THE PROJECT FOR A MUSEUM OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN TURIN
Turin’s Museo Diffuso della Resistenza, della Deportazione, della Guerra, dei Diritti e della Libertà ("Widespread" Museum of Resistance, Deportation, the War, Rights and Freedom) was conceived as a project of activities, which was to use different means and forms of communication. A museum of ideas rather than of objects, a space in which research and communication might come together, establishing an active dialogue with present-day society.
Starting from the events in and around Turin between 1938 and 1948, and concluding its permanent display with the promulgation of the Republican Constitution, the Museum extends its field of interest to Europe and the whole of the 20th century, giving particular attention to the theme of asserting rights and freedom.
Two strong points were identified: the territory – deposit of traces from the past to investigate – and memory – the instrument for rereading the historic events of the community to which we belong, without losing sight of the broader scenarios of History within which these individual experiences took place.
The Museum is then an interpretation and documentation centre that is not limited to the war period but also extends to modern times, embracing themes such as human rights and freedom. A space to give basic information about that period, while the city memorials become elements of a museum route, that aims to stimulate an active reflection on contemporaneity and invite to step out of the Museum to discover the marks of our history outside in the city.
In may 1995 the Municipality of Turin assigned an historical building in the town centre ("Palazzo dei Quartieri Militari di San Celso") as the new premises for the "Giorgio Agosti" Piedmont Institute for the History of the Resistance and Contemporary Society (ISTORETO) and the National Cinematographic Archive of the Resistance (ANCR), planning and carrying out its complete restoration. While work was proceeding, additional space was prepared for the Museum.
The building is part of the "Quartieri Militari di San Celso e San Daniele" complex, built to the design of Filippo Juvarra in the first half of the 18thC, to house the infantry troops of King Vittorio Amedeo II.
The idea for this Museum, put forward and strongly upheld by the Associations of Partisans and Deportees, dates from 1999. It grew out of the celebrations for 25th April1 and later 27th January2 and as a consequence of the initiatives that were organized in memorial places in those occasions by the Museum Service of the Municipality.
The Museum was opened on 30th May 2003 as the outcome of several years’ commitment to draw attention to the places of remembrance and to invite reflection on the instruments for communicating contemporary history.
The spaces house a permanent display ("Turin 1938-1948. From the racial laws to the Constitution"), and host temporary exhibitions, film viewings, meetings, seminars and performances. Since September 2009, the International Primo Levi Studies Center is located in the building as well.
The ISTORETO was founded on 25 April 1947 by the members of the Piedmont Committee for National Liberation, with the aim of conserving, collecting and studying the documentation of the struggle for liberation. Over the years the Institute has accumulated a huge wealth of material specialised in the history of Fascism, the Second World War and the post-war era.
The archive comprises over 2,000,000 papers, 30,000 photographs, 1,400 recordings, and the library holds 54,000 volumes.
The ANCR was founded in Turin in 1970 to collect and conserve any film footage made during the Resistance, cinematographic documentation on Fascism, Nazism, anti-Fascist movement, deportation, the war and the general history of the 20thC; video recordings of eye-witness accounts are acquired on any aspect of the history of the last century. There is a specialized library about cinema, videos, television and history; the film archive contains about 1700 film items and the video archive has over ten thousand titles.
The International Primo Levi Studies Center is dedicated to acquainting people with Primo Levi. It aims to collect the editions of his works, their numerous translations published all around the world, their critical bibliography and all kinds of written and audiovisual documentation on his figure and on his reception; it also supports scholarly research and mounts specific initiatives.
SPACES AND ACTIVITIES OF THE MUSEUM
At ground-level: the reception and the introduction to the permanent display; a bookshop that provides informative material, the exhibition catalogues and related books.
The permanent exhibition (300 mq) is hosted in the cellars of the building and leads visitors on a virtual tour of Turin between 1938 and 1948. It is also possible to visit an air-raid shelter, 12 meters below, which was built around 1943 to give protection to the workers and employees of the "Gazzetta del Popolo", a daily newspaper which was located in the building.
The second floor rooms (250 mq) house temporary exhibitions and a conference/film-screening hall (90 places).
The Museum hosts and organises temporary exhibitions, to give further and more detailed exposure to the issues it is concerned with: the historical, social and cultural events which have marked the history of the twentieth century, reflecting on the present age and on the positive values inherited from the tragic years of the Second World War and totalitarianism.
Regular events include film viewings, meetings, debates, seminars and performances, complementing the temporary exhibitions.
The conference hall is also available for initiatives proposed by other institutions and associations.
Educational activities are provided for school groups, involving both the permanent display and the temporary exhibitions.
At the time of the Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January) and the Italian Liberation Day (25 April), events and special initiatives are organized and promoted both in the Museum building and in the main places associated with remembrance.
ADMINISTRATION OF THE MUSEUM
For the running of this Museum a no-profit association was set up on March 2006, after three years of a more direct management by the Municipality. The founding partners were the Municipality of Turin, the ANCR, the ISTORETO, the Piedmont Region and the Province of Turin.
This choice of status aims to guarantee the Museum full autonomy on scientific, cultural and management matters, and the constant participation of the partners in its activities.
The Association is open to membership on the part of institutions, public and private bodies and individuals who share its aims.
The three public funding partners contribute to the management of the Museum by annual dues; the Municipality – that kept the property of the building – also provides basic services, taking in charge an important part of the fees for the staff and the building maintenance, as well as several running expenses (phone, power, heating, etc).
Today, a severe financial crisis is affecting local and regional powers in Italy. Our Museum is seriously suffering with this situation.
On the one hand, museum like ours are not likely to be "at the top of the list" in public policies, that still prefer more attractive, touristic and popular events in the choice of budget destinations; on the other hand, the changing of the political majority in the Region has underlined how a museum of this kind can still be dependent on political decisions.
THE PERMANENT DISPLAY: "TURIN 1938 – 1948. FROM RACIAL LAWS TO THE CONSTITUTION"
An interactive multimedia route takes the visitor on a virtual tour of Turin, through eye-witness accounts, pictures, film clips and sound-recordings, in the decade from the passing of the racial laws in 1938 to the regaining of rights ratified by the Constitution of the Republic in 1948.
During the tour, the exhibits re-evoke experiences of the war, the Nazi-Fascist occupation, the Resistance with or without weapons, the complex return to democratic life. The display does not necessarily follow a linear route, but proposes the exploration of a territory unveiled through memories of the places there.
A symbolic subway network through the city is used to guide the visitor through an installation which brings together a huge heritage of documents with clear and interactive communication.
It is an exhibition without objects (only two pieces are displayed), consisting, instead, of images, sounds and stories: an imposing mass of documents gathered in a sequence of visual and sound displays that turns collection and research items into communicative items.
In the museum different types of testimonies are used: interviews (audio and video) kept in the archives, video interviews carried out for the occasion, comments by a historian and contributions by actors reading literary extracts and news.
In the ticket office of the Museum head-phones are provided; you can then choose one of the main themes – marked along the route with a circle on the floor – and listen in each case to a brief introduction by an historian.
As you go down the stair to the basement floor you can listen to accounts of personal experiences, until you reach the starting point of the tour.
1. Living everyday life. The difficulties in daily life during the war, at the front and in the city.
2. Life under the bombings. Hunger, cold and fear during the bombings.
3. Life under the Regime. The Fascist Regime between opposition and conformity.
4. Life during the Occupation. The Resistance Clandestine propaganda in Turin as told by a factory worker and one of the few women to lead an armed formation in Turin.
5. The Martinetto chair. One of the chairs used for the death penalty executions in the Martinetto firing range.
6. Multimedia table. Touching the white squares one at a time sets off a multimedia archive which relates 49 moments in the city’s history to 12 places in Turin.
7. Air-raid shelter. The shelter, 12 metres underground, provided safety for the employees of the daily newspaper “La Gazzetta del Popolo”, which was housed in the building, but also to many inhabitants of the district. It consists of four tunnels with a pointed vault structure of reinforced concrete to withstand the bombing and shockwaves. It was brought to light during refurbishment work on the building.
8. Living free. Votes for women; “summary” justice and purges; the return to political life; the return from Concentration camps.
9. Living the Constitution. The last installation brings to the reacquisition of rights, ratified by the fundamental principles of the Constitution of 1948. The Italian Constitution is presented through some emblematic articles, explained in four mirrors: Yes to Freedom, Yes to Democracy, Yes to Equality, No to Violence. By sitting in front of each mirror you activate the replay of individual accounts, passages from literature and newspaper commentaries on the selected articles of the Constitution. In the last position you can listen to the words of the constitutionalist Alfonso Di Giovine.
"MUSEO DIFFUSO": THE LINK WITH THE TERRITORY.
THE PLACES OF REMEMBRANCE
The relatively recent concept of museo diffuso ("widespread" or "extended" museum), was coined in Italy by an architect, Fredi Drugman (Feurs 1927 - Milan 2000: architect and town planner. His didactic activity and researches focused on museums as institutions: Drugman invented the idea of "museo diffuso"), to express the close relationship between a territory and the heritage conserved in its museums.
In parallel with the virtual tour proposed by the Museum, the places in the city associated with remembrance of the Resistance, of Deportation and the War have in themselves become elements of a museum itinerary, with the objective of stimulating awareness and directing active, participated reflection onto contemporary issues.
History is all around us, it is written in all the places we cross every day.
A building, a square, a garden, down to the smallest details hold the power to unclench a tale, a minor story that refers back to History with a capital H.
Places enshrine different levels of time: one point on a map can conceal all the complexity, non-linearity and multiplicity of history. Not only, therefore, a collection of places of remembrance, that are often recognized as such and frozen at a specific point in time, but also a journey into the memory of each site, each very much alive and bursting with stratified and unrelenting memories, divergent and contrasting, different one from the other, that make up fragments of our overall identity.
In Turin, twenty sites in the town have been highlighted with graphically coordinated signs so that the traces from the past can be recognised and deciphered in their local context. Some of them are the object of educational activities and guided tours for school and adult groups run by the Museum.