Sunday, January 31, 2010

Giorno della memoria 2010 - Remembrance Day

(Venice, Italy) Massimo Cacciari was the mayor when I first arrived in Venice back in 1998. In fact, I met him shortly after my arrival, although I didn't know who he was. I had been invited to the Palazzo Ducale for a ceremony for Il Gonfalone di San Marco, that blue book you see below, and he was one of the speakers. At that time, I didn't understand a word of Italian, but I could tell by his energy that Cacciari was a great speaker.

Afterwards, I went up to Cacciari and asked if he knew Franco Filippi, the publisher of the book, to whom I was supposed to introduce myself. He sort of smiled and said that Filippi had been there, but appeared to have left. I didn't realize I had just spoken to the Mayor of Venice!

Cacciari became the mayor again five years ago; in two months he will finish his second term, so it is sort of like Daddy is leaving. I don't always agree with his policies, but I do respect his heart, especially after having been immersed in the goings-on around this town. (Cacciari is a philosopher; you can see him around the city; he rides the vaporetto just like everyone else.) Venice is so small, and there is so much power concentrated in a tiny area, it is a wonder that he can still manage to weave a kind of magic fabric over the Venetians to try to keep them safe.

This morning, Massimo Cacciari, together with Vittorio Levis, president of the Jewish Community of Venice, spoke about the Holocaust, and why it was important to remember it. Cacciari spoke very strongly, and said several things that struck me -- made me weep, to be honest. He said that what we must accept and understand is that the Holocaust was a rational design. That it was a rational, thought-out, political project, years in the planning. That the complicity of France, Italy and England allowed it to happen. He said that the concept of "Ama il prossimo tuo" or "Love Thy Neighbor" had been taken and completely inverted. 

The Holocaust can seem far away, as part of another era, another century, long, long ago, especially to those who were not born. In reality, there are many people who are still alive who can remember the Holocaust because it happened only 70 years ago! Think: just a short time ago, the Nazis were exterminating an entire segment of the population right in front of everyone's eyes and nobody did anything to stop it! 

After the speeches, we watched a performance of Salonicco43. It was the second time I had seen this piece performed. I wrote about it before near the end of A Sea of Angels back on December 8, 2008. 

Click to read it:

Thessaloniki, also called the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ or the “mother of Israel, counted a population of 100,000 in 1939, 50,000 Jews, many of Italian origin and nationality, present in all the different social classes and perfectly integrated with the Greek population. Historian Albertos Nar remembers it as “the largest and most prosperous Sephardite Jewish community in Europe, and one of the most important in the world”. Of the 32 synagogues in the city, fourteen of which were built by people from Sicily, Calabria, Puglia, all that remains are faded old photographs…

During the terrible months of 1943, the Italian consul in Thessaloniki was Guelfo Zamboni, a Fascist functionary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who, in the face of the inhumanity of the Holocaust, began a personal, heroic battle to try and save as many lives as possible by providing forged Italian identity cards that would allow their possessors to reach Athens and save their lives.

His tenaciousness, his courage, his perseverance saved more than 500 Jews from Nazi barbarity, men, women, children who became the protagonists of our cultural project, and who transformed our Zamboni into a new Italian Schindler. In 1992 he was given the title of “righteous among the nations”.

Cold, hard statistics from Wikipedia:

Jewish Population of Thessaloniki[23]
Year Total Population Jewish Population Jewish Percentage Source
1842 70,000 36,000 51% Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer
1870 90,000 50,000 56% Greek schoolbook (G.K. Moraitopoulos, 1882)
1882/84 85,000 48,000 56% Ottoman government census
1902 126,000 62,000 49% Ottoman government census
1913 157,889 61,439 39% Greek government census
1917 271,157 52,000 19% J. Nehama, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, t. VI-VII, Thessalonique 1978, p. 765 (via Greek Wikipedia): the population was inflated because of refugees from the First World War

2000 363,987[22] 1,000 0.27% (post-Holocaust)

I apologize for the brevity of this blog, but unfortunately the Querini Stampali has changed its rules about Internet access, and have installed a two-hour limit.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment!