Research Seminar: Auschwitz-Italy


Location: Hesburgh Library, Special Collections Room

Robert Gordon, professor of modern Italian, head, Department of Italian, University of Cambridge

This lecture sets out to explore certain aspects of Italy’s complicated and often contradictory responses to the Holocaust over the long postwar era. It does so by way of posing a simple set of questions: when, how, and why did the word Auschwitz, and the place it designates, become part and parcel of Italian culture and language?

Gordon has published widely on 20th century Italian literature, cinema, and cultural history. He is the author or editor of several books on the work of Primo Levi, including Auschwitz Report, and Culture, Censorship, and the State in 20th Century Italy. His work on cinema includes the books Bicycle Thieves, DVD and blu-ray audio commentaries on Pasolini’s Teorema and Bicycle Thieves, and articles and essays on Holocaust cinema, early film and literature, ‘Hollywood on the Tiber,’ and censorship.

His latest book, The Holocaust in Italian Culture, 1944–2010, is the first major study of how postwar Italy confronted, or failed to confront, the Holocaust. Fascist Italy was the model for Nazi Germany, and Mussolini was Hitler’s prime ally in World War II. But Italy also became a theater of war and a victim of Nazi persecution after 1943, as resistance, collaboration, and civil war raged. Many thousands of Italians—Jews and others—were deported to concentration camps throughout Europe. After the war, Italian culture produced a rich array of stories, images, and debate through which it came to terms with the Holocaust’s difficult legacy. Gordon probes a rich range of cultural material as he paints a picture of this shared encounter with the darkest moment of 20th century history. His book probes aspects of Italian national identity and memory, offering a new model for analyzing the interactions between national and international images of the Holocaust.