remained silent when confronted with anti-Semitic hatred. But what were, in effect, the real consequences of the Council?

    The genesis of Vatican II Council’s Nostra Aetate is significant. It must have been a document on Judaism, what John XXIII had promised to Jules Isaac. Abandoned in the preparatory phase of maneuvers in the dark, it was resubmitted in June 1962 to Pope John, then “diluted” to become a document about all religions to prevent Arab Catholics from seeing him as acknowledging the State of Israel which the church at that time did not want to do. This is also why the Israeli diplomacy and Golda Meier herself was skeptical that this document could have an effect, except to accredit the dynamic organizations of American Judaism that the very naïve Catholic Church confused with Israel.

    It was one of the great accomplishments of Ambassador Maurice Vischer and his right hand Nathan Ben Horin to convince Jerusalem that without this step and without the theological clarification the Church would never escape its own contradictions and uncertainties. And they were absolutely right because the condemnation of anti-Semitism “quovis tempore et a quibusvis” and the definitive repulsion for the killing of a god signaled a turning point where the Catholic Church was leader and prophet among its sister churches. Not only that but I think that the association between Judaism, in which Christianity has a necessitated relationship, and other religions has given the theology of religions a new paradigm of great importance.

    The antecedent and the pure dependence on the promise of Israel from God in fact constructed Israel as a sacrament, as we later saw. If today the Catholic Church is able to perceive the manifestations of anti-Semitism with a degree of readiness it must be forced to reconcile, with all due respect to all the “relativists of the council,* its attitude toward conversion that has offended Jews and the faith itself. 
     

    During his pontificate, John Paul II has deepened the relationship and dialogue with the Jewish people, through initiatives such as highly symbolic visit to the Wailing Wall and the Synagogue of Rome. What have been the most significant results?
     

    The results of the grand gestures – made almost as a new form of teaching – of John Paul II are slow in coming, as would be expected within a large institution like the Catholic Church. Twenty-four years after his visit to the Synagogue, Benedict XVI has agreed to repeat the visit and the uninterrupted precedence now obligates future popes to continue this tradition which is an important sign. The very fact that Ratzinger has acknowledged that small group of Lefebvrists who for months have monopolized his attention and created a lot of trouble for him, shows that the Pope is fully aware that his predecessor was fundamental. That he quoted in the synagogue the formula of mea culpa recited in 2000 on anti-Semitism is another positive result of the dialogue begun by Wojtyla with the knowledge that it was about removing a roadblock, certainly not just picking off an incrustation from a more rigid period. 
     

    In “Nostra Aetate: Origins, Promulgation, Impact on Jewish-Catholic relations” you do not view Benedict XVI as a “father” of Vatican II. In effect, it seems that his papacy seems more directed at opening up to the Orthodox Church rather than the Jewish world. Are we going backwards?

    He was not a “father” of the council in a purely technical sense. In another sense, however, there is the technical observation that his focus is on the East rather than on his fluctuating relationship with Judaism. Of course Benedict XVI is not an anti-Semite like many Lefebvrists and can do nothing other than break with a certain culture of contempt which resurfaces in some areas of society, even those that are Catholic. He has a clear and precise intention of maintaining good relations with Judaism as well as with Israel, and his words in the synagogues of Cologne, New York, and Rome demonstrate that. But his theological system is founded on the belief that the Hellenization of Christianity is “the” fundamental hub of theology and in thus he senses an “independence” of faith and Christian theology with respect to the relationship with Judaism that cannot be underestimated.

    Benedict XVI's visit to the Synagogue of Rome has caused mixed reactions, especially by the president of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis, Giuseppe Laras, who was not present. Was this reaction expected?

    It seems to me that the visit to the Synagogue of Rome has been a great success for Chief Rabbi Di Segni. During his visit Wojtyla found himself in front of the man who, at the Vatican, lightly joked that he was called the "”ope of the Jews.” Rabbi Di Segni belongs to a younger generation and has a more “ordinary” authority if I may say so and therefore it was he who assumed the greater risk. He gained a lot from Benedict’s visit; he put the pope in a position where he agreed to refrain from mentioning Pius XII by name. It led him to make a statement about the alliance that a careful theologian like Ratzinger knows will weigh on the dialogue. As a pope who has given up repeating the formulas of Nostra Aetate against anti-Semitism once and for all, he reminded them that...the council is a crucial point and non-negotiable for Jews!

    Laras’ reservations stated frankly that the visit could become an endorsement of mental attitudes and negative theology within the church. This seems to have helped Di Segni and has been useful overall because he has made it clear that the situation might not have ended with a modest success, but in a great disaster. And this has given everyone a sense of responsibility.
     

    How do you think the attitude toward anti-Semitism has changed or evolved in today’s Italy? Expressions such as “dirty Jew” and “cheap Jew” have not disappeared. Excluding the return to fascism, what is the danger?

    Those expressions are still used today in part because the Mid-East crisis has given new legitimacy to the persistence of collective stereotypes of hatred, resentment, and contempt. Conversely, the wave of Islamophobia created by immigration has motivated a right-wing, pro-Israeli political movement that reinforces these stereotypes. And finally, within the church’s Catholic identity and the national-Christian movement that is gaining support in some areas, Judaism is considered something that you can attach to Christianity with a hyphen. The real problem is the generational transmission of knowledge and the depth of attitudes that can be objectified and fought only if they are recognized and understood.

    What meaning should Holocaust Remembrance Day have today?

    Memory is hazardous material. On the one hand, the calendar is full of memorial obligation days, of days you “must remember” that are divided in a shockingly impartial way among the victims of Nazi-Fascism and communism, mafia and war, with the risk that memory is a zero-sum game when everything is mixed together. The idea that memory stirs emotion, and that emotion prevents the iteration of evil presupposes an automatic response that does not exist.

    What strikes me on “memory tours” which are, of course, very useful and necessary, is that it’s the young Italians not the Jews who identify with the victims (a more emotionally comfortable position) and not with the murderers or those who were indifferent from which they are objectively descended. Is it significant that the law on Italian memory does not contain the word “Fascism?” Even the memory of the righteous (in addition to being necessary and sacred) often serves as a form of collective absolution at a cheap price. Marquard and I did a little book on this: if memory does not contain a foundation of historical knowledge (even worse if one imagines that history serves to remember or judge events but not understand them) it threatens to undermine and trivialize it.

    Do you think that it would be opportune to create one single day that is recognized all over the world?

    I don’t know about the whole world, but I do know that Europe has a single measure for a thousand things but not for this – and this is indicative of what is occurring over the course of generations. Witnesses who could inspire emotion with their lives are passing away, and their knowledge is passing away along with them. Several colleagues have launched a European network to study the papers of Pius XI, which the Vatican has opened and which contain the genesis of the Holocaust and the genome of ecclesiastical attitudes.

    It would take hundreds of young scholars to do what in the end will feed not the circuit of memory, but that of knowledge. But are governments today able to understand this and invest in this? Everything seems to be making more and more a museum out of memory, which while it is needed, it will always be more electorally profitable research, I’m afraid.

     

     

  • Life & People

    From Vatican II to Ratzinger. Evolutions and Devolutions of Jewish-Christian Relationships

    As Professor of Church History, is it true that the church attempted to convert the persecuted?
    There was no planned attempt to convert persecuted Jews. We do know that the long tradition of forced baptisms and the discipline of the “favor fidei” have left indelible marks that in some cases even outlasted the great tragedy of the Holocaust. So much so that in some situations we know there were Jewish children who were baptized, often with the belief that they were orphaned not only in terms of family but in a larger sense of belonging to a community.

    We also know that in other situations – one became famous because of Pope John Paul II – where priests and religious people adopted them because the children hidden in religious or Catholic homes were handed over to the community where there few survivors. We also recognize that this situation brings up difficult discussions. In France, for example, Msgr. Roncalli the nuncio was an old acquaintance of the Jewish Agency in Istanbul and had expressed his commitment to the return of Jewish children to Jewish authorities. The Holy Office, however, produced a statement which reiterated the old principles of Christianity and disapproving of the temporal power of the Jews. Children baptized as “invitis parentibus” were to be brought up Christian, as if Israel were a kind of global ghetto where baptized Jews should never return. In that debate, a clever game of delays and postponements that was played among the secretary of state, the nunciature, and the episcopate managed to avoid the issue and went on to become an international disaster. But it is revealing that despite the rescue that did exist (and in several cases was very brave) it could not change the mindset that saw baptism as the best thing that could happen to a Jew.

    Two popes, John Paul II and Paul XII, will soon be canonized. The first is generally beloved while the second is a controversial figure because of the political line adopted during the Fascist period. In a recent interview published in H2ONews, Father Giancarlo Centioni testified to the clandestine network created by Pope Pius XII to help Jews escape the Holocaust. According to Father Centioni hundreds of these Jews were aware that it was Pius XII who was helping them, through priests, through the Raphael’s Verein, through the Verbiti German Society in Rome. This is a little-known truth. Will it serve to give this pope a place in history?

    These canonizations have not yet taken place. There is talk that John Paul II’s canonization will occur in October, but there is no date for Pope Pius XII’s. In December Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree attesting to Pius XII’s heroic virtues that could be taken into consideration, depending on assessments by the pope and the secretary of state who also evaluate related political acts such as the theological opinion within Catholicism. But in view of this act there has been a great mobilization campaign that has tended to say that the debate over Pius XII’s canonization was the result of a conspiracy hatched by the USSR, Israel, and Polish Catholics angered that on the morning of September 1, 1939 the Pope did not say the word “Germany” and that soon after Yalta left Poland under the Russian heel.

    By the mid-Sixties, when the accusation of Pius XII’s silence exploded in public opinion, Paul VI who had closely collaborated with Pacelli, decided to publish eleven books of Acts of the Holy See during the Second World War. There was no unifying theme, but it was an attempt to suggest that the Holy See knew little because he feared a worse reaction by denouncing the Holocaust and that through the diplomatic network he had acted against the perpetrators of the Holocaust who attacked Europe from the east and west. Today the trend has reversed, that is to say that the rescue operations put in place during the war and especially in Rome can now be traced back to the pope’s orders.

    Therefore Pius XII will be canonized for just this reason. In my opinion, there is a fundamental weakness – at times very prudent in terms of history, at other times blatantly apologetic – in many of these positions. Pius XII’s choice to remain silent was full of awareness. After Roncalli’s publication of his diaries, we know with certainty that his choice led him to never say the word “Jew” from 1939 to 1945 and to never speak of the Holocaust from 1945 to 1958 when the topic appeared in public historical and theological debates. It is obvious that this is not evidence of sympathy for the Nazis, which there never was. It is evidence of a belief in the neutrality of the Vatican and the Bolshevik threat that was expressed until the end of 1943.

    There was also the belief that there was bad anti-Semitism and good anti-Semitism that needed to look at baptized Jews in a different way, and was part of this intricate maze of illusions, attitudes and choices which also helped the unfortunate victims who knocked on the doors of houses of worship. In this, his Father Pacelli fully represents the contradictions of the church.
     

    On the testimony of Father Centioni, the chaplain of the Fascist militia who was close to Msgr. Hudal and able to go and speak with Kappler (to complain about the lack of brothers who could absolve the poor victims of the Ardeatine graves) I ask myself two questions that stem from the assumption that obviously this ancient prelate was telling the truth and that his memories are accurate. One, if this life-saving rescue effort was really that wide-spread and authorized by Pius XII himself (since Paul VI could not have not known about it), wouldn’t it have been documented in some way by the Sixties? And two, if the underground rescue network that saved the Jews must test this absurd idea that history should “prosecute” a man half a century later, how should we judge this network, through which Nazis passed through, often coincidentally, while fleeing to Latin America, and who was ultimately responsible for it?
     

    I think there is a lot to work to be done on this, and this work will not come to a close the day after the secret Vatican archives are opened. What emerges from any archive, especially one that contains millions and millions of documents, is always a complex picture, a series of meanings and events that will take years to be properly framed. The idea that a pope like Pius XII needs hasty lawyers who want to transform doubts into merits and hasty accusers who transform facts into guilt basically shows that he is not the problem, but rather what the Holocaust has taught us about the Church, Europe, and the man we would like to deal with by finding a couple of guilty people (or a couple of heroes) to answer these questions.
     

    The declaration “Nostra Aetate” by the Vatican II Council was the first official effort made by the Catholic Church to begin a dialogue with other religions. Several representatives of the Jewish faith at the time claimed that this gesture came too late and that the Church was one of the main institutions that remained silent when confronted with anti-Semitic hatred. But what were, in effect, the real consequences of the Council?

    The genesis of Vatican II Council’s Nostra Aetate is significant. It must have been a document on Judaism, what John XXIII had promised to Jules Isaac. Abandoned in the preparatory phase of maneuvers in the dark, it was resubmitted in June 1962 to Pope John, then “diluted” to become a document about all religions to prevent Arab Catholics from seeing him as acknowledging the State of Israel which the church at that time did not want to do. This is also why the Israeli diplomacy and Golda Meier herself was skeptical that this document could have an effect, except to accredit the dynamic organizations of American Judaism that the very naïve Catholic Church confused with Israel.

    It was one of the great accomplishments of Ambassador Maurice Vischer and his right hand Nathan Ben Horin to convince Jerusalem that without this step and without the theological clarification the Church would never escape its own contradictions and uncertainties. And they were absolutely right because the condemnation of anti-Semitism “quovis tempore et a quibusvis” and the definitive repulsion for the killing of a god signaled a turning point where the Catholic Church was leader and prophet among its sister churches. Not only that but I think that the association between Judaism, in which Christianity has a necessitated relationship, and other religions has given the theology of religions a new paradigm of great importance.

    The antecedent and the pure dependence on the promise of Israel from God in fact constructed Israel as a sacrament, as we later saw. If today the Catholic Church is able to perceive the manifestations of anti-Semitism with a degree of readiness it must be forced to reconcile, with all due respect to all the “relativists of the council,* its attitude toward conversion that has offended Jews and the faith itself. 
     

    During his pontificate, John Paul II has deepened the relationship and dialogue with the Jewish people, through initiatives such as highly symbolic visit to the Wailing Wall and the Synagogue of Rome. What have been the most significant results?
     

    The results of the grand gestures – made almost as a new form of teaching – of John Paul II are slow in coming, as would be expected within a large institution like the Catholic Church. Twenty-four years after his visit to the Synagogue, Benedict XVI has agreed to repeat the visit and the uninterrupted precedence now obligates future popes to continue this tradition which is an important sign. The very fact that Ratzinger has acknowledged that small group of Lefebvrists who for months have monopolized his attention and created a lot of trouble for him, shows that the Pope is fully aware that his predecessor was fundamental. That he quoted in the synagogue the formula of mea culpa recited in 2000 on anti-Semitism is another positive result of the dialogue begun by Wojtyla with the knowledge that it was about removing a roadblock, certainly not just picking off an incrustation from a more rigid period. 
     

    In “Nostra Aetate: Origins, Promulgation, Impact on Jewish-Catholic relations” you do not view Benedict XVI as a “father” of Vatican II. In effect, it seems that his papacy seems more directed at opening up to the Orthodox Church rather than the Jewish world. Are we going backwards?

    He was not a “father” of the council in a purely technical sense. In another sense, however, there is the technical observation that his focus is on the East rather than on his fluctuating relationship with Judaism. Of course Benedict XVI is not an anti-Semite like many Lefebvrists and can do nothing other than break with a certain culture of contempt which resurfaces in some areas of society, even those that are Catholic. He has a clear and precise intention of maintaining good relations with Judaism as well as with Israel, and his words in the synagogues of Cologne, New York, and Rome demonstrate that. But his theological system is founded on the belief that the Hellenization of Christianity is “the” fundamental hub of theology and in thus he senses an “independence” of faith and Christian theology with respect to the relationship with Judaism that cannot be underestimated.

    Benedict XVI's visit to the Synagogue of Rome has caused mixed reactions, especially by the president of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis, Giuseppe Laras, who was not present. Was this reaction expected?

    It seems to me that the visit to the Synagogue of Rome has been a great success for Chief Rabbi Di Segni. During his visit Wojtyla found himself in front of the man who, at the Vatican, lightly joked that he was called the "”ope of the Jews.” Rabbi Di Segni belongs to a younger generation and has a more “ordinary” authority if I may say so and therefore it was he who assumed the greater risk. He gained a lot from Benedict’s visit; he put the pope in a position where he agreed to refrain from mentioning Pius XII by name. It led him to make a statement about the alliance that a careful theologian like Ratzinger knows will weigh on the dialogue. As a pope who has given up repeating the formulas of Nostra Aetate against anti-Semitism once and for all, he reminded them that...the council is a crucial point and non-negotiable for Jews!

    Laras’ reservations stated frankly that the visit could become an endorsement of mental attitudes and negative theology within the church. This seems to have helped Di Segni and has been useful overall because he has made it clear that the situation might not have ended with a modest success, but in a great disaster. And this has given everyone a sense of responsibility.
     

    How do you think the attitude toward anti-Semitism has changed or evolved in today’s Italy? Expressions such as “dirty Jew” and “cheap Jew” have not disappeared. Excluding the return to fascism, what is the danger?

    Those expressions are still used today in part because the Mid-East crisis has given new legitimacy to the persistence of collective stereotypes of hatred, resentment, and contempt. Conversely, the wave of Islamophobia created by immigration has motivated a right-wing, pro-Israeli political movement that reinforces these stereotypes. And finally, within the church’s Catholic identity and the national-Christian movement that is gaining support in some areas, Judaism is considered something that you can attach to Christianity with a hyphen. The real problem is the generational transmission of knowledge and the depth of attitudes that can be objectified and fought only if they are recognized and understood.

    What meaning should Holocaust Remembrance Day have today?

    Memory is hazardous material. On the one hand, the calendar is full of memorial obligation days, of days you “must remember” that are divided in a shockingly impartial way among the victims of Nazi-Fascism and communism, mafia and war, with the risk that memory is a zero-sum game when everything is mixed together. The idea that memory stirs emotion, and that emotion prevents the iteration of evil presupposes an automatic response that does not exist.

    What strikes me on “memory tours” which are, of course, very useful and necessary, is that it’s the young Italians not the Jews who identify with the victims (a more emotionally comfortable position) and not with the murderers or those who were indifferent from which they are objectively descended. Is it significant that the law on Italian memory does not contain the word “Fascism?” Even the memory of the righteous (in addition to being necessary and sacred) often serves as a form of collective absolution at a cheap price. Marquard and I did a little book on this: if memory does not contain a foundation of historical knowledge (even worse if one imagines that history serves to remember or judge events but not understand them) it threatens to undermine and trivialize it.

    Do you think that it would be opportune to create one single day that is recognized all over the world?

    I don’t know about the whole world, but I do know that Europe has a single measure for a thousand things but not for this – and this is indicative of what is occurring over the course of generations. Witnesses who could inspire emotion with their lives are passing away, and their knowledge is passing away along with them. Several colleagues have launched a European network to study the papers of Pius XI, which the Vatican has opened and which contain the genesis of the Holocaust and the genome of ecclesiastical attitudes.

    It would take hundreds of young scholars to do what in the end will feed not the circuit of memory, but that of knowledge. But are governments today able to understand this and invest in this? Everything seems to be making more and more a museum out of memory, which while it is needed, it will always be more electorally profitable research, I’m afraid.

     

     

  • Life & People

    The "Gold of Rome" in Fascist Hands

    The screening of the "Gold of Rome" (1961) on February 2 will represent one of the best moments of this year's commemoration of Remembrance Day (January 27) in New York. It is the first movie that recounts the facts behind and before the final deportation of the Jews of Rome: on September 26, 1943 Nazi Colonel Herbert Kappler summoned the highest representatives of the Jewish community of Rome ordering them to collect 50 kgs of gold within 36 hours. The punishment in case of failure or disobedience was the detention of 200 people. Gold was collected and brought but on October 16, 1943 nothing could save 1259 Jews from deportation: it was the beginning of the end for the Jewish community of the Ghetto of Rome.

    The movie was only one of the first directed by Carlo Lizzani on the subject.  "Achtung! Banditi!" - Attention, Bandits! (1951); "Il processo di Verona" - The trial of Verona (1963); "La guerra segreta" - The secret war (1965); "Mussolini ultimo atto" - Mussolini last act (1974) are just a few of the most famous.

    We reached Lizzani and talked about his "The Gold of Rome" and his personal commitment to the preservation of Memory.

    Let’s start from your movie “L’oro di Roma” (The Gold of Rome). What were the reasons that brought you to make it?

    They were mainly personal. Being born in 1922, I had witnessed the rise and fall of the Fascist regime, and my life had always been touched by the political, economical, and social changes it brought in. I was only 16 in 1938 when I saw my Jewish classmates being expelled from school. Afterwards, I became part of the Resistance and many of my companions were persecuted. I dedicated my first movie as a director "Achtung!Banditi!" (1951) to the issue, and it was only the beginning of a long career focused on the theme. 1953 was the year of "Cronache di poveri amanti" (Chronicles of miserable lovers), based on Vasco Pratolini's novel. It was when Giacomo Debenedetti came up with his successful book "16 Ottobre 1943" that I decided to start working on "L'oro di Roma". I collaborated with him, and based much of the story on the "chronicles" and historical reconstruction he made of  the round-up in the Jewish ghetto of Rome. Of course my work, it being a movie, was fictionalized and many characters were invented... but, still, all together they formed a good mirror of the society of the time. The film had good success and ultimately gave greater fame to the book.

    Had you experienced difficulties of any sort in the making of the movie?

    Well, actually yes. Just before I started working on it, I spent a whole year in China and when I came back I found a sort of McCarthyism in the country. "The power" considered all of us people who worked in the cinema field as comunists. Producers didn't want to have anything to do with me. "Cronache di poveri amanti" (Chronicles of Poor Lovers), as an example, was a candidate for the "Palma d'oro" at the Festival of Cannes. The president of the jury that year was Jacques-Yves Cousteau who two years later told scriptwriter Sergio Amidei that my movie did not win the first prize because of "externalpressure " coming from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
     

    I looked at it, and I still do, as an offensive to neorealist cinema, that brought on the screen the poor, dramatic side of Italy. Fortunately this quite bland form of McCarthyism did not last long, and in 1960 I could finally talk a producer into the making of the movie.

    How did the Italian audience respond to the movie? Afterwards it came out in an historic moment when people wanted "to forget"...

    Actually,, what astonished me more than the reaction of the Italian public was the lack of collaboration, or maybe it is better to call it "caution", of the Jewish community in Italy. Of course I was given permission to enter the synagogues and film in different areas of the ghetto, but still I felt that at the beginning they didn't like the idea of this movie. I think that they were those that, more than the others, wanted to forget or avoid to think of what had happened less than 20 years before. I surely expected them to more "warmly"welcome my project.

    How is/was the Jewish community of Rome different from the others in the country? How did you depict it in the movie?

    The Jewish microcosm in Rome was not any bigger than the others located in the country or in Europe. What I think characterized it the most was the feeling of "Optmism" that its members kept up to the very end. Some of them entered the gas chambers and still thought that there would be a way out...

    They simply could not conceive, understand, what was happening to them. Moreover, the fact that they lived in Rome gave them even more hope. It was the city of the Pope, a place of historic glory. They felt somehow protected, stronger. That's why in the movie I depict them as a reactive community: they had the strength to fight.

    "The Gold of Rome" also features a deep analysis of the figure of Kappler, the German colonel that organized the round-up in the ghetto on October 16. As a director that widely researched him, how do you explain the efforts of the President of Federal Germany Gustav Heinemann(1973) and of chancellor Helmut Schmidt ( 73-74 e 76) to rehabilitate his figure and save him from the death penalty?

    I find it absolutely unfair. He tortured and murdered - or had other people doing it under his orders - many of my (Jews and non-Jews) companions and friends. He was the "director" of the occupation of Rome. Italian cinema, and expecially "Roma città aperta" (Rome open city) by Roberto Rossellini, never discounted him of any of his faults and crimes.

    From the "Gold of Rome" on, you dedicated the greatest part of your career to the issue of Fascist persecutions in Italy and in the occupied territories. Did you feel you were engaged in a personal mission?

    Yes, I always felt the mission to fight against the Fascist dictatorship. In 1942, I met director Giuseppe de Sanctis and writer and poet Pietro Ingrao who invited me to collaborate with the magazine "Cinema" which was directed by Vittorio Mussolini. We slowly created an anti-fascist, or better, a Communist branch within it. That happened when we found out that the fascist calls for (fascist) revolution, anti-capitalism (that became anti-semitism), and anti-bourgeoisie, eventually rooted back to the Marxist theory (let's not forget, in fact, that Mussolini was a socialist at the beginning of his career).

    As many of my companions, thus, I became communist/socialist at the age of 18-20, and lived and looked with more consciousness at what was happening around me. It became natural for me to watch and read politically-oriented movies and books, and get more and more interested in the political changes of my time, both in Italy and abroad. This eventually affected my future cinema career and brought me to make my own movies on the subject. "Il processo di Verona" and "Mussolini ultimo atto" are just a couple of the movies I directed through which it is possible to reconstruct the entire story of the Fascist party, from foundation to end.

    You directed both documentaries and movies on the subject. How do you choose the "format" of your works?

    Much depends on the market demands. As an example, there has been a moment a few years ago that cinema was living a period of crisis and TV preferred to broadcast documentaries rather than films. That's when I worked om 'Maria Josè, l'ultima regina' (2002), a product conceived exclusively for TV. The reason for this is that in history artists of any kind always had to submit their creativity to the needs and will of those who finance the production or the audience. Now it has gotten a little better for writers, painters... but the cinema and theatre fields are obviously still entrapped in this game of roles.

    Holocaust Cinema has very much changed in the latest period. Movies like "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) and Benigni's "La Vita è bella" would have been inconceivable before. Is this an evolution or a devolution?

    I appreciated Benigni's effort to analyze the issue from another point of view, or maybe under another perspective. I also liked "Train de vie", "The Pianist" and others of the kind. It is necessary to adapt the format and the kind of product you want to propose to the taste of the public, especially of new generations. This is the only way to help preserve the memory of what has happened, and prolong its wave. People like psychological and historical romances, want to understand the reasons, the feelings, the sentiments of those who lived the tragedy of Holocaust. They are emphatic in some way, and try to identify and imagine themselves in that context.

    Why is it important to screen your movie on Remembrance Day? And why present it to the New York public?

    First of all, because many of my movies are well-known in America; but this is not one of them. I really think that it is a complete and interesting portrait of that particular episode. Second, because I think New York is very sensitive to the issue, since the Jewish community living here has strongly contributed to its cultural and economical growth. Third, because it is important to show America that Italy has not forgotten the horrors of the past, continues to preserve the memory of what has been, and is committed to passing it on to the new generations

     
    February 1, 6:00 PM
    NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò
    24 West 12th Street, NYC
    Film screening | Confortorio By Paolo Benvenuti, 1992
     
    February 2, 7:30 PM
    JCC IN Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC (@76th St.)
    Film screening | Una Storia Romana
    A Roman Story: Enrica Sermoneta, Post-screening discussion with Pupa 
    Garribba, writer and film maker.


    February 3, 6:30 PM
    Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, NYC
    Film Screening | L’Oro di Roma, By Carlo Lizzani 
    (1961, 110 min, Italian w/English subt.)

  • Life & People

    The "Gold of Rome" in Fascist Hands

    The screening of the "Gold of Rome" (1961) on February 2 will represent one of the best moments of this year's commemoration of Remembrance Day (January 27) in New York. It is the first movie that recounts the facts behind and before the final deportation of the Jews of Rome: on September 26, 1943 Nazi Colonel Herbert Kappler summoned the highest representatives of the Jewish community of Rome ordering them to collect 50 kgs of gold within 36 hours. The punishment in case of failure or disobedience was the detention of 200 people. Gold was collected and brought but on October 16, 1943 nothing could save 1259 Jews from deportation: it was the beginning of the end for the Jewish community of the Ghetto of Rome.

    The movie was only one of the first directed by Carlo Lizzani on the subject.  "Achtung! Banditi!" - Attention, Bandits! (1951); "Il processo di Verona" - The trial of Verona (1963); "La guerra segreta" - The secret war (1965); "Mussolini ultimo atto" - Mussolini last act (1974) are just a few of the most famous.

    We reached Lizzani and talked about his "The Gold of Rome" and his personal commitment to the preservation of Memory.

    Let’s start from your movie “L’oro di Roma” (The Gold of Rome). What were the reasons that brought you to make it?

    They were mainly personal. Being born in 1922, I had witnessed the rise and fall of the Fascist regime, and my life had always been touched by the political, economical, and social changes it brought in. I was only 16 in 1938 when I saw my Jewish classmates being expelled from school. Afterwards, I became part of the Resistance and many of my companions were persecuted. I dedicated my first movie as a director "Achtung!Banditi!" (1951) to the issue, and it was only the beginning of a long career focused on the theme. 1953 was the year of "Cronache di poveri amanti" (Chronicles of miserable lovers), based on Vasco Pratolini's novel. It was when Giacomo Debenedetti came up with his successful book "16 Ottobre 1943" that I decided to start working on "L'oro di Roma". I collaborated with him, and based much of the story on the "chronicles" and historical reconstruction he made of  the round-up in the Jewish ghetto of Rome. Of course my work, it being a movie, was fictionalized and many characters were invented... but, still, all together they formed a good mirror of the society of the time. The film had good success and ultimately gave greater fame to the book.

    Had you experienced difficulties of any sort in the making of the movie?

    Well, actually yes. Just before I started working on it, I spent a whole year in China and when I came back I found a sort of McCarthyism in the country. "The power" considered all of us people who worked in the cinema field as comunists. Producers didn't want to have anything to do with me. "Cronache di poveri amanti" (Chronicles of Poor Lovers), as an example, was a candidate for the "Palma d'oro" at the Festival of Cannes. The president of the jury that year was Jacques-Yves Cousteau who two years later told scriptwriter Sergio Amidei that my movie did not win the first prize because of "externalpressure " coming from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
     

    I looked at it, and I still do, as an offensive to neorealist cinema, that brought on the screen the poor, dramatic side of Italy. Fortunately this quite bland form of McCarthyism did not last long, and in 1960 I could finally talk a producer into the making of the movie.

    How did the Italian audience respond to the movie? Afterwards it came out in an historic moment when people wanted "to forget"...

    Actually,, what astonished me more than the reaction of the Italian public was the lack of collaboration, or maybe it is better to call it "caution", of the Jewish community in Italy. Of course I was given permission to enter the synagogues and film in different areas of the ghetto, but still I felt that at the beginning they didn't like the idea of this movie. I think that they were those that, more than the others, wanted to forget or avoid to think of what had happened less than 20 years before. I surely expected them to more "warmly"welcome my project.

    How is/was the Jewish community of Rome different from the others in the country? How did you depict it in the movie?

    The Jewish microcosm in Rome was not any bigger than the others located in the country or in Europe. What I think characterized it the most was the feeling of "Optmism" that its members kept up to the very end. Some of them entered the gas chambers and still thought that there would be a way out...

    They simply could not conceive, understand, what was happening to them. Moreover, the fact that they lived in Rome gave them even more hope. It was the city of the Pope, a place of historic glory. They felt somehow protected, stronger. That's why in the movie I depict them as a reactive community: they had the strength to fight.

    "The Gold of Rome" also features a deep analysis of the figure of Kappler, the German colonel that organized the round-up in the ghetto on October 16. As a director that widely researched him, how do you explain the efforts of the President of Federal Germany Gustav Heinemann(1973) and of chancellor Helmut Schmidt ( 73-74 e 76) to rehabilitate his figure and save him from the death penalty?

    I find it absolutely unfair. He tortured and murdered - or had other people doing it under his orders - many of my (Jews and non-Jews) companions and friends. He was the "director" of the occupation of Rome. Italian cinema, and expecially "Roma città aperta" (Rome open city) by Roberto Rossellini, never discounted him of any of his faults and crimes.

    From the "Gold of Rome" on, you dedicated the greatest part of your career to the issue of Fascist persecutions in Italy and in the occupied territories. Did you feel you were engaged in a personal mission?

    Yes, I always felt the mission to fight against the Fascist dictatorship. In 1942, I met director Giuseppe de Sanctis and writer and poet Pietro Ingrao who invited me to collaborate with the magazine "Cinema" which was directed by Vittorio Mussolini. We slowly created an anti-fascist, or better, a Communist branch within it. That happened when we found out that the fascist calls for (fascist) revolution, anti-capitalism (that became anti-semitism), and anti-bourgeoisie, eventually rooted back to the Marxist theory (let's not forget, in fact, that Mussolini was a socialist at the beginning of his career).

    As many of my companions, thus, I became communist/socialist at the age of 18-20, and lived and looked with more consciousness at what was happening around me. It became natural for me to watch and read politically-oriented movies and books, and get more and more interested in the political changes of my time, both in Italy and abroad. This eventually affected my future cinema career and brought me to make my own movies on the subject. "Il processo di Verona" and "Mussolini ultimo atto" are just a couple of the movies I directed through which it is possible to reconstruct the entire story of the Fascist party, from foundation to end.

    You directed both documentaries and movies on the subject. How do you choose the "format" of your works?

    Much depends on the market demands. As an example, there has been a moment a few years ago that cinema was living a period of crisis and TV preferred to broadcast documentaries rather than films. That's when I worked om 'Maria Josè, l'ultima regina' (2002), a product conceived exclusively for TV. The reason for this is that in history artists of any kind always had to submit their creativity to the needs and will of those who finance the production or the audience. Now it has gotten a little better for writers, painters... but the cinema and theatre fields are obviously still entrapped in this game of roles.

    Holocaust Cinema has very much changed in the latest period. Movies like "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) and Benigni's "La Vita è bella" would have been inconceivable before. Is this an evolution or a devolution?

    I appreciated Benigni's effort to analyze the issue from another point of view, or maybe under another perspective. I also liked "Train de vie", "The Pianist" and others of the kind. It is necessary to adapt the format and the kind of product you want to propose to the taste of the public, especially of new generations. This is the only way to help preserve the memory of what has happened, and prolong its wave. People like psychological and historical romances, want to understand the reasons, the feelings, the sentiments of those who lived the tragedy of Holocaust. They are emphatic in some way, and try to identify and imagine themselves in that context.

    Why is it important to screen your movie on Remembrance Day? And why present it to the New York public?

    First of all, because many of my movies are well-known in America; but this is not one of them. I really think that it is a complete and interesting portrait of that particular episode. Second, because I think New York is very sensitive to the issue, since the Jewish community living here has strongly contributed to its cultural and economical growth. Third, because it is important to show America that Italy has not forgotten the horrors of the past, continues to preserve the memory of what has been, and is committed to passing it on to the new generations

     
    February 1, 6:00 PM
    NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò
    24 West 12th Street, NYC
    Film screening | Confortorio By Paolo Benvenuti, 1992
     
    February 2, 7:30 PM
    JCC IN Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC (@76th St.)
    Film screening | Una Storia Romana
    A Roman Story: Enrica Sermoneta, Post-screening discussion with Pupa 
    Garribba, writer and film maker.


    February 3, 6:30 PM
    Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, NYC
    Film Screening | L’Oro di Roma, By Carlo Lizzani 
    (1961, 110 min, Italian w/English subt.)

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