Friday, January 25, 2013

Italy: Plans for Rome's Holocaust Museum Move Forward

 Rome, Italy. Top: Project design for the the new Holocaust Museum at the Villa Torlonia (photo courtesy Museo Nazionale della Shoah). Below: Detail of the Jewish catacomb wall painting in situ beneath the Villa Torlonia (photo courtesy World Monuments Fund).

Italy: Plans for Rome's Holocaust Museum Move Forward - but Lentemente
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Ruth Ellen Gruber reports from Rome that plans for a Holocaust Museum at the Villa Torlonia move forward - but lentemente (slowly)  Now, with the new museum Rome follows other towns and cities in Europe such as Mechelen, Belgium which opened its new Museum and documentation Center in December, and Drancy, France, which opened a new facility last September.   More and more these Holocaust museums and centers are taking the form of high-design mausolea/boxes - in black, white or gray.  These buildings strive for simplicity and dignity, and mostly fall back on simple modernism and minimalism for their architectural/sculptural form.  In the case of the Rome Museum, the inscribed names of victims will  symbolically enliven - or at least enlighten - the exterior.  This will be the first Holocaust Museum in Italy, though there are many Jewish museums (Rome, Florence, Bologna)  and memorial sites (especially that of Carpi, but also in Rome) that reference and commemorate the deportation of Italian Jews.

Carpi, Italy. Detail of the memorial to deported Jews.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2006)

 Rome, Italy. Largo 16 Ottobre 1943. Commemorative Plaques.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2004)

The design for the museum is by architects Luca Zevi and Giorgio Tamburini.  Zevi is son of architect and critic Bruno Zevi (who compiled a masterful work on the architecture of Erich Mendelsohn, whose design for the hoped-for first-ever Holocaust memorial in Riverside Park, New York, was never built).  Luca's mother Tullia Zevi was the head of the Italian Jewish community in the 1980s and 90s, when control of the Jewish catacombs was wrested from the Catholic Church and shared by the Jewish Community of Rome and the Rome archaeological superintendency.   Historian Gav Rosenfeld (author of Building After Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust interviewed Luca Zevi about the project the The Daily Forward in 2011.

In the early 1990s I worked with Tullia and Prof. Giorgio Torraca on studies of the Jewish catacomb underneath the villa to ascertain what - if any - level of public visitation the fragile site could bear.  The catacomb is the site of some of the most precious Late Antique (probably 4th century) Jewish painting and inscriptions.  Significantly, many of these are about memory, and suggest some sense of an eternal life, the very themes to be enshrined in the new memorial/museum for the thousands of Italian Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Bureaucracy stalls construction of Italy’s first Holocaust museum

ROME (JTA) -- If all goes according to plan, a starkly modern, $30 million Holocaust museum will soon rise on the site of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s Rome residence.
The site, also the location of ancient Jewish catacombs and now a city park, will be home to a museum first proposed in 2005 but held up repeatedly by financial and bureaucratic problems.

“I hope construction begins this summer,” Leone Paserman, the president of the Museum of the Shoah Foundation, told JTA. “Of course in Italy, it is always hard to say.”
The facility will be the first Holocaust museum in Italy, which despite its wartime alliance with Nazi Germany has a somewhat mixed Holocaust record. The country adopted fiercely anti-Semitic legislation in 1938, barring Jews from schools, dismissing them from public positions and outlawing intermarriage, among other restrictions.

At the same time, the Italian military generally declined to take part in the murder or deportation of the country’s Jews, and territories occupied by Italian forces were considered relatively safe. The first deportations to death camps came only after Nazi Germany occupied parts of Italy in 1943 following the surrender of the fascist government to allied forces.

Read the full story in JTA

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