Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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Day of the Righteous: the memory of offense, the memory of choice

by Anna Foa

Picture by Luca Zanarini

Picture by Luca Zanarini

We would like to place the the memory of resistance, of choice, side by side with the memory of offense, which we want to keep safe from any attempt of denial, repression or indifference. We would like to place the Day of he Righteous side by side with Holocaust Remembrance Day. Did we really feel the need to do so? I really believe we did, and for many reasons. It is not a matter of setting up another recurrence, but rather to try and enlighten today's problems and stimulate, through the example set by the memory of the Righteous, today's responsible choices.

In facts, by remembering the Righteous, honouring their courage and deeds, we directly step into the issue of the quality of the memory of offense - i.e. the memory of the Holocaust - to limit possible closures or fossilization phenomena. Through the Righteous, we can transversely look at all genocide cases that have characterized the Twentieth Century, all the violence that have marked it, perpetuating the memory of those who have made life choices, helped the persecuted, looked evil squarely in the face. Some of them, like the Armin Wegner whose tale was masterfully told us by Gabriele Nissim, not only once: he was able to respond both to the genocide against the Armenians and to Hitler's policies. Through the memory of the Righteous, which enable us to confront with these realities, we give up looking at the offense only from the point of viee of the victims, and we relinquish any temptation to put the victims in competition with each other. The comparison with genocide cases does not aim at setting a top list of evil, but, as enriched by the example of those who have had the awarness and bravery to opt for Good, leads us to underline also the eternal force of examples, the individual's freedom to chose good.

We have often repeated, and we are still persuaded bout this, that what makes Jews (and in a way also the Roma and the Sintis) different from other victims is not so much the deal of the evil endured, but the fact of having endured it without being able to make a choice, for the sole fact of having been born. Of course, it is true and also Primo Levi told us about this while comparing the military inmates and the Jews. Jews did not choose, because they had simply no choice. But if they only had had it (and in  the camps this resurfaces in other forms, like with the figures of the kapos) surely they would have been gotten back to the melting pot (of prisoners, human beings) who could try to survive at the expense of others or dedicated their lives to rescuing them,

And hence remembering the Righteous, retracing their so often forgotten stories and their suffered and perilous choices helps us rearrange that story, our memory of the offense. Which is not only a story of victims, but also a story of Righteous people, of saviours. And evil was what needed the Righteous not to triumph. In our will to celebrate the Righteous there is a need for reconstruction, tikkun. A need to get the victims of excellence, the Jews, back into the whole humanity. Not only as victims, we can say, but human beings, as those who have tried to save them and protect them. No Jew in Italy, it has bee said, would have been saved without the helping hand of a non Jews to support, hide and feed them. Getting them safe from their fate as victims and putting back them into their essence of human beings. This is what we shall transmit to make sure memory is no hollow word and the new generations learn to choose and be responsible.

Analysis by Anna Foa, historian and professor at Università La Sapienza of Rome

23 September 2016

Memory

Remember the past in order to build a future

The International Committee of the Armenian Righteous. Memory is the Future was founded by Piero Kuciukian in order to commemorate those who went against the genocide of 1915. The title emphasises the function of the memory, which is not a nostalgic look back in history, but a a clear sense of the past to build a future without making old mistakes.
The memory has many solutions and presents conflicting results, either positive or negative depending on how it is treated. Reflections on the previous events help us to understand the present, which means to search for the coordinates that allow us to interpret new situations with awareness of the dangers or opportunities that are triggered by certain mechanisms such as cultural, social and individual. The experience of the genocides of the twentieth century, the phenomenon of totalitarianism, resulted in the devastating world war, the balance of power during the Cold War, provide very precise indications on the geopolitical hegemony and humanitarian frifts to be avoided, while the example of the Righteous, their varied efforts on behalf of the persecuted, the demand for freedom, independence of thought and the instance of the defense of human dignity, are to be taken to avoid the pitfalls of arrogance, denial of truth, the rejection of diversity, closing the other, unilateral decision.

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