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©  Jeff Matthews   entry April  2015

Frozen in Time

It doesn't seem like much, but the other day the city removed one of the last “natural” memorials to WWII still on the surface of the city of Naples. I have to qualify that. By “natural,” I mean the last 'frozen-in-time' bit of architecture that is viewed as a memorial to the Second World War and has thus been left standing.  I have to requalify that. First, we are not talking about a bombed out building, just a siren—not the beautiful kind with the tail of a fish, but rather an ugly air-raid siren whose wailing sent civilians to the air-raid shelters. Ugly but useful. Second, it wasn't really a memorial. That is, there was no “never again” plaque put up by the city, various versions of which you find in many places around the world: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) left as it was, standing pathetically alone after the atomic bombing; or the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin; or Temple Church in Bristol in the UK; or the entire village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France; or the battleship Arizona; and so on and so forth. To repeat, I am not talking about beautiful war memorials built after the fact that remind us Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. I mean the other kind—the ruins that ask, Come on, how sweet and right can this be?

So, the siren was not a memorial. True, there are still bits of ruined buildings in the heavily bombed sections of Naples by the port and train station, and there are some
bunkers hidden in various places on the southern approaches to the city (mostly of German construction, put there to resist the Allied invasion at Salerno in 1943), but I haven't seen one ruin or bunker marked as a "never again" reminder. None of it is a memorial. That has all been largely cleared away—or will be when they get around to it. Or if there are still empty spaces where buildings used to stand, they are being filled in. After 70 years, maybe it's about time. But it might not have been a bad idea to keep that siren up there (on the side of a downtown building near the National Archaeological Museum). Yes, even put up a sign—an honest-to-God “never again” reminder. But the Fire Department had other ideas—or maybe it was someone at city hall who had the idea and just hired the guys with the longest ladder to go up and take her down. Someone is building a museum and wants to put her in a display case. Bad idea.

I was made aware of this by a friend, Fulvio, at Napoli Underground. He wrote about the siren a few weeks ago on his website (at this link) and expressed in a melancholy sort of way that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to have something like that up on the building near his downtown office. He says of what he wrote:

We wrote the item because it seemed proper to recall to the current inhabitants of this city—direct descendants of the generation that heard that song and were able to seek timely refuge from the deadly rain of fiery metal—to recall to them how many lives were saved by the siren's presence. We merely wanted to pay homage to an object that, with no official recognition, had become a monument to memory.

T
he other day he looked up to say hello to Parthenope (the original siren protector of the city) and—she was gone. Now, the only way to see a bit of  WWII history
“frozen in time” is to go down into one of the few bomb shelters you can visit—until they figure out how to squeeze a bomb shelter into a museum.

Thus, the issue is unresolved, at least to some of the correspondents who commented on Fulvio's original article. To paraphrase:
Not all of our history belongs in museums. It does nothing for our sense of the past to take that siren out of its original urban context and hide it in a display case, somewhere. It's not like protecting Michelangelo's David from the elements and moving him indoors in Florence in the 1800s. This is not a work of art; it's an air-raid siren. Put it back where it was and put an explanatory sign below it. There's your museum, right there.

And one that had not occurred to me, most interesting
—and disturbing:
As opposed to the Japanese, who left that building in place in Hiroshima to remember the horrors of the past, we Italians have not yet learned to close that chapter and thus we can't even imagine such "monuments". There are, after all, still those among us who will tell you that Mussolini was a "pretty good guy"...how could we even conceive of such a monument that warns us "never again"?
photos: courtesy of Napoli Underground
related item: Air Raids on Naples in WWII

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