The Holocaust and the Foibe
Convention in Perugia: Genocides and Exoduses of the Twentieth Century
On May 30th, in Perugia, Umbria’s largest city, an interesting convention took place, with the theme “The Foibe and the Holocaust”, organized by the Provincial Council of the students of Perugia. It was held in the main lecture hall of the University of Perugia, with the following leading participants: Lucio Toth (ANVGD President), dr. Marino Micich (Society of Fiume Studies), and the cultural head of the Israeli Embassy, dr. Elazar Cohen. Paolo Sardos Albertini , of the “Lega Nazionale” was unable to attend due to health reasons. An attentive audience of 120 students was present, along with their professors. Toth’s comments on the convention follow.
The idea of comparing two tragedies so disalike in capacity, origins, and consequences may seem rash.
The reason for its being done now – through this convention organized by a group of students from Perugia – is the desire to highlight certain common traits of the ideologies of the twentieth century that brought about a series of crimes against humanity on a scale never before reached, neither in dimension nor in geographic extension. This is not to say that, throughout history, there were never episodes of massacres, deportations, and pogroms, the victims of which were often members of the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, but the technological means and organization of the twentieth century gave States, in the service of ideologies of the masses, the capabilityof setting up concentrationary and persecutory systems that no tyrant of the past could ever have had at his command.
Before, after, and during the enormous tragedy of the Holocaust and the Shoah, and the misunderstood tragedy of Italy’s eastern border, so inferior in number of victims and population involved, in absolute terms – but significant for this very reason, as an example of general tendencies in an era of collective State violence – there occurred other tragedies of differing dimensions.
The phenomenon of the Foibe in Venezia-Giulia, when seen in relationship to its territory’s meager size, represents in any case a phenomenon of mass proportions, if it is considered in terms of the percentage of the population involved as victims of the massacres and subsequent exodus, which involved more than half the resident population of the Italian provinces of Fiume, Pola and Zara, and the near totality of the native Italian-speaking population. It was, and remains, the greatest emptying of territories inhabited by Italians ever to have taken place in the nation’s history.
We want to recall here some of those tragedies, those which took place in our geographic area: Europe and the Near East, from the Aegean Sea to the Caucasus, entwined for millenia in the same history, from the Mycenaean Era to the Roman and Byzantine Empires, up to the more recent conflicts of the Russian and Ottoman Empires, with the lingering conflicts of which the Balkan and Anatolian regions still bear the signs.
From the Armenian Genocide to the Shoah
The century began with the Armenian Genocide, from 1915 to 1916. There were more than a million victims, killed in the most atrocious of ways: slaughter by throatcutting, starvation, and epidemics. This genocide caused three million refugees, who fled to Russian Armenia but mostly towards Europe and the Americas.
The century continues with the Greek Massacre, of 1922-1924. The irregular militias did the dirty work, leaving the regular army, by then under the command of the new leader Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, to fight the field battle, to rid Anatolia of the Greek armed forces. In fact, the peace treaty of Sévres (1920) had assigned to Greece, by the under Elefterios Venizelos, the entire province of Smirnre and Eastern Thracea.
After the conquering, or reconquering – because regions taken away from a “motherland” are always then “restored” to a new “motherland” – ethnic cleansing always takes place, a forced transferring of populations. Almost two million Greeks left Smirne, Magnesia, Rodosto, Bursa, Adrianopoli. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Turks left Greek Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Serbian Macedonia.
The Western powers allowed it all to happen. The treaty of Lausanne, in 1923, sanctioned, in a way, the forced tranfer of populations as a solution to border area conflicts.
Thus, those who supported the “final solution”, the extermination of Jews and Gypsies, found their inspiration. First, those residing within the borders of the Third Reich. Then, when military and political circumstances in allied and occupied countries allowed it, the deportations were extended to what was then Czechoslovakia, Poland, Vichy France, Croatia, Serbia, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania., the last to cede to the power of Hitler, being Axis allies. Then, after September 8th, 1943, it was Italy’s turn. From the ghettoes of Rome and Venice, from the communities of Ferrara, Modena, and Livorno, thousands of Italian Jews were sent toward the concentration camps and crematoria.
From Fiume, Trieste and Gorizia as well, entire familes were taken away from their homes. The synagogues were destroyed. And along with the Italian Jews were taken the Eastern European Jews who had found refuge in Venezia-Giulia and Zara, and Dalmatia, Croatia and those zones controlled by Italian troops up to that moment.
In those same tragic years, entire populations of the ex-USSR were deported thousands of miles in forced marches across Siberia and Central Asia.
This continued until yet another wave of violence, in the Red Army’s invasion of the eastern regions of Poland and Germany and the Baltic States, who today still remember the horrors of that “liberation”. But it was necessary to apply the accords of Tehran regarding the division of Poland and Germany by the Allies. Denouncing those massacres, and thousands of rapes, were the first Soviet dissidents, including Solzhenitsn, a Soviet officer who, faced with those horrors, rediscovered his conscience as a believer. Last year Gunter Grass, a leftist intellectual, had his turn, as he reminded a forgetful Germany of those crimes. And he paid the consequences! For the truth is always uncomfortable.
How does a nation or government arrive at mass crimes, in the passive sense, but also in the active sense?
Mass Crimes, Mass-scale Organization
To carry out ethnic cleansing, forced mass transfers and genocides, mass-scale organization is needed.
The trial of Eichmann, more than any other at Nuremburg, revealed to all the satanic mechanisms of the Nazi’s organization. But the USSR, too, was able to carry out a concentration-camp system, one which not only swallowed classes of people, such as dissidents, but also entire communities, nations, populations, that were defined “enemies of the people”, much in the same way that the Jews and Gypsies were considered “enemies of the Aryan Race”.
Apart from the scientific madness of any and all racisms, along with its immorality, there is a common characteristic in all these mass crimes: the singling out of a collective enemy in a specific nation or ethnic or religious community.
Creating a climate of State propaganda, one that prepares the public opinion psychologically to justify, or even to limit powers and movements, barring from schools., expropriating property and, in the end, expelling from a region inhabited for generations, deportation, extermination.
Ethnic hatred, rooted in past centuries, are taken advantage of by the totalitarian, classist, racist, or simply nationalist ideological propaganda. It was the “Aryan Race” that defended the Third Reich, and its allies and occupied nations; the “proletariat” in the USSR and communist regimes of Eastern Europe; it was the “Turkish Nation” for the Turkey of the Yhoung Turks, that was to cleanse the Anatolian peninsula of populations, numbering in the millions, that had lived there for three millenia.
The Yugoslav model, national hatred and class hatred
Tito’s Yugoslav model was a mixture of classism and nationalism. It was experimented with success in Venezia-Giulia and Dalmatia with tremendous detriment to the native Italian population. Hatred against the wealthy is another of the most typical characteristics of this propaganda mechanism, since it corresponds to a basic lie.
The Jews were not only wealthy citydwellers, businessman or bankers. The Armenians and the Greeks weren’t only wealthy merchants or shipbuilders. The same for the Italians of Venezia-Giulia and Dalmatia.
There were millions of Jews who were poor artesans or peasants farming land that wasn’t theirs. There were millions of Armenians who were peasants and shepherds. Hundreds of thousands of Istrians were small farmers, fishermen, workers, miners, and sailors. They were all poor and powerless as are the poor and powerless the world over.
And all of them were dragged off to the same concentration camps, in the death marches, or forced into exile, seen as the only salvation possible, personal or collective. Forced away from their native lands, stripped of everything, but free and, at least, alive!
Italian Judaism, the new antisemitism
Here in Italy, we have seen how nations reach such levels of excess. And we Italians of Venezia-Giulia understand this even more profoundly. Let us speak of the Jewish communites from our region: from Isaia Ascoli to Leo Valiani.
Liberals, patriotic Italians, protagonists of the Risorgimento and Irredentism. They were volunteers in the First World War. Decorated with honors. Legionaries under D’Annunzio. They volunteered again in 1940, joining the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and even the Fascist Guard!
And then, hounded out of schools, universities, the armed forces, the magistrature, the diplomatic corps. And, after the 8th of September 1943, abandoned to the Nazi deportation.
How many of the “others” rebelled? The tragedies of others is never felt until we, ourselves, experience, it. A refugee of Konisberg didn’t know, didn’t understand, didn’t want to know, about Auschwitz. Until he himself was imprisoned, without having committed any crime, save that of simply being German, raped or massacred only because of that, not by Jews, but by the Red Army.
There is a collective moral dulling that comes before crimes are carried out by totalitarian regimes. Justifications are sought for Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Eastern Christians. Traitors of the people, collaborators, enemies of the nation. And later, based on the same distorted reasoning, denial and justificationism are founded. They were guilty: they must pay!
In masses, thousands of Italians in the foibe; hundreds of thousands of Armenians massacred or killed by starvation or epidemic; millions of Jews slaughtered. All guilty? Of what crimes?
Well, there weren’t really that many of them! So it is said. There is the meager justification of the quantity of the dead. The questioning of actual numbers and statistics. The counting of tibias and skulls. And the ultimate trench of barbarian acts: the confirmation, the confession ex ore sue of the barbarians acts themselves.
Whoever stoops to this level renders himself a posthumous accomplice of genocides, deportations, and ethnic cleansing.
Every European nation has its own skeletons in its closet. But this must not turn us into minimalists, confusing, in the grey fog of ignominy and self-absolution, specific events and preordered and ascertained historical massacres, bent on ethnic cleansing or, more drastically, the disappearance of an entire population from the face of the Earth.
The last sentence of the International Tribunal for crimes committed in ex-Yugoslavia confirms that Srebrenica was “genocide”, becasue all the necessary factors were present to define it as such, in accordance with international statues of law.
Today, there is a new antisemitism, as dangerous as the antisemitism of a century ago. Already, Israeli scholars and journalists are being prevented from speaking in universities. This was how the SS and the SA began. We must combat this immediately, to prevent this numbing of the collective moral conscience which led to the crimes of the past.
(traduzione di Lorie Ballarin)