Assisi, the Museum of Memory

foto museo della memoria

ASSISI – Each area has its own “Schindler’s List” to tell the story of everyday heroes who, through a tenacious labour of resistance falsified, concealed, lied to, chased away and eventually saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust. Assisi, city of hospitality, tells the story of its heroes at the Memorial Museum, with the exhibition “Lest We Forget. An Exhibition About Jews Saved in Assisi During the Nazi Persecutions”: four rooms in the Municipal Gallery in Palazzo Vallemani to remember and also relive those crazy and courageous actions.

Three hundred Jews of the area were saved from deportation and extermination, thanks to the Franciscan spirit of the city. In the “Memorial Museum 1943-1944″, one turns back to each of those three hundred stories; but above all, to the stories of the people who made this possible. The exhibition in the four halls of the Art Gallery, opened last June and today visited more than ever on the occasion of the Holocaust Memorial Day (27th of January), was conceived and curated by Marina Rosati with texts by Annabella Donà, and installed by the Opera Casa Papa Giovanni, a foundation of the Assisi Curia. The exhibition showcases unpublished documents, photos, awards, essays and articles dealing with that historic period and the various personalities that got personally involved in saving the Jews. Immersing oneself in the objects and images of everyday life at the time, one seems almost to know (or recognize, for the area) those “legendary” characters. One of many, Don Aldo Brunacci, already founder of the Casa Giovanni, who over the years fought to keep the memory alive. Or the then Bishop Monsignor Placido Nicolini, leader of the underground organization that was spontaneously created in the city. Or others, Father Rufino Niccacci, a friar minor, and Father Superior of the monastery of San Damiano, the Mayor of Assisi Arnaldo Fortini, the German Colonel Muller, the various religious orders mobilized, the monasterial friar Father Michele Todde, in short, all those who did their best to save the lives of people destined to extermination camps. The exhibition describes what was in effect a large underground network of solidarity, a union of intentions and efforts that made Assisi an important point of reference on the international landscape of the Resistance (displaced persons and immigrants poured in from all over Europe), demonstrating in the present era that same Franciscan fraternity that it has always had.

An important space in the exhibition is devoted to Luigi and Trento Brizi, the Assisi printers who printed false documents for fugitive Jews. Together with their images and awards, there is also an old printing press on display that was the tool used for the “rescue”, with its type drawers, cutter and stamps.

The exhibition at the Art Gallery of Assisi, entirely bilingual in Italian and English, provides an opportunity to see original, unpublished documents, such as identity cards with the false names adopted by the Jews to avoid recognition, the authentic ration cards they had to purchase food, objects of daily survival, in addition to a video documentary with interviews of several of the participating heroes, recorded before their deaths, who relate the story first-hand of the actions taken to save the Jews from death.

The exhibition is open year round with different opening hours, following those of the Art Gallery: http://www.regioneumbria.eu/default.aspx?IDCont=19762

Laura Santi

(2 febbraio 2012)