Commemorate and remember. These are the two main objective of a photo exhibition in memory of the 88 workers who died in an avalanche that destroyed the construction site of a dam being built in Mattmark, Switzerland, in 1965. 

The exhibition, titled “Mattmark Tragedy in the Mountains” was inaugurated in Rome. Most of the victims (56 of them) were Italian. This exhibition is one of several commemorative events being held in Switzerland, Italy and Belgium this year.

During the inauguration of the photo exhibition in Rome, at the Spadolini Library of the Italian Senate, a moving 20-minute video was screened. The video was produced in collaboration with Nicolas Brun and presented interviews with survivors and relatives of the victims. 

The video told the story of the tragedy that struck on 30 August 1965. The terminal part of the Allalingletscher in Switzerland broke, resulting in a tremendous avalanche.  The official opening of the exhibition drew various Italian politicians, including Senator Claudio Micheloni and Pier Ferdinando Casini, the president of the senate’s foreign affairs committee. Other distinguished speakers included Italian MP Valentina Paris, Domenico Mesiano, the president of the Association Italy-Valais, who also serves as the president of the Mattmark Committee 2015. The list also included Stéphane Marti, the executive manager of the Mattmark project 2015 and Sandro Cattacin, a sociology professor at Geneva University. 

Inside the library, the opening of the exhibition was also attended by the survivors and the relatives of the victims, as well as members of the local authorities and associations. Switzerland’s Ambassador to Italy, Giancarlo Kessler, was also in attendance. 

Senator Micheloni read aloud a message from the newly elected Italian President Sergio Mattarella. The president stressed the importance of not forgetting “one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of Italian emigration”. He also said that “today and in the past our Italian communities are integrated in the countries who hosted them, giving a contribution in terms of development but also keeping strong the links with Italy”.

The photo exhibition, which will run until February 28, received the support of the Italian president and the patronage of the senate.

Thanking the supporting partners from Canton Valais for their contribution, Senator Micheloni, the president of the committee for the Italians living abroad, said: “Our duty here is to honour and remember. To remember is the duty of citizens and politicians. The history of emigration is full of words we don‘t like: discrimination, xenophobia, killings and the forced migrations after the war. Remembering doesn‘t mean honouring”.  

Referring to the tragic events in the Mediterranean sea, Senator Micheloni said: “We have to stop today the tragedies of immigration”.  In turn, Senator Casini said he thinks the key factor is integration. “In front of an historical period like the Arab Spring, we can‘t build up walls but also put in place auto-lesionistic  policies,” he said. 

Professor Domenico Mesiano, the co-curator of the exhibition, said: “After Rome, the exhibition will travel to Sion and other towns in the Canton Valais and conclude in Brig. We have the plan to exhibit also in Italy and in Brussels to give a more European dimension to the commemoration. At the same time, education is key. We will be active in schools because we have to present this story to the younger generations and talk to them about integration. We don‘t have to forget then that the Canton Vallais chose the italianità as one of its founding cultural pillars”.   

Professor Stéphane Marti added: “We decided to tell this story to testify the double sacrifice of the victims: emigrate and die for the progress of another country”. 

Marti also quoted Swiss writer Max Frisch who said: “We wanted workers, we got people”.