PREDAPPIO, Italy (AP) — The mayor of the town that gave birth to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini has ignited a national row by refusing to participate in a program that pays for students to visit Nazi concentration camps.
On Friday, Predappio’s mayor, Roberto Canali, said he was not going to spend any of his town’s money to pay for two students to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. Thousands of Italian students make the trips annually, paid for in part by city and town funds.
His move sparked a widespread backlash, especially among Italy’s left. Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, even invited the two students to join other students going from Rome. Left-wing politicians volunteered to pay the students’ way.
Mussolini was born in Predappio in the Emilia-Romagna region where his body is interred. Every year, thousands of Mussolini’s admirers visit his tomb.
Two students asked the town for funds as part of a program known as the Remembrance Train in which Italian students travel to the Nazi concentration camps in Poland.
Canali said the trips only tell one part of history and that students should also be exposed to atrocities committed by communists, according to ANSA, an Italian news agency.
“Everyone should visit Auschwitz,” the mayor said. “Only after these trains stop off at the foibe or at the Berlin Wall to learn about what happened there and understand the tragedy of 50 years of communism, only then can they say they want to remember history from all 360 degrees, and we’d be happy to participate then.”
The foibe were sinkholes where thousands of Italians were dumped after being killed by Yugoslav partisans during and after World War II near Trieste on the border with Slovenia. Bringing attention to the foibe has become a rallying call for many on Italy’s right.
An association in Predappio called Generazioni in Comune said it was covering the 370 euros ($407) in travel costs that the town was asked to pay.
The association said it was disturbed by the mayor’s decision and that Predappio in particular “should feel a strong duty to keep memory alive.”
Raggi, Rome’s mayor and a prominent member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, jumped into the fray and said on Twitter: “Without memory there’s no future.” She then invited the Predappio students to join students in Rome for their next trip to the concentration camps.
Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, called the town’s decision a reflection of the “right that condemns anti-Semitism only with words.”
The issue of anti-Semitism has roiled Italy in recent days after Liliana Segre, an Italian senator for life and Holocaust survivor, was placed under police protection due to a barrage of anti-Semitic online attacks and death threats.