Giorgio Bassani’s Literary Memorial to the Jews of Ferrara under Fascist Rule

Best known for his novella The Garden of the Finzi-Continis—which was turned into a film of the same name in 1970—the Italian Jewish writer Giorgio Bassani (1916-2000) wrote three other novellas as well several short stories. In 1974, he combined his six previous books of fiction into a single volume titled The Novel of Ferrara, after the city of his youth, where most of his work is set. The Novel of Ferrara has now been published in English. Adam Kirsch writes in his review:

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis gains in meaning and resonance as part of The Novel of Ferrara, where it forms one panel in a tapestry representing the lost world of Ferrara’s Jewry. This was a small world—before World War II, Bassani writes, there were just 400 Jews in the city. But he evokes it in richly realistic detail, filling his pages with descriptions of streets and cafés and churches, encircled by the old city walls. Characters who appear as passing names in one story return as protagonists in another, creating a sense of intimate community. And certain events—above all, a massacre in late 1943, in which Ferrara’s Fascists killed eleven people—serve as landmarks, visible in the background of many different tales. In these ways, The Novel of Ferrara can be compared with Joyce’s Dubliners or Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine; but a more fitting parallel is the yizkor books that were produced after the Holocaust to commemorate so many vanished Jewish towns.

Because Bassani’s fiction is intensely local, it assumes a reader familiar with the twists and turns of Italian history in the 20th century. The key event in Bassani’s life took place in October 1938, . . . when Italy introduced its Racial Laws, a package of anti-Semitic legislation modeled on Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws. At a stroke, Italy’s Jewish community—whose roots in the country went back to ancient times, and which had been highly assimilated for almost a century—was expelled from public life. . . .

This development was a profound shock to Italy’s Jews. . . . In The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, the Racial Laws take effect at first in trivial ways. A tennis tournament at the local country club is canceled midgame, when it seems likely that a Jewish player is going to win. Jewish businessmen are asked to leave their social clubs; Jewish housewives have to let their Gentile servants go. But as Bassani shows, the effect on young people—he himself was twenty-two years old at the time of the Racial Laws—was catastrophic. [But], Bassani suggests, even in 1939 the Holocaust was unimaginable.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Benito Mussolini, Fascism, Holocaust, Italian Jewry, Italy, Jewish literature


Hizballah Prepares for War, and UN Peacekeepers Do Nothing

Dec. 10 2018

According to last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 2373, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)—the peacekeeping force created after the Second Lebanon War to keep both Israel and Hizballah out of southern Lebanon—is authorized “to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.” If anything ought to rouse UNIFIL to action, writes Elliott Abrams, it should be the IDF’s recent discovery and destruction of tunnels dug by Hizballah to move troops into the Galilee:

The existence of these tunnels, dug from precisely the area of southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is meant to patrol, means that this area is indeed “utilized for hostile activities.” What, then, is the meaning of [UNIFIL’s statement in] response that it “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon”? The meaning is that UNIFIL will likely do nothing.

UNIFIL is not supposed to be merely a means of communication, or the Security Council would have bought cell phones instead of paying for a military force. Moreover, there are no “appropriate authorities” in Lebanon; if there were, Hizballah would never have been able to dig its tunnels.

The tunnels are hardly the only brazen Hizballah violation of the Security Council resolutions undertaken right under UNIFIL’s nose. Consider this: Hizballah is blocking roads in southern Lebanon to smooth the path of missiles it is moving into the area. . . . Then there is the village of Gila, just north of the Israeli border, where there is a Hizballah headquarters and according to the Israelis about twenty warehouses with weapons, combat positions, lookout points, and dozens of underground positions. All this was built in an area supposedly patrolled by UNIFIL. . . .

This is a test of UNIFIL and its new commander, [Stefan Del Col, who took over in August]. “Communicating” to “appropriate authorities” is a euphemism for doing nothing at all. Hizballah is preparing for war. UNIFIL is supposed to get in its way. If it cannot hinder Hizballah’s war preparations in any way, and is even ignorant of them, UNIFIL is a waste of time and money.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, United Nations