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LibraryThing's MDS system is based on the classification work of libraries around the world, whose assignments are not copyrightable. Italian Jewish nationalism and its imagery, both in its Zionist expressions and in what we may call its Jewish Fascist manifestations, confirm the relevance and role of the theme of masculinity and physical strength, in relation to national characters and nationalist ideas.
As is the case in all nationalisms, they were the result of the combined influence of independent and self-reflecting components, as well as of discourses developed in the context of other national and nationalist experiences.
In this article I reflect on the relevance of the founding phase of Italian muscular Judaism, which was especially influenced by Nordau at the beginning of the twentieth century, and on the development, in the s and s, of the two trends of revisionist Zionism and of what we may call Italian Jewish Fascism gathered around the journal La Nostra Bandiera , and their connection to virile imagery.
Especially the Jew living in the great Jewish towns of the East is often small, weak; he has a wrecked and miserable appearance. No other race appears weaker and yet has shown such strength in resisting evil. According to Morpurgo this path had already been taken in Germany on the initiative of Walter Rathenau, among others: now, Italy too was to follow this trail.
This is why we are proud of the positive and civilizing effects of introducing also among us [in Italy] the Zionist enterprise of improving the bodily well-being of the Israelites. The speech was published the same year as a short booklet, in a book series edited by the journal. When assessing the history of the Jewish body and the health condition of the Jews, Morpurgo referred to a thriving Italian literature on physical education and gymnastics and thus quoted approvingly, for example, the most recent work by Angelo Mosso, Mens sana in corpore sano Milan According to Mosso, the Jews had not been a military nation in antiquity and no other people had neglected physical education more than they had.
From its origins Zionism thus proposed an ideal of virility and its organizations would plan and promote sporting activities and gymnastics. As soon as the movement was founded, at the end of the nineteenth century, Jewish sports associations were set up especially in Central and Eastern Europe, which mobilized through physical activities thousands of young Jews.
Such ideals would be further reinforced by the experiences and imaginary of the First World War.
Radical ideals of strength and masculinity further developed in the mids with right-wing Zionism, including through the influence of non-Jewish national youth and political movements. This was especially true for Revisionist Zionism, which took its first steps in with the creation, by Vladimir Jabotinsky, first of Beitar and then of Ha-Tzohar , the original nuclei of the Revisionist movement. In Italy, the movement started its activities under the leadership of Leone Carpi around But we say this is not only a matter of physical effort, it is actually an entirely spiritual effort, and we rejoice in it.
The ceremonies in Fiume ended with the collective cry Eidath! A couple of years after its founding, the journal celebrated the proclamation of an Italian empire in Ethiopia and showed a keen interest in Italian Jewish contacts with Ethiopian Jewish the so-called Falasha or Beta Israel.
Physical strength, military courage, and virility were some of the ideals celebrated by La Nostra Bandiera , which was inspired by the Fascist ideology and worldview in this sphere as well.
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One episode in the history of the Jewish Fascist journal is particularly noteworthy. Moreover, Baer had recently also defeated the German boxer and Nazi star Max Schmeling, 27 so that this had turned out to be a double setback — caused by a Jewish athlete — for the future Rome-Berlin Axis. Also, beginning with the German match, Baer had placed and proudly exhibited a star of David on his trunks as a clear political statement. There was also a further complication in the fact that Baer was American, and anti-Americanism was another Fascist mandatory conviction in the s.
In the same months of the polemic around the Carnera-Baer match and of the debate concerning Weininger , another episode shed light on what we may perhaps call Italian muscular Judaism. This was the inauguration in the port town of Civitavecchia, on the Tyrrhenian Sea near Livorno, of the maritime school run by the Revisionist Zionist youth movement Betar, inspired and founded by Jabotinsky.
Preparatory documents signed by the Zionist activist show the role that gymnastics, including boxing, as well as military training, played in the training of the paramilitary group: Betar, moreover, was clearly also inspired by Fascist educational methods and Fascist organizations.
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Jujutsu , a Japanese martial art], singlestick fencing, swordplay, shooting sports and strength training. As a common base: elements of boy-scouting. And it will not be a center of political unrest. There will be no identification with similar organizations of the [Fascist] Regime, for example with the Opera Nazionale Ballila [a Fascist youth organization].
Two years later, La Nostra Bandiera proudly reported on the inauguration of the second year of the Civitavecchia school — there were thus a connection and clear sympathies between the Jewish Fascists and the Revisionists — which though officially set up for non-Italians, displayed a combination of Italian and Jewish pride. Already in July , before the Fascist rise to power, Jabotinsky, who had spent part of his youth in Italy and greatly admired the country, had written to the future Duce:.
Mussolini, I think you do not know the Jew. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that when you think about the Jews, you imagine a docile, unctuous, shrewd being, always defensive, always declaring his loyalty towards Italy, towards the ideal, and so on.
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These are fairy tales from last century, and even then they were fairy tales. If you would like to know our degree of vitality, you should study your own Fascists, and add just a bit more tragedy, a bit more tenacity — perhaps also some more experience. At the same time, the muscular image of the Jewish Fascist movement supported by La Nostra Bandiera probably followed, and identified with, the image of Italian Fascism in general: with its myths of virility, manliness, physical strength, physical violence; and without any particular Jewish reference.
We know for example that the founder of the movement and journal La Nostra Bandiera , Ettore Ovazza , practiced and loved soccer and fencing. The magazine further denounced, in this issue, its unease with the changing political context for two reasons. There was the fact that Germany had barred the Jewish tennis player Daniel Prenn from joining the national team at the Davis Cup, because of his origins. And there was also the announcement that the Olympic games of would be held in Germany, despite the Nazi rise to power and the spread of German anti-Semitic intolerance.
There were two major turning points in the history I have briefly outlined.
The first was represented by the Great War: a time of profound transformations of the image of man. For Italian Jews — as for all other European Jews — this was also a time of forced integration within the nation: one in which muscular identities were imagined in a more chauvinistic and less particularistic way within each country. While fighting in the trenches, Italian, German, or French Jews would hardly have agitated the ideal of a muscle Jew , as they were exclusively and intensively focused on their respective national identities. There was the fact that Germany had barred the Jewish tennis player Daniel Prenn from joining the national team at the Davis Cup, because of his origins.
And there was also the announcement that the Olympic games of would be held in Germany, despite the Nazi rise to power and the spread of German anti-Semitic intolerance. There were two major turning points in the history I have briefly outlined. The first was represented by the Great War: a time of profound transformations of the image of man. For Italian Jews — as for all other European Jews — this was also a time of forced integration within the nation: one in which muscular identities were imagined in a more chauvinistic and less particularistic way within each country.
While fighting in the trenches, Italian, German, or French Jews would hardly have agitated the ideal of a muscle Jew , as they were exclusively and intensively focused on their respective national identities. As George L. Mosse first showed, 48 this was a time in which a nationalist and especially Christian imagery was imposed on all, deleting minority identities or alternative expressions of identity via the imposition of national and nationalist paradigms.
At the same time, the war prepared the grounds for a new virility: for new kinds of brawn, which in Italy would be reactivated, exercised, and celebrated to a maximum degree by Fascism. This transformation also produced new types of muscular Judaism, based on new articulations of and syntheses between the Jewish side and the various in our case, Italian national sides. Among the most striking outcomes were the ideal of the new Revisionist Zionist muscle Jew, in its international and Italian articulations, as well as the distinctive aspects of the Italian Fascist muscle Jew, chiefly promoted by La Nostra Bandiera , and the various interactions between the two.
The second turning point was also a tragic conclusion to the history of the muscle Jew before its reappearance in different forms after the Second World War, especially in connection to the founding of the State of Israel and its new virile Jewish identity : just when these experiences and their discourses had reached their peak, they collapsed with the radicalization of anti-Semitism, racism, and the rise of anti-Jewish State persecution.
From the very beginning inherent contradictions, or at least relevant tensions, were probably to be found in the ideal of the muscle Jew, between radical nationalism and Jewish forms of virility: but we are only able to state this in hindsight. The extreme exaltation of nationalist identities, and of their bodily expressions, could not tolerate — nor, ultimately, admit — the coexistence within them of different articulations, or versions, of national, nationalist, and ethnic or racial ideals and types, and of their embodiments.
Perhaps extreme ideals of strength can only find expression in absolute and holistic national and nationalistic identities, which cannot envision hyphenated, or mixed, or blurred variants. They can materialize exclusively in Italian or German — not Italian Jewish and German Jewish — identities, and their respective national muscles. Thus I have mentioned Italian Fascist Jews mostly sharing a Fascist muscular imagery, rather than articulating a specific Jewish version of it.
While the ideal of the muscle Jew had also emerged in reaction to anti-Semitism, 49 the fear of degeneration and the striving for physical regeneration, shared by millions, was not to survive the extreme radicalization of national identities and their bodily expressions in Fascism, Nazism and, eventually, the Holocaust.
In the final, tragic context of extreme anti-Jewish persecution, bodies would no longer be exercised, celebrated and exalted, but rather despised, ill-treated, destroyed. He works on modern Italian and modern Jewish history, the history of antisemitism and of the Holocaust.
Michele Sarfatti, Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Fascist Jews in Trieste: social, cultural and political dynamics Miscellanea Holocaust Research and Archives in the Digital Age.
Football, Fascism and Fandom in Modern Italy
Holocaust Intersections in 21st-Century Europe. The Great War. Portrait of Italian Jewish Life ss. A Historical Appraisal. Contested Narratives of a Shared Past.
The Making of Antisemitism as a Political Movement. Political History as Cultural History Modernity and the Cities of the Jews. Jews in Europe after the Shoah. Studies and Research Perspectives. All translations into English are mine, unless otherwise noticed. The seminal works inspiring this article are by George L. Mosse and Sander Gilman. See in particular George L. For the broader context: Jewish Masculinities. German Jews, Gender and History , eds. A relationship between muscular Judaism and the previous muscular Christianity movement, born in the s, is possible but has not been proven.
Muscular Christianity, however, remained to my knowledge unknown in Italy. Jacques Bahar, Paris: au Bureau de Flambeau, s. The passage does not appear in the abridged Italian translation of the speech, given in the conference proceedings which appear in Corriere Israelitico , XXXVII, 30 September , Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology.