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


Israel Should Try to Defang Hamas without Toppling It

Feb. 22 2019

For the time being, Hamas has chosen to avoid outright war with the Jewish state, but instead to apply sustained, low-intensity pressure through its weekly border riots and organizing terrorist cells in the West Bank. Yet it is simultaneously engaged in a major military build-up, which suggests that it has not entirely been deterred by the previous three Gaza wars. Yaakov Lappin considers Jerusalem’s options:

In recent years, the Israel Defense Force’s southern command, which is responsible for much of the war planning for Gaza, identified a long-term truce as the best of bad options for Israel. This is based on the understanding that an Israeli invasion of Gaza and subsequent destruction of the Hamas regime would leave Israel in the unenviable position of being directly in charge of some two-million mostly hostile Gazans. This could lead to an open-ended and draining military occupation. . . .

Alternatively, Israel could demolish the Hamas regime and leave Gaza, putting it on a fast track to a “Somalia model” of anarchy and violence. In that scenario, . . . multiple jihadist armed gangs lacking a central ruling structure would appear, and Israel would be unable to project its military might to any single “return address” in Gaza. This would result in a loss of Israel’s deterrent force on Gaza to keep the region calm. This scenario would be considerably worse than the current status quo.

But a third option, in between the options of leaving Gaza as it is and toppling Hamas in a future war, may exist. In this scenario, the IDF would decimate Hamas’s military wing in any future conflict but leave its political wing and police force in place. This would enable a rapid Israeli exit after a war, but avoid a Somalia-like fate for Gaza with its destructive implications for both Israelis and Gazans. . . .

On the one hand, Hamas’s police force is an intrinsic support system for Gaza’s terrorist-guerrilla forces. On the other hand, the police and domestic-security units play a genuine role in keeping order. Such forces have been used to repress Islamic State-affiliated cells that challenge Hamas’s rule. . . . Compared to the alternative scenarios of indefinite occupation or the “Somalia scenario,” a weakened Hamas might be the best and most realistic option.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security