The National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah (MEIS), located in the city of Ferrara, was established by the Italian Parliament (Law 296) on December 27, 2006. In this way, the continuity of the more than bi-millennial Jewish presence in Italy has been fully recognized and celebrated. Italian Jews are an important component of Italian society, and their stories are essential in order to better understand Italian history and civilization. Their cultural contributions both to Judaism in general and to the European culture at large were extraordinary. During the centuries, the Jews of the Italian peninsula helped forge an intense web of relations between European political realities and Mediterranean nations, economies, and religions. Although a minority, they played a fundamental role in the connection among civilizations. If, on one hand, it is time to recognize the richness of the mutual exchanges between Jews and non Jews in Italy, it is undeniable on the other hand the existence of a persistent hostility towards Jews, even among Italians. Such a negative attitude lasted until the first half of the XX century.
According to the law, this new museum will achieve the following goals:
sharing knowledge and increasing consciousness about Italian Jewish history and culture, with a wing dedicated to the testimonies of the racial persecutions and the Shoah, which took place in Italy;
promoting cultural initiatives and organizing events (lectures, exhibitions, movies, national and international conferences and shows) on themes such as intercultural dialogues, peace building, hospitality and mutual appreciation between different people and religions.
Above all, the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah intends to illustrate the originality of the Italian Jewish history in the larger context of the European and Mediterranean environment; at the same time, it will promote cultural initiatives that are able to underline the vast patrimony of ideas, artefacts, and experiences that were produced in Italy by the Jews over more than two millennia. To realize these resolutions, there will be both a section with a permanent exhibition and a section with temporary shows, plus a variety of collateral institutions, such as a library, a research centre, a children’s wing, seminars and courses, periodic lectures and presentations of new books. The museum will be at the cutting edge of technology. Some of these activities will be in place even before the official inauguration of the museum.
The site where the museum will be established is the large architectural complex of a former prison, which is in the city of Ferrara. This complex was built in 1912 and closed in 1992. A qualified architectural restoration and recreation will adapt the actual buildings and transform a place, once destined for reclusion and discrimination, into a special space that will emphasize inclusion and integration. The site of this new national museum is located not too far from the city’s historic Jewish ghetto, local Jewish attractions, and the ancient synagogues. It will be included in a comprehensive tour of the many Jewish sites of the city.
For the realization of this great and significant project, many Italian institutions will work together with generosity and determination: the Ministry for Cultural Patrimony, the UCEI (Union of the Italian Jewish Communities), and local administrations (Municipality, Province, and Region). Key to the achievement of this is the creation of a new Foundation that will be completely dedicated to this scope. The project will also utilize, according to the Law, the expertise of the staff of the Centre of Jewish Contemporary Documentation (CDEC), which is based in Milan.