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May 20, 2024
Social Justice

The memory of the partisans’ resistance needs to imagine concrete actions today

The voice of Camilla Ghiotto, interviewed by Michela Grasso and Chiara Pedrocchi

Interview with Camilla Ghiotto, 25 years old, graduate in philosophy and author of the book "Tempesta", an intimate story of the relationship with her partisan father

Q: Can you tell us a little about Tempesta, and tell us what pushed you to write it?

A: Tempesta was the nom de guerre of my father, who was a partisan from May 1994 until the end of the war. My father and I had a big age difference, 75 years, and two weeks after his death, in 2016, I found some writings where he recounted his experience in the war. At that moment, I was a 12th grade student, and reading these stories was very powerful; not because I didn't know them, in the end I had heard them since my childhood, but because they had always seemed to me to be adventure stories, compelling and fascinating.

I rediscovered those anecdotes, described without the protection that my father had for me, sparing me the most gruesome parts, such as that of hunger and violence. But, reading his memories at 18, and realizing the similarities between the two of us, when I had always felt he was very distant, brought me closer to him. Between those lines I recognized his fear, not only of the war but also of growing up, of making choices, and he made the biggest and most decisive choice by becoming a partisan. I realized that we weren't that different, because I too felt those emotions: the desire to become an adult, the desire for independence and to create an identity. And clearly, for the resistance generation, the very fact of becoming partisans meant building a new identity, taking a direction not imposed by anyone; something that had not been possible until then.

Q: April 25th just passed, what does this date represent for you? Is there any tradition you have followed every year since you were a child?

A: For me it has always been a day to celebrate by going to the main square. In recent years, however, I feel it has become more serious. April 25th is an opportunity to reflect on the value of memory, a moment in which to translate this past, to which I somehow belong, into questions that can give a living meaning to the present. There were years in which I went to the places where my father fought, such as the Asiago plateau. Visiting the places means fully understanding the resistance, the differences between the territories, the fighting and also the suffering endured. Going where the partisans fought gives you an idea of ​​what being there meant for them, especially for me. They are places frequented on holiday and going there with a different meaning and taking that day to return to where such important events happened is an opportunity to reflect.

Q: On the cover of your book it says "It is never too late to learn to be daughters, nor to reconnect the memory of the present"; What is the value of the memory of resistance for you, and what can we do to keep it alive?

A: It's not simple, and the fact that we are here talking about it is proof of this. And, if we struggle to keep the memory alive, especially that of the Italian resistance, it means that we have a problem. We could settle into our time and place in the world but we don't have to. We must not be satisfied, we must always stay one step outside of the present to be able to observe, criticize and understand it through those values ​​that come to us from the past. Memory allows us to grasp, know and decide which of these values ​​we want to maintain, which to abandon and which to improve. Thus we can continually give new meaning to the present. The biggest challenge is to make people understand the urgency of the memory of the resistance.

Today we must above all remember two things. The first is that, beyond the imagery of the partisan hero, there is also a dimension of trauma, always present in conflicts. Limiting oneself to heroism is dangerous, and the partisans have undergone very strong and traumatic experiences. I couldn't touch my father's fingers because before he became a partisan the fascists had tortured him by sticking needles under his nails. Those who suffer these traumas find it difficult to free themselves from them. The second thing to remember is that the partisans were in their twenties, some of them carried books of poetry in their bags, always very light to move quickly and for a long time. This makes us fully understand that until a few days before, these boys and girls were at school, and like us, they didn't know how to wage war.

Q: What are the battles of our generation? Are they really that different from what your dad's generation fought?

A: Although our generation is often painted with tragic traits, I am very optimistic. I see so many people participating in various struggles, from the feminist one to the environmentalist one. This follows that imaginative capacity that is common to the resistance. And in World War II, imagining a different future was even more difficult given that those kids only knew a dictatorial reality. Precisely for this reason, their ability to imagine a different future, for those who still had to exist, is incredible.

This is part of being 20 years old, and it is the same desire we have to change, to improve ourselves, to imagine the possibility of a different world even when there seems to be no alternative. We have to translate this imagination into concrete actions, and that's the hardest part.

Many partisans say they fought by instinct, and this has always been difficult for me to decipher. For a long time I doubted I had this instinct, but now I believe it belongs to all of us. The most difficult thing is to recognize one's own battles, because it requires an accurate reading of the present and therefore the need to always be alert. Who wants to dictate who we can hate and who we can love? Who can dictate which lives are worth saving and which are not? We can always look behind us and recognize those values ​​received from the partisans and carry them forward. Very often in the past, I thought that our battles were not as important as theirs, just because it didn't seem like a matter of life and death, but in reality it is not. We have the privilege of not risking death to believe in our ideals, but this does not make our battles any less important.

Q: You often speak to middle school students about resistance, how do the new generations react to this topic?

A: Sometimes I'm surprised, some of them have almost never heard of the partisans and they are curious when they listen to my father's story. This indicates a difficulty for schools in keeping the memory of the resistance alive, and for me it is very strange because schools have an enormous responsibility. When I tell the story of my father and the partisans, I see a lot of interest in the new generations, especially when I describe some anecdotes. The little ones have a great ability to empathize, they put themselves in the shoes of the partisans and ask very practical questions, for example: how did they get water? They ask questions linked to reality, demonstrating the enormous value of direct testimonies. I think the school must do much more, we cannot rely solely on families to keep the memory of the resistance alive.

Q: On April 25th the Palestinian resistance did not find space on stage: what do you think of this censorship?

A: I think it's very sad. I have always seen April 25th as an opportunity for reflection and remembrance, a moment in which to question the present. But, if April 25 becomes a moment in which we limit ourselves to commemorating the partisans, then it becomes useless, because it remains stuck in the past, without speaking to us. I also saw it in my father: until the end he fought against the opening of an American military base that was to be built near Vicenza. He not only had a reverence for the past, but was able to translate that experience into the present. The case of Palestine would have been an ideal moment to talk about this and to show the importance of not looking the other way and not settling into our security.

Q: Do you have plans for the future? Would you like to continue writing?

A: I would definitely love it, and I'm working on it right now. I have decided to distance myself from the topic of the resistance, I feel like I have already said enough. In “Tempesta”, some parts tell the story of my father and his experience, and there I used the words from his writings. I wondered if it was right to use these memories, but in the end I told myself that it was right to talk about it, even more so today. Furthermore, while working on this book I discovered that many episodes told by my father are historically documented, such as the kidnapping of the doctor or the attack on the train. This helped me reconstruct a chronology, and in his memories I also found some episodes told in Meneghello's "Piccoli Maestri", a very important book on the resistance. My father was part of this group of little teachers for a few weeks, before a fascist roundup killed many of them. It was curious for me to read these manuscripts and find another point of view in this story.

And even if I will no longer write on the topic of resistance, I hope to continue talking about it in schools or on other occasions of remembrance. If telling my father's story can speak to the new generations, and can help keep the memory of the partisans alive, I can only be happy. Talking and writing about resistance made me very proud, and I learned to recognize the value of these stories.

Q: Would you like to leave us some reading suggestions?

A: I definitely recommend “I piccoli Maestri”. Meneghello has a disruptive irony and represents well the anti-rhetoric that is part of historical resistance and resistance in general. Because whoever took part in it had no room for rhetoric. At the beginning of the Little Masters, after the end of the war, Meneghello asks himself "Peace has returned, society has returned, but what is society?". The strength of the partisan experience had emptied the words.

Another author that I really like is Fenoglio, in particular "A private question", where he tells a love story, a personal experience. It's a good book to remind yourself that these kids were in their twenties.

Lastly, I would like to invite you to read the constitution; I think it reflects the experience of resistance very well. It has an inspirational character, there are rules that were impossible to implement in the post-war period, for example article 3 on the National Health System. Many of these rules were dreams, but they were inserted anyway, and this reflects the imagination of the generation of partisans and the resistance, that need to go one step further than what we think is possible. It is also possible to read the discussions of the constituent assembly, where they debated the possibility of inserting some verbs in the future tense, which were then left in the present, so as not to make those dreams seem like something "postponable".

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