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Italian Holocaust Survivor Faces Threats After Call for Hate Investigation: NPR



Liliana Segre waves at the end of a meeting with students in Milan, Italy, in 2018. For decades, 89-year-old Segre has been inclined to discuss her time in Auschwitz. But in the 1

990s, she began talking to students all over Italy about the Holocaust.

Luca Bruno / AP


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Luca Bruno / AP

Liliana Segre waves at the end of a meeting with students in Milan, Italy, in 2018. For decades at 89, Segre was reluctant to discuss her time in Auschwitz. But in the 1990s, she began talking to students all over Italy about the Holocaust.

Luca Bruno / AP

More than seven decades after the fall of fascism in his homeland, Italy has been in the grip of an intense debate on anti-Semitism, racism and hate speech.

The national psychodrama was inadvertently triggered by an 89-year-old Jewish grandmother and a Holocaust survivor who was placed under police escort after threats by members of Italy's far-right members.

In 1944, 13-year-old Liliana Segre from Milan, Italy, was deported to Auschwitz number 75,190 tattooed on her arm. Most people don't want to hear about the Holocaust after the war, she says.

When she became a grandmother at the age of 60, Segre realized that she had not fulfilled her obligation to inform the younger generations about the horrors of genocide and began meeting with students to describe life in a Nazi death camp.

Her work attracted public attention, and last year Segre was named a lifelong senator – an honor recognizing her role in Italy's historical memory of the Holocaust. [19659008] Earlier this month, a television interviewer asked what it meant to her.

"Inside, I was always that little kid suddenly forbidden to go to school and who became invisible to the world around her," Segre said. "Eighty years later, she becomes a lifelong senator – I can't find the words to describe my emotions."

But greater visibility has made Segre the target of online anti-Semitic vitriol – about 200 attacks a day observed by the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation. The insults included a "bite of a Jew", "Hitler, you didn't do the job" and "let's open the ovens again".

Segre responded to the growing nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment across the country by calling for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate hate speech, racism and anti-Semitism. The vote passed, but all right-wing parties abstained.

Mateo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant league party, said the proposal would prevent him from declaring himself "Italian first." Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said this would restrict freedom of expression.

Segre told a television interviewer that she was stunned.

"I thought a proposal against hatred in general, which we are all witnessing, would be an ethical and moral issue," she said. Instead, she felt "like a Martian in the Senate."

Five days after that interview Milan police say that two security agents have been appointed to Segre after the jump in online threats.

Ruth Duregelo, president of the Roman Jewish Community, says this is a sign of a seven-decade failure in Italian education society. [19659008] "This is a real crisis for all of us, for the whole system, for this one This means that it must be protected from hatred, as it was in the past. "

The image of an octogenarian survivor in need of police protection evoked memories of intolerance against fascism. Ronald Lauder, leader of the World Jewish Congress, warns that Italy should not repeat its past.

"Italy cannot afford to be torn apart again as it was in the 1930s and 40s. And people today do not remember what

the old Jewish ghetto in Rome, where Jews were forced to live for hundreds of years until 1870, is one place where the memory of what happened is very visible.

Holocaust memorials known as "stumbling blocks" are on the doorstep of No. 9 Via del Portico D & # 39; Ottavia in Rome.

Silivia Poggioli / NPR


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Silivia Podzhioli / NPR

Thousands of Italian Jews were arrested during the Nazi occupation. In front of many doors, small, square brass plaques are embedded among the small stone slabs, marking who lived in the homes and when they were killed.

Number 9 Via del Portico d & # 39; Ottavia has 12 plaques known as "stumbling blocks" bearing the name of each resident, date of birth and date killed in a Nazi concentration camp. Two are for the Talyakozo family and 10 are for Sabatellos.

Owner Angelo di Porto says that what happened to Segre made him ashamed of being Italian. This is also a warning.

"Unfortunately, history teaches us that when Jews are attacked, it leads to persecution, dictatorships and unhappiness for the community at large," says di Porto. "Therefore, non-Jews are the first to worry about what is happening here."

What happens is the refusal of Roberto Canali, the mayor of Predappio's Right Curve – the birthplace of dictator Benito Mussolini – to participate in an annual program that pays students to travel by train to Auschwitz. He said it was driven by his belief that the historical memory of what happened in Europe should be broader.

"When these trains stop to understand what happened in the lobby [massacre] or on the Berlin Wall and understand the tragedy of 50 years of communism, only then can they say that they want to remember the history of all 360 degrees, and we'll be happy to cooperate, "the mayor said earlier this month, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

Separately, Salvini followers at a League rally in September called for journalist Gad Lerner, shouting," Get out of here. Jews! ”

Other incidents include racist chants and monkey sounds from ultra-right football fans targeting black football star Mario Balotelli, who was born in Italy, adopted and raised by an Italian couple, Luca Castellini, a far-right politician and head of the ultra-fan section that manages the chants, told reporters this month that Balotelli may be Italian by nationality, "but he will never be completely Italian."

One man very worried about what's happening in Italy is Paolo Berisi, author of books on the rise of neo-Nazism and neo-fascism. Unlike some other countries that have had totalitarian regimes, he says Italy has never reconciled with its past. He accuses post-war democratic governments of believing that ideology is dead and buried.

"Fascism can be born or reborn at any time and in any part of the world in new forms," ​​Berisi says. "Today's neo-fascists don't wear black shirts. Neo-fascism is expressed in new, fluid ways, sometimes hard to recognize, but ultimately very visible. "

This is what the late Italian writer Humberto Eco called" Eternal Fascism. " Eco said that everyone should point out new forms of fascism as they are cut, place them under the lights of floodlights and thus defuse them.

This is precisely what Senator Segre is trying to do.


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