On Platform 21, a track underneath Milan’s central train station that was once used to ship Jews to Auschwitz, sits recent emigrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Syria.
In the 1990s, after years of obscurity, the significance of the once secret railway was discovered. By 2013, it was reclaimed as Milan’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. Today, it houses a new generation of refugees, those who recently fled starvation and persecution in search of a new life.
With the help of Chabad-affiliated Beteavon soup kitchen, volunteers from Jewish, Catholic and Muslim backgrounds dispense amenities such as towels, toiletries and hot kosher meals here to those predominately Muslim individuals who would otherwise be hungry and homeless.
Beds and showers for about 30 individuals, which are separated from the museum’s regular activities by a partition, are also available for daily use.
The project began about a month and a half ago when the Italian government began to seek out help for the influx of migrants who, due to its proximity to their native countries and juxtaposition to the Mediterranean Sea, began traveling to the country by way of Libya in hope of a better life.
Though many only stay in Italy for a few days before traveling to family and friends in Northern Europe, after spending nights huddled and vulnerable at Milan’s train station, it became apparent that a more permanent housing solution was needed.
“When they’re here, someone has to take care of them,” said Rabbi Igal Hazad, who oversees Beteavon’s kitchen and daily activities.
Due to its proximity to the train station and large capacity, the Holocaust museum was suggested as a potential housing spot. Though many of the recent migrants do not understand their shelter’s significance, Rabbi Hazad believes that their connection to the location and its people is inherent.
“They feel like a desperate people with a sense of hope, aching for a better life,” said Rabbi Hazad. “As Jews we can relate to that.”