San Rossore’s Antiracist Manifesto

A Letter from… San Rossore.

(Published in July 2008 in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper)

Human races exist. The concept of race is purely biological. Italians are of Aryan origin and civilization. A pure “Italian race” exists. The Jews do not belong to the Italian race.

Statements from a manifesto signed by some of Italy’s most respected scientists in 1938. Presented to Victor Emmanuel III at his Tuscan residence in San Rossore, the manifesto would form the basis of Mussolini’s racial laws. Laws signed a few months later by the king, once again here in San Rossore. Laws which sanctioned the persecution and later deportation of the Italian Jews.

Sitting under the pine trees in the idyllic park of San Rossore – a ten minute drive from the Leaning Tower of Pisa –  it’s surreal to think that this is where it all began on July 14th, 70 years ago.

Today the San Rossore Estate is owned by the Tuscan Regional Council. Every year, since 2001, they’ve held a meeting here dedicated to a globalisation-related issue. This year, to mark this 70th anniversary, they had no doubt choosing the theme: Against All Racism.

In memory of the terrible consequences of the original manifesto, a new Manifesto of Antiracist Scientists, was specially commissioned to be presented at this year’s meeting. The man who drew it up is Marcello Buiatti, Professor of Genetics at the University of Florence.

“It’s an apology. In the name of our country and in the name of our scientists. I think Italians have not been as good as Germans in apologizing for what they did.”

Signed by some of contemporary Italy’s most eminent scientists, anthropologists and psychologists – including Nobel Prize for Medicine, Rita Levi Montalcini – it disputes and disproves each point of the original manifesto.

“The first point said that human races exist. We say they do not. These so-called scientists wrote their claims before the discovery of DNA. Today we can prove that their concept of race has no genetic or biological basis.”

Other points state: An Italian race does not exist but an Italian people does. Jewish Italians are both Jewish and Italian.

For Marcello Buiatti, presenting this antiracist manifesto in San Rossore today is a poignant event: as a geneticist, as an Italian and as a Jew.

“My mother was born at the time of the pogroms. She escaped to Romania, was educated in Prague, then decided to come to Italy when Mussolini announced he would never behave like ‘the German barbarians’. Like many Jewish intellectuals, she came to Florence, where she met my father.”

Marcello was only five when his family went into hiding in a house in central Florence in September 1943. He still vividly remembers the year-long experience.

“I have been imprinted with sorrow, anger and a little fear. And I’ve been fighting these things with the ways my mother taught me. She would say, ‘We don’t have force, but we have brains.’ So I studied and now I’m trying to use my knowledge to avoid such things happening again.”

Marcello tells me he’s very worried about a new wave of racism in Italy against the Roma community. Recently, the government announced plans to introduce a law to fingerprint all Roma, including children. Last Friday, the European Parliament criticised it as an act of racial discrimination.

“This law reminds me of the beginning of racism in Europe at the time of the last World War. The first thing they did was to compile lists of all the Jews. What frightens me is that the reaction in Italy has not been stronger. There should have been immediate and widespread indignation because this is the very beginning.”

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