A Polish-born Holocaust survivor opened a book fair in Italy to a standing ovation, after organisers agreed to ban a publisher linked to a neo-fascist group.

Halina Birenbaum, an 89-year-old poet who lives in Israel, was quoted by Italy’s Corriere della Sera daily as saying “this is more proof for me that evil will not win.”

Birenbaum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum had threatened to boycott the 2019 Turin International Book Fair if the Altaforte publishing house, whose director is linked to the neo-fascist CasaPound party, was included.

“We consider our presence incompatible with that of a neo-fascist publishing house that openly spreads a revisionist culture,” read a letter signed by Birenbaum and others including Piotr Cywinski, director of the state museum in Poland.

The head of the publishing house, Francesco Polacchi, has defined himself as a fascist. He has praised late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and said “anti-fascism is the true evil in this country.”

Polacchi, who is also under investigation for promoting fascism, said he would sue. He called the ban an attack on the county’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini.

Altaforte is publishing a book of interviews with Salvini that was to be presented at the fair.
Salvini also denounced the ban on Altaforte, saying there is a “minority on the left that claims the right to decide who can make music, who can do theatre, who can publish books.”

“Ideas are answered with other ideas, not with censorship,” Salvini said.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella sent a message to the fair organiser saying that the values of Auschwitz survivor and writer Primo Levi, who was born in Turin, should “constitute the fundamental basis for a peaceful society and a respectful social coexistence.”