I’ve just been reading this story in the Times, about the reaction of Italian partisans to Spike Lee’s forthcoming film Miracle at St Anna. The partisans are outraged about the representation of events at Sant’ Anna di Stazzema, where 560 men, women and children were masacred in August 1944 by SS troops. According to the story, the film seems to blame the partisans for bringing the Nazis to the village, then abandoning the villagers to their fate, and shows one partisan as a collaborator. This is in direct contrast to the accepted Italian version, where the presence of the partisans served as a mere excuse.
The film is Spike Lee’s attempt to tell the neglected tale of black soldiers during the Second World War. His interest in this subject has recently led to a squabble between him and Clint Eastwood over the absence of Black soldiers in Clint’s Flags of our Fathers, so it is perhaps ironic that the Italian veterans are now accusing him of failing to accurately reflect history. The Italian criticism has raised the question of the memory of World War II, and the received Italian version that the partisans redeemed the sins of fascism. Although the author of the novel Lee’s story is based on, a black veteran of the war, has been conciliatory, Lee has not:
“I am not apologising for anything”. “I think these questions are evidence that there is still a lot about your history during the war that you [the Italians] have got to come to grips with.
It seems to me – at a time when Italy has neo-fascists in government, Rome has a fascist mayor, and leading footballers are declaring themselves fascists – that Lee has inadvertently raised some important questions about Italy’s relationship with its fascist past. The decline of the PCI from one of the major political, intellectual and cultural forces in Italian society has weakened the defences against the falsification of the fascist past. Berlusconi’s government has red-baited judges, praised Italians who fought with the Nazis, and there is a real danger that the horrors of the past are not only being ignored but glorified. The rise in immigration has led to a great deal of racist agitation and violence, as well as the growing neo-fascist vote all point to this. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the massacre, it seems to me a good thing that young Italians will be reminded of the true nature of fascism and the need to combat it by any means necessary.