The prize was announced this week by Feder Fauna, a union for people working commercially with animals such as breeders and farmers. Feder Fauna is also a member of the CONF ASI federation of trade unions, which has members from a broad range of sectors including agriculture and transport.
The Hitler Prize will be awarded on November 24th “for the personality who has particularly distinguished themselves in their work with animals over the past year”, according to a statement on the Feder Fauna website.
The award is named after Adolf Hitler because the Nazi leader created a law to protect animals, the union said. Feder Fauna called on members to nominate those they considered “most worthy” of receiving the Hitler Award, such as those who have suffered violence from animal rights activists.
"The Hitler Prize represents a condemnation of those who trample on human rights in the name of the ideology of 'animal rights'!" Massimiliano Filippi, general secretary of Feder Fauna, told The Local. "I find that asking to stop experiments on rats and proposing instead experiments be done on prisoners has a close affinity to Nazism."
A poster to advertise the event has the word ‘rights’ replaced with ‘Reich’, a reference to the Nazi leadership which orchestrated the Holocaust. Approximately six million Jews were systematically killed on Hitler’s orders.
The image also shows Hitler feeding two deer at the entrance of Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland where 1.3 million people were killed.
Responding to the award announcement, Rabbi Barbara Aeillo said it “exemplifies a disturbing trend of intolerance and hate that is on the rise not only in Italy but throughout Europe”.
“Creeping Nazism is a slow but steady trend that minimizes the Holocaust, demeans the memory of those murdered and diminishes the suffering of the survivors,” she told The Local.
While the award at first appears “benign”, Aeillo said that any positive promotion of the Nazi leader risks diverting attention from the historic facts and is “highly suspect”.
“The fact that a competition like the Hitler Award is even conceivable, let alone celebrated, is more than troubling and indicates a significant change in the Italian public’s general tolerance for anti-semitic remarks and activity,” she said.
Angelo Bonelli, leader of the Green party, described the prize as a "sordid provocation" and said the union should feels ashamed of itself.
"Unfortunately offending the memory of the Holocaust is becoming a tragic habit...Feder Fauna has demonstrated that it has no respect for the millions of lives destroyed by Nazism. It is shameful without limits," he told Corriere della Sera.
The award announcement comes the same week that Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, said that his children are persecuted “like Jews under Hitler”. The billionaire’s comments came ahead of a vote to determine whether he will be ousted from the Senate after being found guilty of tax fraud.