Book Review: Memoria E Storia: El Caso Della Deportazione
Reviewed by Tom Donahue, University of Chicago. December 2002.
Rossi-Doria, Anna. Memoria E Storia: Il Caso Della Deportazione. Introduced by Paolo Jedlowski. Soveria Mannelli (Catanzaro): Rubbettino Editore, 1998.
We should begin by getting a little clearer on the essays aims. Questo saggio, Paolo Jedlowski helpfully informs us in his introduction, riguarda i rapporti tra la memoria e la storia. Il caso della deportazione dei militari, degli ebrei e dei militanti politici italiani nella seconda guerra mondiale è studiato per sé e viene a denunciare una certa lacuna della nostra storiographia, ma costituisce anche lo sfondo e lo stimulo per un esame di questi rapporti (This essay is concerned with the relations between memory and history. The deportations of soldiers, Jews, and (anti-Fascist) militants are studied here for their intrinsic importance and to condemn a lacuna in our historiography, but they also constitute the background and the stimulus for the essays examination of memory and history. 5).
Rossi-Dorias five chapters guide us through the history of the memory of the deportation: Il culto della memoria reflects on the tension between historiography and collective memory, and on the memory debates of the 80s and the 90s, surveying the fusillades for and against of such figures as Pierre Nora (editor, appropriately enough,, of the monumental Lieux de mémoire), Arno Mayer, Charles S. Maier, Tzvetan Todorov, Paolo Jedlowski, and Eric Hobsbawm. Una memoria solitaria examines the seemingly willed forgetting of the deportations on the part of the Italian nation, and the Italian states disavowal of any responsibility for the deportations. Le memorie separate examines the differing experiences and memories of the Jews, gypsies, soldiers, and anti-Fascists who were deported to German concentration camps. La supplenza degli ex-deportati documents the all-too-sparse and only somewhat successful attempts by ex-deportees and historians to awaken the publics interest in the case of the deportations. La latitanza degli storici concludes the essay with an indictment of Italian historiographers for their neglecting to probe the festering wound constituted by the deportations.
Three points in the essay call for special mention. First, the solemn roll of the deported and the dead. Rossi-Doria cites estimates that between 43,000 and 45,000 Jews, gypsies, and anti-Fascists were deported, of whom some 40,000 were exterminated or died in confinement. 650,000 Italian soldiers were imprisoned by the Germans, of whom some 35,000 died (47).
Second, Rossi-Doria is particularly good at narrating the sometimes astonishing treatment that the deportees received upon their return: the manuscript of Primo Levis famous memoir of the concentration camps, Se questo è un uomo (If This Is a Man) was rejected by Einaudi, one of Italys leading publishing houses (doubly odd because Levi is today regarded as a great stylist of written Italian); the Italian state, unlike its neighbors, made no serious effort after the end of the war to find and offer repatriation to its deported citizens; the association of ex-deportees was for decades denied access to the documents involved in the deportations; the ex-deportees did not receive anything like an institutional apology from the government until 1980; and as of the books writing, no institute for research on the deportation existed in Italy, even though France has for many years had a center which citizens may use to do research on the French deportations. The psychologist Andrea Devoto summed up the Italian ex-deportees situation and anger in 1992: In the other countries of Europe, almost without exception, the ex-deportees are officially recognized, assisted, cared for, honored. Only in Italy are they neglected (32).
Third and finally, Rossi-Doria begins the essay with an interesting distinction between history and memory: la memoria tende ad unire il presente e il passato, o meglio a rendere presente il passato; la storia ne ratifica e ne persegue la irreparabile separazione. Si potrebbe dire che in un certo senso la memoria rifiuta la morte e la storia la accetta (memory tends to unite the present and the past, or, better, to make the past present; history does not concern itself overmuch with the irreparable separation. In a certain sense, memory defies death, while history accepts it 13). True enough, one supposes, but in another sense, does not history also defy death? Is it not more likely that historiography (la storiographia), the scholarly pursuit of knowledge about the past, is willing to accept the fact of death than is history (la storia), the narratives that groups of people construct to make sense of their pasts?
However that may be (and I am none too sure of the answer), Anna Rossi-Doria has given us an excellent piece of engagedindeed, of committedreflection. [Tom Donahue]
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