Officials in northern Italy have condemned a far-right political party for protesting a drive to erect a Holocaust memorial in the city of Bolzano.
In cooperation with the local Jewish community, local newspapers in the province of Alto Adige launched an effort last Friday to build a monument in Bolzano’s Jewish cemetery to honor Jews killed in a Nazi transit camp in the town.
Alto Adige, also known as the South Tyrol, is a largely German-speaking province on the border with Austria. Thousands of South Tyroleans were enrolled in the German Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS or Nazi police units.
The local Freiheitliche, or Freedom, Party, which is closely allied with Austrian right-wing extremist Jorg Haider, attacked the monument initiative in terms that mixed classic anti-Semitism with pro-Palestinian rhetoric.
“South Tyroleans have more important problems than continually listening to Jews,” party secretary Ulli Mair said over the weekend in a statement.
“One must stop attributing to new generations the sins of the past, in which always and only the Jews are represented as victims,” the statement said.
“Jews everywhere have positions of power, above all in the United States,” it added. “But have they at least learned something from history? Or is it always others who must learn? It’s enough to see what’s happening in Palestine. For this, we are against South Tyroleans giving their money for a Jewish monument.”
The attack outraged mainstream political forces and prompted statements of support for local Jews.
Alessandra Zendron, president of the province, expressed “full solidarity with the Jewish community, because these things must absolutely not be permitted and must be condemned in the most absolute manner.”
Mair’s words, she said, “provoke an immediate sense of revulsion in anyone who knows history.”
Frederico Steinhaus, the president of the local Jewish community, told JTA on Tuesday that all other local political parties condemned the attack and called for Mair’s dismissal as party leader.
In addition to the response from political parties, Steinhaus said, the local bishop announced he would make a personal donation toward construction of the memorial.
The Freiheitliche Party’s protest, Steinhaus said, “seems to have boomeranged.”
The Bolzano transit camp operated for 10 months in 1944-1945. During this time, more than 11,000 anti-fascist political prisoners, Jews, Gypsies and others passed through.
These included more than 200 Jews deported to Auschwitz and other death camps. Thirteen Jews killed in the camp are buried in the Bolzano Jewish cemetery.
As part of the fund-raising initiative for the monument, an article about one local Jew who was deported to his or her death will be published in the local press each week during the coming six months.
About 50 Jews live today in Alto Adige.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.