Italian President Joins Ceremony Marking Italian Jews’ Deportation

The presence of Italy’s president lent particular significance this week to a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Nazi deportation of Italian Jews.

Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro made the occasion Sunday even more meaningful by using it to launch an impassioned and unexpected warning against rising racism and nationalism in Europe — and against divisive, regionalist politics in Italy.

Recalling the Nazi era and the hatreds directed against Jews and others, he said, “I am among those who think that all this can return, but I hope to die before becoming totally pessimistic.”

He called for a return to the human values of truth, love, altruism and unity in order to overcome current negative tendencies, such as the move toward dividing people by their ethnic identity.

Though he did not mention them by name, his words were also clearly directed at Italy’s Northern League Party and its supporters, which have won great support in prosperous northern Italy with calls to separate the region from the rest of the country.

Scalfaro spoke during an unscheduled address that concluded a solemn ceremony in the ornate theater of Carpi, a northern Italian town near Bologna.

It was the final event in a series of commemorations Sunday marking the beginning of the Nazi deportation to death camps of about a quarter of Italy’s pre-war Jewish community.

The president had not been scheduled to speak, but he said he could not simply sit in silence on such an occasion, and made his address without using notes.

The ceremonies, under the slogan “From memory, a responsibility for the future,” were held at Carpi, which was the site of the Fossoli concentration camp.

A ‘MORAL DEBT’ TO THE VICTIMS

Fossoli was an internment camp for Allied POWs and Italian partisan resistance fighters. After the Nazi occupation of northern Italy in September 1943, it became a major staging camp for Jews on their way to Auschwitz and other death camps.

Among the 2,500 or more Jews who passed through Fossoli was Auschwitz survivor and author Primo Levi, who committed suicide in 1987.

The ceremonies at Fossoli were the national focus of a series of local commemorations in various Italian towns and cities marking the anniversary of the deportations, which began with the deportation of Jews from Merano, in the South Tyrol, in September 1943.

The Fossoli events included a brief interfaith religious service led by a rabbi, a Catholic bishop and a Protestant pastor, symbolizing the fact that Allied prisoners of war and Italian partisans were also held prisoner and deported to German concentration camps from Fossoli.

There was also a visit to the Monument and Museum to Racial and Political Deportees in downtown Carpi, where Scalfaro laid a wreath.

In an introductory speech, Carpi Mayor Claudio Bergianti said the town had recently drawn up an ambitious plan to turn the site of the Fossoli camp itself into a memorial and monument park.

“The city of Carpi has felt, since the first years after the war, the duty to carry out a moral debt toward the thousands of victims of the (Nazi) extermination: the debt of transmitting memory as a warning so that such barbarism does not repeat itself,” he said.

The concluding ceremony included addresses by Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, and historian Carlo Ghisalberti. Liliana Segre, an Auschwitz survivor, presented a dramatic personal testimony recalling her family members who perished in the Nazi camps.

The whole ceremony, said Zevi, “was very moving.”

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