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The Motives of Memory

by Marco Di Porto

by Marco Di Porto. Journalist and Writer

I follow the theme of Holocaust Memory for professional but also family reasons: my maternal grandfather was one of the few survivors of the deportation of the Jews of Rhodes, and his story, the heart of our family novel, has always resonated with me. I am often asked a question: are we sure remembering is worth the exhausting effort?

At best—as I said to myself on several occasions—some generation of Italians will be sufficiently informed about the Shoah and the crimes of Nazi-fascism, and perhaps they will have developed some antibodies useful for recognizing and countering those nefarious ideologies. Objectively, this is a worthwhile goal. But how can the horror and disruption of those events be transmitted with the same effectiveness in a hundred or two hundred years, even after the disappearance not only of the direct witnesses, but also of their children and grandchildren? Widespread detachment, due to the passage of time, is both inevitable and comprehensible. And then, those tragic mistakes can be committed again, as Primo Levi warned: “It has happened, therefore it can happen again. This is the core of what we have to say.” So what’s the point of all this effort?

Moreover, let’s face it: the exercise of remembering such terrible facts is by no means a pleasant endeavor. The Shoah is an unspeakable abyss, and the atrocities that were committed against the Jewish people and against other peoples (Roma and Sinti) and demographics (homosexuals, disabled, “asocial” and political opponents) are inhuman beyond belief. And we Jews are called, throughout the year but with particular “pressure” in January, to bear our testimony. We are a people who have suffered a genocide of such magnitude as to be immediately associated with it (how many times chatting with people also as soon as they met, I realized that the first thing they linked to the topic “Jews” was “Shoah”? It is a rather depressing combination, for a people who honor the gift of life in all its manifestations.

And therefore, again the question: will memory of the Shoah sooner or later be, like all human things, destined for oblivion? “The universe is expanding, this means that one day it will burst and it will be the end of everything,” said a young and nihilistic alter ego of Woody Allen in Annie Hall. When working on Remembrance is so tiring, why remember? Why continue to organize initiatives, to reconstruct and explore history, to involve young people in competitions and trips to the places of the Shoah? An answer, albeit partial, was suggested to me by my partner’s nephew, Lorenzo. Lorenzo is ten years old and a very good teacher at dealing with the issues of the Second World War, discrimination and persecution, using tact and delicacy and the tools suitable for that age.

Among Lorenzo’s classmates there is a child whose great-grandparents saved a Jewish family in Naples, and clearly this child has become the center of attention during class work. This story, so lively, intrigued and fascinated the schoolchildren, and in the following days Lorenzo did nothing but ask questions about that period. As I was, well, personally involved, he also asked me a flurry of questions about Jews and Judaism, a subject he hadn’t really cared about before, simply because no one had ever turned his attention to the matter.

I believe that the teachings of the good teacher, and the story of his classmate, have stimulated in him a healthy curiosity. And maybe I am optimistic, but I believe that these seeds will germinate over time, helping to form a boy and then a young adult with sound principles and a sound critical conscience.

Surely the effort to remember can have a burden on him, because what has happened is a dramatic enormity; and time may also dilute the power of remembrance. But the contribution that the school, the many Remembrance initiatives, and the Jewish world itself can provide in terms of educational tools for the new generations, may perhaps have an impact on today’s world, making it a slightly better place. It will not come easy—but we need it very much.

Marco Di Porto

Marco Di Porto

Journalist and Writer

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