The Italian Executioners –
The Genocide of the Jews of Italy
By Simon Levis Sullam
Princeton University Press – £21.00
[…] informing was mainly carried out by hundreds of non-Jewish Italians who grasped at the chance to make money, exact revenge, or remove an obstacle in their professional or personal sphere. A huge number of arrests and sequestrations or confiscations of property were carried out thanks to denunciations made both in person and anonymously. It is not war alone that turns men and women against their neighbours, it is also civil war – by definition a violent, fratricidal clash – as well as a context of genocide that identifies an enemy within, declaring them to be inferior and alien, authorizing their persecution, and legitimizing their victimization.
As the whole title of this most revealing, potent book might suggest, herein (essentially) lurks a re-confirmation of human nature’s innate penchant and potential for inbred, sadistic cruelty.
To be sure, as the above opening gambit illustrates – and then continues: ”Even those not actively involved, those without particular ideological ties, find themselves living in and adhering to a new system of norms that imposes – and in any case authorizes – the use of violence even against next-door neighbours, acquaintances, or friends. In this context, personal motivation, private hate, and the hope of making a quick profit can surface.’’
So if nothing else, The Italian Executioners – The Genocide of the Jews of Italy does make one wonder how human nature can be so overtly cruel, so very quickly.
And without hesitation.
The mere fact that Simon Levis Sullam has bequeathed as much to bear, already (not to mention) inadvertently, substantiates the validity of this most honest and courageous book.
As such, if Hitler’s vile regime unleashed anything upon the world, it was the cold and horrendous light of day knowledge that people were and can be horrendous anywhere and everywhere. And so far as the Second World War was/is concerned, not only was Germany capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also France and The Netherlands, Italy and even Poland – which as a nation, surely suffered more than most within said theatre of murder and hate.
All of whom were sometimes a little too zealous, a little too quick, to denounce their fellow Jewish compatriots.
In relation to Italy, Simon Levis Sullam herein presents a most troubling and unforgettable account of how ordinary Italians actively participated in the deportation of Italy’s Jews between 1943 and 1945 – when Mussolini’s collaborationist republic was under German occupation. As Robert Gordon of The Times Literary Supplement points out: ‘’[…]the picture Sullam paints is layered and locally inflected, rich with regional variation and human stories… The result is an important, proportionate, by turns angry and moving corrective: a call to complete the picture of Italy’s Holocaust, to set alongside the stories of witnesses and righteous rescuers, the portraits of the perpetrators.”
Indeed, while many historians have long believed Italians were relatively protective of Jews during this time, The Italian Executioners tells a very different story; recounting in vivid detail the shocking events of a period in which Italians set in motion almost half of the arrests that sent their Jewish compatriots to the concentration camp(s).
These collaborators ranged from ‘’petty informers to Fascist intellectuals – and their motives ran from greed to ideology,” qualities which again, remain an off-shoot trajectory of the aforementioned cruelty of human nature.
As Richard J.B. Bosworth, author of Mussolini’s Italy writes: ”Combining trenchant writing and scholarly rigor, The Italian Executioners is a brilliant exposure of how Italians were not always the ‘nice people; of the brava gente myth.’ One of the many virtues of Levis Sullam’s fine book is its accounts of such places as Venice and Florence, where it is time to accept that there is past darkness to go with all the light.’’
This book is a gripping revisionist history of Italy’s role in the Holocaust.
Brief and beautifully written, its difficult narrative shines a harsh spotlight on those who turned on their Jewish fellow citizens.
And rightly so.