The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy
Fossoli dei Carpi, 1942-1952
By Alexis Herr
Palgrave Macmillan – £63.00
Primo Levi begins his short story ”Small Causes” by sharing a conversation he had with a group of friends on the influence that a seemingly innocuous occurrence can have on history. He writes, ”Small causes can have a determining effect in individual histories, just as moving the pointer of a railroad switch by a few inches can shunt a train with one thousand passengers aboard to Madrid instead of Hamburg.” Levi contends that looking back on the definitive past is easy to theorize what might have been if things had been different.
So begins the first chapter ‘In the Marketplace: Fascist Socialization and Consent in Carpi,’ a chapter, which, as Alexis Herr writes: ” traces how the violent ascent of Fascism in Carpi, and the 20 years under Mussolini that followed it, created the maccina di consenso (the machine of consent). We will consider the ways in which violence in the years leading up to the Fascists’ march on Rome in 1922 informed Carpigiani (Carpi residents) reception to Mussolini’s newly minted regime and why Pietro Badoglio’s overthrow of Mussolini in July 1943 failed to inspire a revolt against Fascist structures in Carpi.”
Once again, The National Holocaust Memorial Day is almost upon us (January 27th) and in its lead up, I will be reviewing an array of material that is both pertinent and revisionary.
Starting with The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy, one can only surmise that the current Italian likes of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five-Star Movement) and Militia Christi (an extreme-right Catholic fundamentalist party) have conveniently refused to recognise history. Or at least, the relatively recent history of their own country, which, as Herr touches on in this book’s Introduction, has often been complicit within the cloying design of totally unnecessary death(s): ”Sixty-seven years have passed since Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi published his memoir Se questo e un uomo (If this is Man, released in the United States under the title Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity). Untarnished by the passage of time, Levi’s testimony remains a touchstone of Holocaust study. His narrative extends beyond descriptions of physical suffering of camp life and offers a philosophical inquiry into humanity and inhumanity in Auschwitz. For Levi, the camp was a ”social experiment” that released ”the human animal in the struggle for life.” In the fight for one’s survival, common-place categories of opposites such as ”the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the unlucky and the fortunate,” became far more complex.
In two distinct parts: ‘The War Years’ and ‘After the War,’ these 144 pages – excluding Acknowledgements, a List of Illustrations, Abbreviations and Foreign Words (German and Italian), Archive Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography and Index – consist of six chapters that shed new light on almost every aspect of what took place at Fossoli dei Carpi during 1942-1952.
Much of which unfortunately, makes for disturbing reading.
Especially from that of a purely Italian perspective – let alone German: ”The victim myth, which positions all Italians in Italy as victims of German oppression, simplifies at best, or elides Italian antisemitism and gentile contributions to the arrest, incarceration, and deportation of Resistance fighters and Jews. The acquiescence of regional officials, municipal authorities, and Carpi businesses to Nazi and RSI demands to arrest and deport Jews supported and facilitated the Judeocide. While some scholars and politicians have argued that only Nazi and RSI officials perpetrated the Judeocide, the history of Fossoli suggests another conclusion. Every Italian who took part in, profited from, or enabled Fossoli’s operation to continue – with the exception of Jewish victims and the Resistance – played some part in the murderous function of the camp. Indeed, the history of genocide requires closer scrutiny of perpetrators and their enablers: the silently complicit.”
For this alone, Herr needs to be roundly commended.
As John Foot, Professor of Modern Italian History at the University of Bristol is himself quoted as saying: ”This book is clearly written and argued, and impressively rooted in theoretical and methodological reflections as well as being aware of the key historiographical context both in Italian and English.”
The Holocaust and Compensated Compliance In Italy is indeed, a most reflective read, which in and of itself, warrants all the literary praise it can muster, as well as all the recognition it can get on the 27th.
There again, Alexis Herr is Lecturer in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Department at Keene State College, USA., so it’s not surprising he has herein written a book that is a clear, concise and inspired invitation for the reader to delve further and generally find out more on The Holocaust.