That Past

These days, Hobby & Work is advertising in the Italian media with their new series of magazines with collectibles. Magazines with general information about a subject, packaged with an added collectible like a model car (right now, Hachette runs a series on Abarth), a model soldier or a tiny piece of semiprecious stone.

Hobby & Work has decided to give away reproductions of military badges of World War II in a series about famous battles. And an interesting collection of badges it is: the first issue opens with the Wehrmacht Aquila Da Petto Generale – the eagle badge worn on the hats of World War II German soldiers. With the swastika of course. In fact almost every week there’s an infamous Nazi symbol included in the package: the list includes the Ufficiale Servizi di sicurezza SS – the badge of the infamous Sicherheitsdienst, responsible for untold cruelties in the occupied territories; and the bagde for Personale sanitario delle SS – medical personnel in the SS. As worn by for example Dr. Josef Mengele.

Of course, as commented my girlfriend, this is presented as historical material. But in Germany this is downright illegal and in Holland I am quite sure it would raise some serious questions. Thing is, Italy is a country with a very complicated World War II past and it seems that because of that, they have decided not to give a damn at all. After all, they changed sides halfway through the war and so anything goes here. The Germans are generally hypersensitive about this, the Dutch have spasms of guilt and indignation when confronted with a swastika, and the Italians just couldn’t care less.

And so, Fascism is still a respected political force here, with the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini himself elected in Parliament as part of Silvio Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà. On the other side there are four or five Communist parties, which like true Communists never seem to be able to agree – while in the rest of the world Communism is as good as dead. And whenever anyone says that the Fascists have been exceptionally cruel, soneone else will say that Communists were cruel as well. Remembering the war here is a delicate balancing act.

The ones losing out on this deal are the Western Allies. They are not seen as heroes and not seen as enemies: they are simply not seen at all. Despite the fact that the liberation of the “soft underbelly of Europe” lasted from 1943 up until the very last days of the war and was fought tenaciously by the British and the Americans with much loss of life, Italians have decided that the whole thing was an Italian affair. Whether antifascist partizans or die-hard Fascist fighters of the Italian Social Republic, the heroes of World War II are Italian above all.


One Comment

  1. Just to complicate the already heady story of yours: visit the town where Mussolini was born, Predappio in the Emilia Romagna. He lies buried there and on a day to day basis you can see blackshirts in nailed shoes march into the underground grave chapel where the little man with the big chin lies, and salute him ‘romanamente’.

    If you are sufficiently subdued by what you experience there, watch this one:

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