Especially while it is still a matter of living memory, the recent revelations about the wartime experience of Italy’s Jews are of urgent importance. The Nobel Prize-winning scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini, who turned 101 on April 22, describes what she calls the “imbecility” of antisemitic edicts promulgated by Italian Fascists during the Second World War.
Barred by Mussolini’s notorious racial laws from obtaining the academic posts she deserved, Levi-Montalcini instead conducted genetics research at home and even while in hiding from the Fascist police. Despite subsequent memoirs by fellow Italian Jews like Primo Levi and Natalia Ginzburg, a myth persisted until quite recently that during the Second World War Jews were treated with relative benevolence in Italy, compared to elsewhere in Western Europe.
That myth was shattered forever by the landmark 2005 collection of historical articles, “Jews in Italy under Fascist and Nazi Rule, 1922–1945,” edited by Yeshiva University historian Joshua Zimmerman, and recently reissued in paperback by Cambridge University Press.