A Holocaust survivor who has been put under police protection due to anti-Semitic threats was escorted Tuesday evening through the center of Milan by hundreds of Italian mayors and thousands of ordinary citizens behind a banner reading: “Hatred has no future.”
“I have known hatred. I have known what it means to be a reject of the society to which I believed I belonged,” Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old senator-for-life who survived Auschwitz as a child, told the crowd.
“I heard the words of hatred, hateful and insulting, and I saw with my eyes the realization of a ferocious program prepared from hatred,” Segre said.
Segre said she now looks for hope in the eyes of school children when she tells her story, and in the eyes of mayors and ordinary citizens “who came here to shout, ‘Enough hatred.’ ”
Segre was given a police escort last month over a stream of anti-Semitic posts and threats that were aimed at her after she championed a new parliamentary panel against racism, discrimination, anti-Semitism and online hatred.
“Let’s leave hatred to the anonymous ones at the keyboards,” she said to cheers in front of City Hall.
Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala told thousands in the crowd, including about 1,000 mayors, that such demonstrations would continue “until this climate of hatred changes.”
The mayors, wearing sashes in the Italian green, white and red, were applauded as they entered the arcaded Galleria, and the crowd chanted “Liliana” when Segre met the mayors below the central glass dome.
Thousands of ordinary Italians joined the march or cheered from the sidelines, singing the anti-fascist anthem “Bella Ciao,” as the march proceeded through the 19th century Galleria to the square in front of City Hall.
The march was organized by the Italian mayor’s association and was meant to cut across party lines. But the role of League leader Matteo Salvini in fomenting anti-migrant and racist sentiment was recognized.
Bologna Mayor Virginio Merola told The Associated Press that rising racism in Italy could be traced to the country’s long economic crisis along with the League’s provocative rhetoric. Bologna is the largest city in Emilia-Romagna, a traditionally left-wing stronghold that faces tough regional elections next month, where Salvini is poised to make strong gains.
“There is too much racism, hatred and anti-Semitism in Europe, and Italy,” Merola said. “We need to react and show citizens that the way to live together is through civil cohabitation.”
Segre said the history of Italian Jews was represented in each of the 8,000 towns and cities in Italy “in the names of the streets, to the headstones, to the rare Jewish vestiges,” that will remain when there are no more survivors to bear witness.
It was a reminder made more poignant by recent anti-Semitic incidents involving just such markers of Jewish life.
The city council of Schio, north of Vicenza, last month blocked as “divisive” the town mayor’s move to put up so-called stumbling stones to remember Schio’s Holocaust victims. And vandals in Rome defaced street signs that had been rededicated to honor two Jewish female scholars and an anti-fascist professor. The streets had previously been named after anti-Semitic scientists.
Segre is backing a National Museum of Resistance, which was announced this week to be built in Milan.
“It is a moral commitment to support and carry forward the memory,” she said.
Following the threats against her, President Reuven Rivlin wrote Segre an open letter, saying, “I was appalled to hear the news that anti-Semitic threats against you require you to receive protection to ensure your safety, and deeply regret that the circumstances of me writing to you are so distressing.”
Rivlin commended Segre for her “strength and bravery” and expressed his “horror and disgust” at the threats, adding that they were “yet another example of the reality for Jews in Europe today.” He urged her to “carry on doing what you believe in.”
“It would be a great honor, personally and for the State of Israel, to welcome you to Jerusalem and to visit Israel,” the president concluded.
Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Dror Eydar, said of the threats: “An 89-year-old survivor under escort symbolizes the danger that the Jewish communities in Europe still are facing today.”
The Yad Vashem museum also condemned the online abuse.
“It is unacceptable that hate and xenophobia still plague our post-Holocaust society. Holocaust survivors like Senator Segre are living witnesses to the horrors that are possible when antisemitism goes unchecked,” Yad Vashem said in a statement.