April 25 is Liberation Day (Festa della Liberazione) in Italy, a national holiday in observance of the liberation of Italy from the Nazis and Fascists. It is a day that honors the memory of the Italian resistance, as well as American and other allied soldiers who died to prevent the light of freedom, which exists in all Italians, from being extinguished by the National Socialist Third Reich and Mussolini’s neo-Roman Empire.
To this day, we Italians are grateful to the Americans whose contribution to our freedom is evinced by those still buried in our land, albeit forgotten by their family members so far away. We are grateful for our 1948 Constitution, which was inspired by yours.
All of these things we remember on this day. However, it was not always so.
Until the 1990s, the holiday only memorialized the communist partisans killed waging war against the Nazi occupation and the Fascists. The Italian leftwing took all of the credit; it did not want any mention of the sacrifices of the Italian resistance who were not leftists, nor of the American soldiers who died to set Italy free.
This year’s ceremonies purposely paid tribute to the fallen whose memory was purged during the first several decades that Liberation Day was observed. This year — for the first time — Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi participated in the observance.
He went to Rome for a ceremony at Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) and to Onna, a village in central Italy nearly destroyed by the recent earthquake. Onna was the site of a massacre of 17 Italians by Nazis in 1944. (He was also initially scheduled to go to the American cemetery at Nettuno.)
Mr. Berlusconi, in a spirit of unity, paid tribute to all those who died during the civil war in Italy — between the Fascists and Nazis and the antifascists — which began after the armistice, September 8, 1943.
He also remembered those who believed themselves to be in the right — those fascists who fought and died for the Republic of Salò. He did so not to honor fascism — as so many media have erroneously reported. He did so because they too died for the nation and deserve the same mercy as the other dead. If the fascists had won, nobody would have denied social rights to the partisans and their families.
The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, also promoted this theme of unity and to forego the divisions between the fascists and the antifascists. He was a partisan and a member of the communist party after the war. He too believes that even those who fought for Salo should be remembered and the bitterness forgotten.
“Respect and compassion for all the fallen, of any party, and their family members,” said Mr. Napolitano, speaking at the shrine of Mignano Monte Lungo. This shrine holds the remains of 103 soldiers died in the battle of Cassino. This battle led to the destruction of the Abbazia of Montecassino (the Abbey of Monte Cassino).
President Napolitano admitted that in the past the alliance between the Italian resistance and the Anglo-American forces remained in the shadows. He recalled the words of General Clark who testified to this cooperation with the following words: “This action demonstrates the determination of the Italian soldiers to liberate their country from German domination, determination that can serve as an example to the oppressed peoples of Europe.”
Despite the pleas for unity from Berlusconi on the right and Napolitano on the left, rightwing politicians who participated in the day’s events were harassed by leftwing troublemakers.
Roberto Formigoni, President of the Region of Lombardy in Milan, was booed and called a fascist during his speech. Indeed, the mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, did not even attempt to participate in the observances because of the haranguing she has received by leftists in previous years.
It is sad that one political group has tried to usurp historical events and a national holiday as their own. April 25 must represent the highest moment of moral and civil redemption of Italy against a ruling ideology, the annihilation of the individual, and the prohibition of reason. This is the reason those who fought and died did so.
Their legacy is that of free men giving Italy the opportunity to be free. It should not be tarnished.