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"Life is Beautiful illustrates a popular misconception about Italy's role in the Holocaust. The film features the good Italian and the warped view that Italy treated Jews kindly in the late 1930s and during World War II. Historians have proven this claim to be grossly exaggerated, arguing that Italians persecuted Jews vigorously. Yet popular representations of the past-films, novels, museum exhibits, and websites-continue to give credence to the notion that Italians were overwhelmingly good to Jews. Although France and Germany cultivated similar self-acquitting myths in the decades immediately after the war, they eventually moved on to accept the more difficult truths about the past. Italy, however, has not moved on; the narrative of the good Italian is still very much alive. Life is Beautiful, the most famous Italian production about the Holocaust to date, both reflects and bolsters this warped view of the past. This essay surveys, first, what actually happened to Jews between 1938 and 1945 in the Italian peninsula, summarizing the broad scholarly consensus that Italy pursued a brutal and relentless persecution of its Jews. The essay then lays out the myth of Italian benevolence and its origins, using Life is Beautiful as an example of how the past has been misremembered."



Publication Date



Rowman & Littlefield


London, UK


Life is Beautiful, Italy, Italians, Jews, World War II, Holocaust


Cultural History | European History | History of Religion | Jewish Studies | Other History | Political History | Public History | Social History


In Hilene S. Flanzbaum (Ed.), The Holocaust across Borders: Trauma, Atrocity, and Representation in Literature and Culture.


The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

Life Is Beautiful, or Not: The Myth of the Good Italian