By Monte Sole Peace School Foundation, Italy

DATE:  26/04/1937, 15 YEARS (of the Fascist era).

Thus begins the order by Lieutenant Colonel Umberto Marelli, endorsing the operation to bomb Gernika. But what most don’t realize is that this is an order to the Italian Legionary Air Force, an expeditionary corps of the Italian Royal Air Force. Set up in 1936 and sent to provide logistical and tactical support to Franco’s Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, the Legionary Air Force worked alongside its German equivalent, the Condor Legion.

Why does public and collective memory, in Italy and across Europe, remember only Nazi Germany’s role in this war crime?

After WWII, two imperatives operated: one, to create a crystal clear understanding of “what was right” and “what was wrong” and create a definitive separation between nations’ “friends” and “enemies”. The other imperative was to build strong national identities, within which the war could be understood. This combination – and other reasons – led to an oversimplification of what happened in the past, leaving no space for the complexities that scientific historical research brings with it. Primo Levi said that “…very rarely the historical events are simple and never of the simplicity we would like”[1].

In this particular process of remembering, public and political discourse focused almost entirely on Italy’s role as an ally. The Fascist dictatorship, its colonial policy, its racist and criminal ways of creating the “other” through propaganda and other means was rarely examined. Aiding this simplification of history was the discovery that thousands of Italians had fallen victim to Nazi and Fascist violence. Among these were the 770 killed in the hills of Monte Sole in a Nazi attack in 1944.

Writing today from the Monte Sole Peace School Foundation, which remembers this terrible event, we aim to remember the complexities of this history – and of other histories. For us, not to remember that Italians were also perpetrators is a betrayal. A betrayal of the Italian victims’ (upon whose stories the national narrative of post-war Italy is built) opportunity to hold accountable the Italian state and those Italians who colluded and perpetrated these crimes. And a betrayal of the foreign victims, who lost their lives and future.

This is why from the silent hills of Monte Sole we are raising our voices and remembering this 75th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika. For us, to move from a “site of memory” to a “Site of Conscience” means being able to examine all aspects of our histories – especially the ones we would rather forget. It means recognizing not only that we might have been perpetrators and victims and bystanders then, but that this possibility still exists. Remembering the bombing of Gernika today, for us, is to remember our roles – as people and as nations – in what happened before, and thereby, to understand that what happens now is up to us. We all have the capacity for great good and great evil. By remembering what choices were made before and what resulted, what choices will we make today?

[1] “I sommersi e i salvati”, 1986


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