A delegation from Italy’s right-wing National Alliance Party, which traces its roots back to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, paid homage this week to victims of the Holocaust at the former Auschwitz concentration camp.
Italy’s Jewish community welcomed the gesture, but said the visit should be followed by firm efforts by the National Alliance to get rid of anti-Semitism among party supporters.
“A visit to Auschwitz is always instructive for everyone, and the awareness that a visit by a National Alliance delegation shows is a positive development,” Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in a statement.
But, Zevi added, the fact that sharply anti-Semitic material was distributed at a recent National Alliance rally in Milan indicated that the party needed to take firm action to prevent similar incidents.
Paying symbolic homage at Auschwitz, she said, had to be followed by “hard and unequivocal facts.”
According to a National Alliance statement, a delegation of five senior party officials traveled to Auschwitz on Monday, which the 52nd anniversary of the Nazi deportation of Jews from Rome.
The delegation laid a wreath to mark the anniversary.
In the Auschwitz visitors’ book, delegation leader Marco Zacchera left a message in the name of National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini stating that the delegation’s visit was “a symbolic gesture to show awareness of the immensity of pain and horror the Holocaust caused the Jewish people.”
Fini was in the United States that day.
The visit to Auschwitz is seen as part of Fini’s continuing efforts to distance his party from its fascist roots and to enable it to form part of Italy’s mainstream political right.
Fini founded the National Alliance last year to replace the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement, which he led for years and which was founded after World War II by former fascists loyal to the memory of Mussolini.
The National Alliance formed part of the center-right coalition government headed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that was in office for seven months last year.
While Berlusconi is currently fighting charges of bribery, Fini emerged from that period as one of Italy’s most prominent political figures.