1986: Il coraggio e la pietà

Il coraggio e la pietà. Gli ebrei e l'Italia durante la guerra, 1940-1945. By Nicola Caracciolo, in cooperation with the specialists of Jewish history Daniel Carpi and Mario Toscano and in consulting with Renzo De Felice.
Two episodes of one hour each, aired on Rai2 (the second national channel), at 9.30 p.m. on November 9 and 16, 1986 and then rerun several times. The second episode was followed by a studio debate moderated by Arrigo Petacco. (Clip ID: A41772, C42711 and C42712).

The central argument of the enquiry - clearly stated straight from its title - is the widespread solidarity given to the Jews by the Italians, richly documented here. This program represents the acme of the idea that "Italians are good people" (italiani brava gente).
The title referred to the film The Sorrow and the Pity (Le chagrin et la pitié, 1969, by Marcel Ophüls, censored for many years by the transalpine State TV) on the pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic collaborationism in Vichy's France. This reference therefore seemed to want to claim a difference and a moral superiority shown by the Italians in that historical moment.



Prologue: rabbi Toaff

In the answers given by Elio Toaff, the Rabbi of Rome, placed by Caracciolo at the beginning of the documentary, a subtle shift in perspective can be noticed. The motivation for any aid given is identified in the apolitical humanity of the Italians and no longer linked to the anti-fascism of the Resistance, as it had been previously stated (for instance by Arrigo Levi, see above). In fact, starting from the 1980s, the centrality of the Resistance in Italian political culture begins to decline.

Testimonies: Foà, don Libero and Dell'Ariccia

Primo Levi's interview

This was one of the last interviews released by Primo Levi who died in April the following year, perhaps he too victim of what he calls here "the veterans’ disease". Levi evoked the figure of Lorenzo Perrone here, who he had already mentioned in “If This is a Man”, in pages that perhaps represent the most sublime lyric apex of the book.

Ending (episode 1)

Final freeze-frame of the first episode of the enquire (sign held in a Jews' demonstration in Rome).

A paradoxical statement

The second episode of the investigation contains (at min.12') the following statement by the narrator, Caracciolo.

«We Italians got used, via mass media, to speaking ill of ourselves, often with some valid reasons, but much more than any other people on Earth. It is important, for a more balanced vision of our history and our identity as a nation, to also see the other side of the issue. That is, to be able to say that if all Europeans had behaved like the Italians, the Holocaust simply would not have happened»..

These are two clearly paradoxical assertions. With regards to the first statement, this is quite clear just by watching the videoclips presented here so far, all of which - from the 1950s onwards -widely praise the merits and goodness of the Italians and lay the blame for almost every crime on the Germans alone. As for the second sentence, it appears even more paradoxical, both due to the enormity of the conterfactual hypothesis itself, and considering that - among all European countries - it was precisely Fascist Italy that provided the original model at the onset of Nazism, and was the only other country in Western Europe (besides Germany) to prepare anti-Semitic legislation even before the outbreak of the war.

Daniel Carpi's interview

Following the first videoclip, the conclusion of a longer sequence on the Mussolini’s responsibilities in the deportations of Jews during the war in an overall minimizing tone, Caracciolo interviews the Jewish historian Daniel Carpi. Their dialogue, recorded at the University of Tel Aviv, focuses on aid given to Jews by what Carpi defines as "the great majority" of Italians.

"Gratitude to the Italian people"

The final part of the enquiry recalls the event that provided its starting point and summarizes its conclusions. In 1985, the President of the Italian Republic Sandro Pertini received a Jewish delegation, including the Israeli ambassador, who all expressed their gratitude for the aid received from Italians during the war.

The studio debate

The second episode is followed by a studio debate lasting over an hour with numerous guests and which substantially reaffirmed the thesis of Italian aid (with the partial exception of Tullia Zevi and moderator Arrigo Petacco). In this excerpt, the Foreign Minister Minister Giulio Andreotti and, subsequently, Caracciolo can be seen supporting such view. Caracciolo introduces at least one caveat in reference to the period preceding 1943, considered rightly to be characterized by less empathy towards Jews. De Felice’s comments are also noteworthy. He identifies the two reasons for Mussolini's anti-Semitism in terms of, on the one hand, Italy’s foreign policy connected to the alliance with Germany and, on the other hand, the anthropological construction of the Fascist "new man" who he had aspired to forge.

1988: Sorgente di vita

Sorgente di vita Fortnightly program realized by UCEI (Union of Italian Jewish Communities). Episode aired on November 6, 1988, at 11.10 pm, RaiDue (Clip ID: A48351). Special report by Emanuele Ascarelli.

50 years after the events, these street interviews (aka Vox populi) carried out in Rome Prati, a neighborhood frequented by educated professionals and prestigious high school students, depict a situation of almost total ignorance among the population. Judging from their selected responses, almost none of the passers-by, whether youths or adults, nuns or soldiers, is aware that there had ever been Racial Laws in Italy. This lack of awareness can be easily linked to the initial removal of any discussion of the issue in the post-war period and to the later overall minimizing and self-forgiving account of events emerged, as documented here.

At the end of the WebDoc, our own street interviews (“Vox Populi”) will allow us to take a look at how far the situation has changed in 2020 (here)



“If a society loses or does not keep the memory alive it becomes easy prey to a demagogue or a tyrant”

Iosif Brodskij
Russian-American poet (Nobel prize for Literature, 1987)


Historiography and Memorials

Gli ebrei e l’Italia durante la guerra 1940-1945

1986: From his investigative Tv program 'Il coraggio e la pietà' (see above), Nicola Caracciolo also publishes a book, Gli ebrei e l’Italia durante la guerra 1940-1945 (“Jews and Italy during the war, 1940-1945”), with a preface by the historian Renzo De Felice. The volume presents the full transcripts of the many interviews conducted for the program, including those which remained unedited. The central argument is, of course, the same as the one expressed by the television program and, namely, that Italians showed large scale solidarity towards the Jews.



Nicola Caracciolo

De Felice's controversial interview

1987: In a famous and controversial interview printed in the Corriere della Sera newspaper (READ HERE), Renzo De Felice, who in the meantime had become the most famous Italian historian of Fascism, consolidated the classical interpretation, defining fascism "safe from the accusation of genocide" and Italy "out of the shadow of the Holocaust".



Renzo De Felice

The 50th anniversary brings new studies

1988: The 50th anniversary marks the beginning of a turning point. The Chamber and the Senate organize two conferences on the subject (see the section “Culture and Politics”). Meanwhile, at a historiographical level, the full texts of the laws are published, in a Special Issue of Rassegna mensile di Israel (Monthly Review of Israel), edited by the historian Michele Sarfatti.



Nicola Caracciolo

Culture and Politics

1985:10 years in the making, Shoah, a monumental 9-and-a-half-hour documentary film by French director Claude Lanzmann, is released, based entirely on testimonies. It is hailed as a masterpiece.

1986: John Paul II is the first Pope to visit the synagogue in Rome. The event, sign of a reconciliation that had started with the Second Vatican Council, is broadcast live by RAI. During the ceremony, the representatives of Judaism once again cite the aid received during the persecutions by churches and monasteries.

1988: On the 50th anniversary of the Racial Laws, the Chamber and the Senate organize two conferences on the Laws (one of a comparative European nature, the other on their abrogation after the collapse of Fascism). The minutes are then published. It is one of the first steps made by the main national institutions to recognize the incident.