The logo of IHRA
Gariwo took part in the plenary of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, held in Rome from May 28 to 31 by the Italian delegation of IHRA – for which it takes on the presidency for the year 2018.
In particular, we have been called to present our activity before the delegates of the 31 IHRA countries and the associations dealing with remembrance, within the Committee on Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity presided by Klaus Mueller – representative for Europe of the Holocaust Museum of Washington. The objective was that of making known not only our work but above all the experience in the educational and cultural field that has enabled Gariwo to reach important results at the public and institutional level.
IHRA had as early as in 2010 already issued some guidelines on the remembrance of the Holocaust and other genocide cases, but on this occasion, the need emerged to revise them in the light of the changes and progress in education relating to these themes and to share experiences with local entities – such as Gariwo.
In particular, over the recent years, comparative surveys on genocide have multiplied – even if this occurred particularly in the United States and some country of Western Europe – not only to understand past and present genocide cases but also in order to analyze racism, xenophobia and present events.
The evidence that surfaces from the survey of IHRA on Holocaust, genocide and crimes against the humanity is the effort to adapt the study of the Holocaust to a steadily changing world and audience. The students, who are the target of educational activities, are more and more distant from the Holocaust, not only due to their age. If on the one hand, some surveys have proven that people feel less emotional about events that occurred prior to their parent’s birth, on the other hand, the gradual disappearance of the survivors is leading to the loss of direct and immediately empathic pieces of testimony.
Moreover, in the IHRA countries, it is currently necessary also to deal with the issue of migrants, who do not know about European history or have no direct connection to it but instead can bring a testimony about the genocide cases in their national history and thus enrich the Holocaust reflection in the West.
These were the premises of IHRA’s need to learn about the experiences about the Holocaust and other genocide cases not only from academic sources but also on the territory and from the relationship with educators, associations and institutions. Gariwo’s work perfectly fits this framework. From the encounter between its founders – Gabriele Nissim, Pietro Kuciukian, Ulianova Radice and Anna Maria Samuelli – Gariwo’s soul has always been an attention toward spreading the tales of the Righteous in order to give rise to an educating memory: a reflection about the past that is able to facilitate the understanding of the mechanisms that led to war, crimes against the humanity and genocide cases, with the goal of educating people to personal responsibility and thus preventing new mass atrocities.
A key feature of this reflection is for us the work by Yehuda Bauer, the great Holocaust scholar, who says that “We have two inclinations, possible instincts, inside us: the one to kill and the one to act by cooperating, and also to rescue other people. The key issue in genocide prevention is about strengthening the human instinct to defend or save other people’s lives. And this can be done only if we become aware of the fact that genocide, and mass atrocities in general, are part of human history and as such can repeat”.
Hence the importance of the role played by the positive examples set by the Righteous; showing that, also in the face of genocide and totalitarianism, someone who chose to defend human dignity has always existed. Gariwo’s intuition has been that of starting from the biblical term, used then in Israel after World War II to define those who rescued the Jews during the Holocaust, making it universal and honouring those who – during genocide in Armenia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Guatemala, during totalitarianism of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans – have opposed crimes against the humanity all over the world. For each historical moment or new genocide, there can be new terminological nuances; this is why a rigid classification into types of exemplary figures cannot exist. Hence, in the Gardens of the Righteous we honour the names of Primo Levi, Giorgio Perlasca, Jan Karski and Irena Sendler, carved besides those of Etty Hillesum, Sophie Scholl, Yolande Mukagasana, Claire Ly, Svetlana Broz, Enrico Calamai, Andrej Sacharov, Hrant Dink, Nelson Mandela, Alganesh Fessaha, Lassana Bathily and many more.
Telling the stories of those, yesterday like today, have chosen goodness in the face of the challenges of our time, is key to explain that goodness is always possible. It is always a choice. This is especially important for the youngest kids, who through the examples of the Righteous learn about the value of personal responsibility.
This idea works, above all with young generations, if we create a bridge between the past and the present and show that there are mechanisms that keep on repeating in human history, which we now retrace in the return of the culture of hate and enmity, in the surge of a language of dehumanization towards the other, in the closure in new populism and nationalism. This is why we talk about the Righteous of our time, and we say that also in the face of today’s problems, there are people who save human lives, rescue migrants, and do not surrender to hatred.
All these Righteous are those who Gabriele Nissim, in his recent book Il bene possibile, calls the “keepers of humanity”, those who, regardless of their political or social positions, cannot accept that in the world there are human beings considered as useless or even harmful, and therefore do not surrender to dehumanization, safeguarding their own dignity and defending our common humanity.
It is to all these figures that we dedicate our work. And it is in their name that we have demanded and obtained the establishment of the European Day of the Righteous from the European Parliament, in 2012, and of the Day of the Righteous of the humanity from the Italian Parliament, in 2017.
Therefore every year, on 6 March – date of the passing of Moshe Bejski, the great personality behind the creation of the Avenue of the Righteous of Yad Vashem – we celebrate the example of these figures together with thousands students and citizens, in order to spread the values of responsibility, tolerance and solidarity.
It is the message that we are launching in schools, which over 500 teachers are helping us spread among pupils, using our teaching tools – such as the show Il Memorioso, the game box I sentieri dei Giusti, the pathways of the Virtual Garden of the Righteous – or creating new Gardens and unveiling the stories of new Righteous people. And this is the message that we will spread with even more enthusiasm now that the Protocol of Understanding and the Implementation Agreement of the law establishing the Day of the Righteous, powerful tools to spread the memory of good, have been signed.
The flower at the aisle of this work about the Righteous are the Gardens, places not only of memory but also of daily life, dialogue and reflections. Since the creation of the Garden of Milan in 2003 in the green area of Monte Stella hill – the “Mound” designed by architect Bottoni to collect the debris of the shellings of World War II, expression of the rebirth of the city after the destruction – we have worked with institutions, associations, local entities, schools and citizens to give rise to new places dedicated to the Righteous.
The fruit of this was a network, GariwoNetwork, which so far comprises 84 Gardens in Italy and 11 in the world. In our country, many of them were created in cooperation with Gariwo, but there are more and more entities that arised spontaneously, drawing inspiration from our experience.
In the rest of the world, instead, except for those of Yad Vashem, Yerevan, Washington and Wilmington, the Gardens have been created upon Gariwo initiative, in cooperation with cultural institutions and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a movement, which we call “diplomacy of good”. This is one of the reasons why we are committed with the Farnesina to building a Garden that may emphasize the example of the Italian diplomats who, with their commitment in the favour of the persecuted in the gloomy times of history, have made our country even greater.
In Rome, in the discussion with the IHRA delegates and the people in charge of the scholarships on the Holocaust, we have inevitably dealt with the Righteous Among the Nations of Yad Vashem and the sensitivity of the idea of Righteous of the Humanity, always open to new definitions and thus a sensitive issue that needs protection, in order to avoid the risk of trivialization. Nonetheless, as Yehuda Bauer himself reminded, who was there in the meeting room, beyond clear and shared definitions, what really matters in the education and genocide prevention are the examples. In our case, the examples set by the Righteous.
Martina Landi, Gariwo Project Manager and Coordinator