Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When does memory become history?

And by history, I mean the kind that people put in museums. How long does it take, and how long should it take, for museums to start educating people about certain events?

There's obviously a whole shebang of reasons that a particular subject becomes the focus of a museum; the social and political influences are too numerous to name. But, the last time I was in Greece and Italy there was one museum that I wanted to go to that just did not exist: the World War II museum.

At some places in Greece, the history of WWII was more apparent and alive in local legend than in others. Crete's a good example, where the German attacks left behind a truely staggering mythology, complete with gun-toting grannies and knife-wielding civilians. Not to mention a number of memorial cemeteries.

The grave of legendary archaeologist, spy and adventurer John Pendlebury, located at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Souda Bay.

While I was in Italy there were a good number of WWII memorials and the events of the war were fairly easy to learn about if you knew where to look and who to ask. They also turned up in unexpected places:

The amazing shrine of Father Marcello Morgante in the crypt of the cathedral in Ascoli Piceno features a series of mosaics commemorating his life. One of them shows the priest and other locals giving aid to British and American escaped prisoners of war.

I reckon that most Americans don't know about the two gigantic war cemeteries that our government pays to keep meticuliously groomed outside of Rome and Florence.

When I visited this summer, a gregarious guard at the cemetery in Florence said that of the 200 people to show up that day, only three (my party) were Americans. That was a bit sobering, although if it weren't for the Marine in my midst I wouldn't have known about the site either.

At what point will the memorials give way to museums, I wonder?

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