ROME (JTA) – Shlomo Venezia, a Holocaust survivor who wrote about his experiences in an Auschwitz Sonderkommando unit and spent years bearing personal testimony to the Shoah, has died.
Venezia, who was born in Salonika (Thessaloniki), Greece, died Sept. 30 in Rome at the age of 88.
Deported to Auschwitz in 1944, he was one of the few survivors of the notorious Sonderkommando units – teams of prisoners forced to move and cremate the bodies of those killed in the gas chambers. His mother and two sisters were killed in Auschwitz. He wrote about his experiences in a memoir, “Sonderkommando Auschwitz,” published in 2007.
Venezia was very active speaking about the Holocaust at schools, public events and in the media, and he accompanied Italian student groups on study trips to Auschwitz.
His death “leaves a vacuum and great pain,” said Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno.
Nicola Zingaretti, the president of Rome province, said: “It is difficult today, and it has always been difficult, to find the words to thank Shlomo for all that he has given us and all that he has taught us, and it is difficult, maybe impossible, to comprehend the depth of his suffering, his courage and his generosity.”
The Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, Irina Bokova, also paid tribute. "Shlomo Venezia was an exceptional and tireless witness of this dark period of history,” she said in a statement. “He dedicated many years of his life telling his story in Italy and throughout Europe to serve as a warning for the future. He influenced a whole generation of young people, teachers and historians, thanks to his deep loyalty to the memory of the deceased. All those who knew him were struck by his modesty and his strength of character," she said. "His death is a call to intensify efforts for educating and transmitting the history of the Holocaust around the world."