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 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.