Arnon Grunberg



On the Italian, good or not so good – John Foot in LRB:

“Filippo Focardi’s study, published in Italian in 2013 and now translated into English by Paul Barnaby, unpacks these silences and assumptions. Crucial to his analysis are the linked, binary stereotypes of the ‘good Italian’ and the ‘bad German’ which, he argues, have helped to define the way people have understood the Italian experience in the Second World War, and the way it has been written about, remembered and forgotten.
The American journalist Herbert Matthews wrote in 1943 that ‘the Italian is a human being before he is a fascist or even an Italian. The German is a machine. The Italian baulks when he faces a situation that will bring death or torture to women, children, elderly people or indeed anybody. The German carries out orders with cold and mechanical brutality.’ Try telling that to the people of Domeniko, or those who experienced the fascist killings in Addis Ababa in 1937.
It suited almost everyone after Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943 to blame him personally for the disasters of the war, and to argue that most Italians had always been anti-fascist. The ‘bad Germans’ had forced the ‘good Italians’ into the war. They had been responsible for the massacres of civilians, not the Italians. They had persecuted and killed Jews, while the Italians had tried to save them. Italians were seen, in Focardi’s words, as ‘averse to war, unwilling to commit acts of violence or abuse, and ready to fraternise with and assist unarmed populations’. Sometimes these things were true – but they certainly weren’t true of all Italians, or of Italy’s fascist invading armies.”


“Focardi quotes Ernest Renan: ‘the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common and also that they have forgotten many things.’”


“Meloni likes to frame the Second World War as an event in which all Italians, including fascists, were victims. Her party has spent years comparing the reprisals against fascists and others in north-east Italy in 1943-45 as equivalent to the Shoah.”


“‘There were no trials, no hearings, no findings,’ Focardi writes, and no justice for the victims of Italian atrocities in Yugoslavia, Greece or Ethiopia. He describes Italian ‘national memory’ as ‘self-centred, self-pitying and self-celebratory’.”

Read the article here.

A nation consists above all al of individuals who have forgotten many things, preferably the same things.

Yes, most, national memory is a mix of self-centeredness, self-pity and self-celebratory gestures, probably the US is less interested in self-pity and Germany as is well-known has found identity in guilt, but the results are mixed, as we all are able to see.

Italy managed to believe in its own innocence, see Fellini, with a passion that is rare elsewhere in this world.

An Italian soldier once told me: ‘We fight our wars with knife and fork.” Good food is important when you go to war, it helps also that this culinary tradition enhances the image of the good Italian.

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