Italians Rally Against Racism on Kristallnacht Anniversary

Tens of thousands of people all over Italy took part in demonstrations against racism and anti-Semitism on Monday, the 54th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

The demonstrations were given added meaning because of a series of anti-Semitic incidents over the past week and the attack by dozens of Jewish youths on the offices of a neo-Nazi skinhead group in Rome.

As many as 30,000 or more people, mostly students, marched through Rome on Monday morning, carrying banners and chanting slogans calling for racial harmony.

Many wore badges depicting a yellow Star of David — such as the Nazis forced Jews to wear — emblazoned with the words “Never Again.”

At the head of the march was a group of Italian Holocaust survivors, who stressed that the events of 50 years ago must never be forgotten.

Similar demonstrations took place in as many as 30 other towns and cities under the motto, “We are all Jews.”

Meanwhile, there were reports of new anti-Semitic incidents.

On Sunday, during a soccer match in Florence between Rome and Florence, extremist fans of the Rome team unfurled a banner with the Italian flag on one side and a swastika on the other.

Florence fans shouted back, “You are like Jews,” using the description as an insult.

“The racist cry was not contested by any part of the stadium,” the newspaper Il Messaggero reported, adding that witnesses also had reported that some Rome fans gave the Nazi salute and waved the banner of the neo-fascist Youth Front movement.

Also Sunday, a fan at a soccer match in Rome, identified as 33-year-old Andrea Insabato, was arrested for having set fire during the match to a flag bearing the Star of David.

And on Monday, a Jewish-owned store in Frascati, near Rome, was found scrawled with a Star of David.

In a lengthy interview with Il Messaggero on Monday, Rome’s chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, said he felt that there was a definite anti-Semitic plan afoot.

“The episodes over the past few months, which are continuing in macabre sequence in Germany, France, Belgium and, to a lesser extent, Italy, make me think that they are not isolated incidents,” he said.

“There is a precise plan that nourishes the racist and anti-Semitic wind,” he said.

“To block this wave of intolerance, we must act on two levels,” he said.

“Locally, it is necessary to isolate these extremists and not to permit them to act not only against Jews or immigrants, but all society. But also in the political sphere, it is necessary to understand who is behind this crazy fringe,” he said.

Toaff accused mainstream politicians of the right wing of being behind the extremists, even though their leadership disassociated themselves “at least officially” from skinhead groups.

He criticized the German government for being lax in cracking down against right-wing extremists, but praised, however, the attitude of the Italian state toward Jews.

“Today the state is with us, and the Italians are well aware that the problem of anti-Semitism and racism doesn’t just involve Jews or immigrants, but everyone.

“This is demonstrated by the fact that in these days the highest government officials, of the police, of the political parties and trade unions, and many, many ordinary citizens have been very supportive of us.”

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