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The apologies of the Italian academic world to the Jews

80 years after the Racial Laws

Vittorio Emanuele III, in his "buen retiro" of San Rossore of Pisa, did not have the willingness to oppose the persecution against the Jews decided by Benito Mussolini. Without even waiting for Hitler's orders, on 5th September of 80 years ago he signed The Laws for the Defence of the Race, referred to as Racial Laws, although it would be more correct to call them "racist laws", given their content, intent and outcomes.

The first effect of the anti-Jewish laws was the exclusion of Jews from schools and universities. This was followed by the revocation of the citizenship to foreign Jews (7 September), the firing of the Jewish civil servants, the prohibition to access the liberal professions. There was also plenty of prohibitions on a strictly personal level, going from the prohibition of the "mixed marriages" (in a set of anti-Jewish measures of 17th November) to the one of sitting in places attended by "pure Italians". The Racial Laws gradually led to the complete spoliation of Jews and were the premise of their annihilation.

On 20 September 2018, right in Pisa, a highly symbolic event will take place: the deans of 83 Italian universities will gather to apologize to Jews for the expulsions of the 30s and 40s. As underlined by Guri Schwartz, a member of the international scientific committee of the initiative, asked by Anna Momigliano on Haaretz of 2 September 2018, "it is the first time that an Italian institution assumes its responsibilities for the Racial Laws.

The expulsions from schools and universities were tragic and unjust measures, which deprived the Italian culture of some of the best minds. Jews in 1938, in facts, were 0,1% of the population, but constituted 7% of the world of research and university. The ousted scientists, many of whom had to flee abroad, included personalities of the calibre of Enrico Fermi - discoverer of the atomic bomb, whose wife was Jewish -, Nobel laureate Emilio Segré and the whole group of the boys of Panisperna street, which gave a huge contribution to science and the defeat of Nazi-fascism. Another story, not exhaustive of this tragedy but surely significant and moving, was that of professor Federigo Enriques, who, having founded the Department of Mathematics of the University of Rome, in 1938 found himself expelled even from the access to its library, because of the regime's fascist measures.

The decision of the Italian academic corps to apologize to the country's Jewish Communities is all the more commendable (albeit maybe late) given the wounds that apparently risk reopening every time. Primo Levi wrote that those who do not remember the past are condemned to live it again. Let's thus hope that many other authorities will take on responsibility for the past, so to be able to plan a peaceful and honourable future.

7 September 2018

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