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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Liberation Day in Rome

April 25 – today is Liberation Day, the day Italy celebrates its liberation from the Nazis. On this date in 1945, Milan and the other large cities of the north were considered liberated by (most agree) the partisans, as southern Italy already had been by the Allies.

But it might better be called Contestation Day. Over the years, the date has been reserved for leftist celebrations. But the right increasingly wants to contest the leftists’ view of Italy’s liberation, and specifically to contest the positive participation of partisans, communists, and whether these two groups overlap. Each year we watch the Italian politicians take strange - and often uncomfortable (even for them) - positions as the date nears. With the right wing in firm control of the nation (Prime Minister Berlusconi) and even cities as historically left as Rome (Mayor Alemanno), the issues dominate the media: who “controls” April 25 or takes center stage; did the partisans really liberate Italy, are there good and bad partisans, were the partisans all communists?

A few years ago we read about the possibility that Berlusconi wouldn’t even publicly acknowledge April 25; then – hot news! - he bussed a former partisan on the cheek. This year the headline-grabbing topic was where Berlusconi would present himself on April 25, and whether he and the right-wing parties would appropriate the holiday. One proposed setting for Berlusconi today was Onna—the small town near L’Aquila that was completely destroyed by the recent earthquake and, more to the point of April 25, was the scene of Nazi execution of 17 civilians in 1944.

The (acknowledged by most) diplomatic President (a largely figurehead position) of the country is former communist Napolitano, who manages to bring the meaning of the day back in focus. Don’t try to divide the partisans or minimize their role, he says.

A poster put up by Italy’s now small Communist Party announces: “without the Left, without Communists, there’s no liberation” (see photo).

The intensity of feeling that surrounds April 25 reveals how central the events of World War II remain for Italians, left and right. In contrast, Americans generally agree on the meaning of that conflict, yet remain bitterly divided over the war in Vietnam and, indeed, over the meaning and interpretation of the political, social, and cultural upheaval known as the “sixties.”

Rome the Second Time is the only guidebook we know of that discusses the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943-44. One of the itineraries takes the Rome visitor to the site of several resistance actions, including Porta San Paolo, where the initial resistance was staged and today’s Rome Liberation Day activities unfold; via Rasella, where a German column was bombed by the partisans; and the SS torture chambers of via Tasso. Our book also takes you to the Fosse Ardeatine on the outskirts of Rome, where 335 men were executed and their bodies covered up in these Ardeatine caves, now a deeply moving memorial to the senseless murder of civilians.



Anonymous said...

Hi Dianne! I'm Giulia, an Italian student. I'm very interested about history of Rome's liberation by nazist forces. I would like to know if you have an itinerary about this. Thanks in advance ! :)

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Hi Guilia - apologies for the delay in responding. We don't have an itinerary of the liberation. We do have several itineraries in Rome the Second Time that deal with World War II in Rome: the Nazis Come to Rome, for example, via Tasso, Fosse Ardeatine. The closest I know of an itinerary of the liberation is the book (in Italian) published by Edizione il Lupo titled "4 Guigno - L'ultima conquista di Roma," and rather expensive at 18 Euro. I'll just warn you that the "itinerary" only loosely follows the Allies coming into Rome, in our opinion. We took a walk (supposedly this walk) with a group sponsored by Edizione il Lupo on 4 June 2014, celebrating the 70th anniversary and the publication of the book. We were disappointed that it didn't follow the actual itinerary more precisely. Good luck, and let us know if you find something better! Buon trekking.