Italy’s first Holocaust museum to be built in Rome

Country was partner, not victim, of Nazis, but hasn’t done soul-searching like Germany, says director.

February 22, 2011 01:56
3 minute read.
Italy's first Holocaust Museum in Rome

Holocause Italy Museum 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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ROME – Mayor Gianni Alemanno and the municipal authorities of Rome will be announcing on Tuesday the construction of a Holocaust museum as a focal point in the city’s 10-year “Stati Generali” plan for major projects in the city.

The Italian government and RAI-TV are currently sponsoring a television spot, which will be shown repeatedly until June, calling for Italians to submit any relevant wartime family records or material for exhibition.

Holocaust museum unveils returned art

Italy’s first Holocaust museum, based on preliminary plans drawn by architects Luca Zevi and Giorgio Maria Tamburini under the sponsorship of Rome’s previous mayor, Walter Veltroni, will be built in the central area of Villa Torlonia. The 2,500- square-meter building – estimated at a cost of 19 million euros, to be covered by the city – will be part of a designated 4,000-sq.m. area adjacent to both former dictator Benito Mussolini’s villa and the two millennium-old Jewish catacombs, that will be restored and opened for visits.

Other Stati Generali projects include modernizing Fiumicino Airport, improving the street network and restoring ancient cultural sites.

The museum’s director, Marcello Pezzetti, has a vast plan in mind, specifically aimed at increasing Italians’ awareness of their own role in the Holocaust.

“Italy, like Austria, was a partner of Nazi Germany – not a victim, as the populace generally holds. Unlike Germany, we have never even begun the process of soul-searching. Italians don’t feel involved – they do not consider themselves as having collaborated,” he explained.

“This museum, which will cover global Holocaust history but will have a special section on Italy, will speak directly to Italians, and not just Italian Jews,” he continued.

“When the Nazis, aided by Italian Fascists, raided the ghetto of Rome on October 16, 1943, they knew very well what the fate of all the 1,125 deported would be,” he asserted, adding, “We will be telling a story that will, unfortunately, unveil a black heart, but the formation of contemporary Italian identity – including that of new immigrants – must incorporate this knowledge.”

The museum will be divided into three sections: archives, a library and a vast video collection. It will cost approximately $30 million.

The section on Italy promises to draw extreme interest, with documentation on the country’s most famous controversial wartime issues. It will explore both the positive and negative roles of the Vatican – its proverbial silence during the 1943 deportations, contrasted with the opening of its institutions to thousands of Jewish refugees; and its helping Jews by providing false documents, but also helping Nazis flee to South America after the war. Evidence will be shown regarding traitors, as well as Righteous Italians who risked their lives to save Jewish fellow citizens.

The conversion and resignation of Rome’s chief rabbi, Israel Zolli (later known as Eugenio, Pope Pius XII’s first name), at the height of Nazi persecutions will be addressed, as will the stories of many other Italian rabbis who, unlike Zolli, stayed on to care for their communities until their bitter end as martyrs, will also be shown.

Another section will focus on the ongoing work of Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest who has uncovered and dug up previously unknown and hidden mass graves in northeastern Europe where Nazis murdered over 1.5 million Jews in the towns and hamlets of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other countries.

Pezzetti and Leone Paserman – president of the Shoah Museum Foundation – plan to characterize the new museum as a place for research and work-inprogress, particularly for students and teachers. Courses will be organized, and there will be many temporary exhibitions and events.

The mass murder of gypsies, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, political prisoners, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others will be part of the permanent exhibition.

In addition, there will be events touching on the Holocaust’s relevance to more recent history, linking it with knowledge of other genocides and racist persecutions such as in North Africa under the colonialist powers, Armenia, Biafra, Sudan, Communist Russia, and China under Mao Zedong.

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