In December, Cosenza looked to its historic Jewish community in decorating its pedestrian boulevard, Via Arabia, with menorahs. Now the southern Italian town is delving into its Nazi past.
Last week, Consenza’s tourism bureau distributed brochures featuring Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler at the International Travel Fair of Milan.
The Calabrian town of 70,000 is famous among Jews for its citron (etrog) groves, and is a major supplier for Israel’s Sukkot festivities. Recently, the town’s tourist industry began capitalizing on its more historic Jewish ties — at the beginning of sixteenth century, Jews were expelled or forced to convert to Christianity — and the municipality has decided to restore a building located in its ancient Jewish neighborhood.
But it is even more ancient history that interested the Nazis, and is the main focus of Cosenza’s tourism efforts.
The town’s new brochure tells the story of Alar I, king of the Germanic Visigoths who invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 410 CE. Shortly after, Alar found himself in Cosenza, where he met an unexpected death. According to legend, he was buried in the town’s Busenzo River with his many treasures.
According to legend, chief among Alar’s loot was the golden menorah brought from Jerusalem by the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
Throughout the centuries, many people have tried to locate Alar’s exact burial location — and booty.
As proud Aryans, the Nazi regime took a particular interest in history and myths related to the Germanic peoples of Roman times.
As the brochure reads, “in 1937, the year when the legend of Alar hit the highest popularity, Himmler, commander of the Nazi SS, promoted excavations [in Cosenza to find Alar’s grave], but in vain.”
Although the text offers no other detail about Himmler’s story or role, the SS commander’s image dominates the brochure and is placed next to the headline.
‘We consider Himmler one of the worst criminals in history’
Mayor of Cosena Mario Occhiuto told The Times of Israel Tuesday that he had not seen the brochure before it was printed and distributed. He speculated the graphic designer made the choice to feature the Nazi merely because Himmler was mentioned in the text.
“We consider Himmler one of the worst criminals in history,” Occhiuto said. “We did not mean to send any message different than that.”
“However, we cannot pretend that the story of Alar and its fortune did not go as it is explained in the text,” he added.
For the past few months, the city of Cosenza has been using the legend of Alar to promote itself as a touristic destination.
Among their initiatives, during last December’s holiday season, they decorated the streets with Christmas lights inspired by Alar’s story, and one of the main boulevards was decorated with menorah-shaped lights.