A far-right anti-vaxxer Italian lawmaker provoked outrage when he referred to a prominent Holocaust survivor by the number tattooed on her arm by the Nazis.
Fabio Meroni, a councilor from Lissone in the northern Lombardia region, posted the remarks over the weekend about lifetime senator and survivor Liliana Segre, 91, who has publicly supported the country’s vaccination campaign.
The number was tattooed onto her skin at the Auschwitz concentration camp when she was a young teenager.
“All that was missing [in the debate about vaccines] was her… 75190,” Meroni wrote in a Facebook post attacking Segre for recently saying that vaccination is the only way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number was tattooed on Segre’s arm in 1944 when she was sent to the camp, aged 13. Her father and paternal grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz, her mother having died years earlier in Milan when Segre still a baby.
Lissone councilors from the center-left Partito Democratico called on Meroni to issue a public apology, but the lawmaker pushed back, claiming he had not referred to Segre by name in order to avoid triggering Facebook censorship.
Equating vaccination with Nazi racism is “vulgar,” the councilors said in a statement, and will “offend all people with historical awareness and a sense of humanity,” according to media reports.
Meroni responded that he used “that number instead of her name to avoid getting banned from Facebook.”
As pressure mounted, Meroni eventually did apologize, reportedly saying in a statement that “in this climate of hatred, unfortunately, I too got involved and I tried to express my thoughts in a totally wrong way.”
The offending post was removed from Facebook.
Referring to Meroni’s initial post, Walker Meghnagi, president of Milan’s Jewish community, said it was “intolerable” for a public figure to use such “vile terms” against “those who have suffered the horror of the racial laws on their own skin.”
There was more condemnation from the Milan branch of ANPI, the National Association of Italian Partisans, whose president Roberto Cenati said in a statement that Meroni had used “the same language with which the Nazis negated the personality of those who ended up in the Auschwitz extermination camp for the sole fault of being born.”
The subject of multiple death threats, Segre has been under police protection since 2019. In February, a renewed wave of hatred against her surged online after the government in Milan, where she lives alone, posted a video of Segre being vaccinated against COVID-19 and recommending that Italians follow her example.
Segre has been sounding the alarm about divisions within Italian society for years as one of the country’s most vocal Holocaust survivors. Her critical voice and indefatigable efforts to warn her countrymen about the dangers of indifference and hatred have made her a hero to many — and a target for many others.
JTA contributed to this report.