Museo della Memoria

January 25, 2012 / Places
Assisi, Umbria

It’s easy to forget, in this religiously homogeneous land where politics, education, holidays, foods, and given names all seem to revolve around the Catholic church, that there are other religious communities in Italy.

Jews in Italy have have had a tough time of it for the past two millenia, and the tiny remaining community of 45,000 which still live in the Bel Paese would have been even smaller had it not been for the work of a network of citizens—lay and ordained, private and official—who secretly collaborated to harbor and ultimately save more than 300 Jews and other war refugees in the early 1940s.

In 1978 The Assisi Underground – a novel built around the true story of this clandestine network – was published, but for years the only remaining tangible evidence of this historic moment was the vintage printing press, still bolted to the floor of the typographer workshop-turned-souvenir shop. This ungainly black press had been used by the Brizi family to secretly print false identity cards and other documents, making it possible for Jews both in Assisi and across Italy to avoid deportation and imprisonment.

When the building housing the press was recently sold, the new owners asked that it be removed, which spurred a grassroots movement by locals to create some sort of official display rather than let the last vestige of the Underground be packed away in storage. Through private and public donations, the Museo della Memoria (Memory Museum) opened in the spring of 2011.

The four halls are packed with extremely well displayed (and translated) letters, documents, photographs, and historical artifacts (many of which revolve around the Brizi’s typography workshop), an in-depth biography of the main protagonists in the story, and a video loop of interviews with some of the surviving activists and refugees.

Moving, compelling, and perfectly curated, this jewel of a museum merits a visit. A final note: No Assisan betrayed the Underground and no refugee passing through was captured during its activity. What’s more, one of the refugees who was fluent in German forged a letter, purportedly from Kesselring, declaring Assisi an open city. This began the evacuation of German troops, quite probably saving the city from destruction.

Pinacoteca Comunale di Assisi (Pg)
tel. +39 075 8155234

January 27th, this Friday, is the Giornata della Memoria (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Rebecca Winke

by Rebecca Winke

Owner of Brigolante Apartments, a restored 16th century stone farmhouse / guesthouse in the heart of Umbria near Assisi, and blogger of life in Umbria. For tips and insider information about visiting Umbria, download her Umbria Slow App and see her writings on her personal website!

20 Responses to “Museo della Memoria”

  1. Thank you for this fascinating tidbit of information – just another example of why I love the Italian Notebook! I hope that one day I can see this little museum – that you for bringing it to our attention.

  2. Angela Finch

    So interesting, and deserved to be brought to our attention.
    Thank you Rebecca

  3. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    Please, if you know more of this courage, tell me of a nearby town “Pale’and it’s inhabitants part in helping the Jews at such a horrific time of shame.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this story which deserves to be known. I wasn’t aware of the underground effort in Assisi, and I hope to visit this museum someday.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful and informative article! All too few people know about Italy’s remarkable record in saving Jews from the Germans. We might call the record “Italy’s List of Schindlers.”

  6. Jeannette

    Even more reasons to be proud of my Italian heritage! How courageous of both the Italians and the Jews!

  7. WE were in Assisi and were told the white marble walkway leading to the church was donated by the State of Israel in appreciation. Yes it makes Italians proud to learn this.

  8. Kim Gardi Abelman

    As a student, I lived in Perugia for 2 yrs, and as a Jew, I am so excited to hear of the weight given to this project, particularly as Assisi is such a spiritual town. Well done. Thank you for sharing!

  9. m. b. katz

    Thanks so much for the info. I’ll be sure and see it in the fall when I’m there. Is this a permanent exhibition in the Pinacoteca Comunale di Assisi?

  10. Toni DeBella

    Such a great piece…really! My mother’s friend Lydia grew up in the Jewish ghetto in Rome and her family was hidden by her Catholic neighbors. Several years ago she went back to commemorate the the end of WWII and to thank her Roman neighbors for saving so many families like hers from certain execution. She remembers her friends saying “we are all Italian, no matter what religion we are.”. Beautiful. Toni

  11. Linda Boccia

    Yes, we must NEVER forget the holocaust. And I would also like to say that there are also many Buddhist groups that function autonomously as well all over Italy. We are also alive and well and practicing mindfully with compassion for all sentient beings.

  12. thank you for this page of the notebook. i have a copy of this book, old and not in great shape, but all the words and heart are there.

  13. When I visited Assisi in October 2010 I heard from our guide, Anne, about the help given by Assisans to the Jewish people during the second world war. It is wonderful that a museum is now dedicated to saving this important history for future generations. What a beautiful building in which to house these treasures.

  14. Shayna Hollander

    Thank you for today’s Italian Notebook article. I hope to visit the Museo della Memoria during my next sojourn in Italia.

  15. Thank you so much for this article…I did not know this.
    Even though I did not live through the atrocities of the holocaust I was deeply affected by my studies when in school. Obviously I am much older now, but the stories the images, the hero’s and heroines of that time period still stir me emotionally… thank you so much for this informative piece.

  16. Allan Mahnke

    For those who might have missed it, there was a wonderful film last year, “My Italian Secret.” It tells the largely unknown stories of the great cyclist Gino Bartali and many other heroic figures during that horrible time.


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