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Our gratitude and responsibility

on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holocaust Memorial of Milan

Holocaust Memorial of Milan

A few hours after our Holocaust Memorial Day event I would like to say thanks to our country.
I would like to express this gratitude first of all as a Jew, but also as a person who has always thought that memory plays an important role in educating young people to take up their own responsibility in everyday life. Italy has many faults, but there is no other European country where Holocaust remembrance Day is so deeply felt. There is no administration of either a small or a big city, that does not organize a public celebration of 27 January; no lower or higher school where teachers do not suggest their pupils to read books about the Holocaust or do not encourage their students to visit the death camps in order not to forget; there is no radio or broadcasting network that does not organize special features about this event, while all the newspapers fill their pages with a variety of reflections and articles. 

The Italian picture deeply differs from the one of France, where Holocaust Remembrance Day is seen as an imposition of self-referential Jews, as comic actor Dieudonné said in his pieces, from the intolerance of many Central-European countries, where anti-Semitism was seemingly “frozen” by the totalitarian regimes, but in reality was ignited by the same regimes’ anti-Zionist campaigns. Today in the Ukraine, in Hungary and the Baltic countries anti-Semitism is still uptodate, because , as great Hungarian political scientist Istvan Bibo put it, too little has been done so far to tackle the issue of the responsibility of Nazi collaborators and thus attain the moral purification of those nations.

Nonetheless this great symbolic embrace between Italy and the Jews that takes place every year runs the risk of vanishing if Holocaust Memorial Day presents itself as a mere repetition and fails to produce a lively and updated memory.


In many meetings I have enthusiastically attended at schools, I have realised how students are better able to grasp the past when they feel engaged in transforming the present. Young people more than others do not like people to ask them only to remember and feel even bored when they are considered as passive “memory users”. On the contrary they feel sincerely involved in remembrance when they understand they are committed to changing the world that awaits when they leave the school benches. 

This is essentially the same quest for a meaning that is never fully answered in all happenings held in the various Italian cities on January 27. Why remember? In order not to let things happen again, is the implicit answer. But then what does it mean for politics and daily life?

If this set of questions is shirks and remains a black hole, our commemorations on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which we are very proud of, would lose their raison d'être up to the point of becoming a mere ripetitive ritual, as by the way it has already happened as far as 25 April, our Liberation day from fascism, is concerned. 
There are instead all prerequisites for Italy and its Jewish communities to become a reference point throughout Europe to remember the forgotten or too soon bereaved genocide cases such as Rwanda, Cambodia and the Armenian Genocide; to make the people aware of the torment of the Jewish communities whose right to memory is steadily denied in the countries of the former Soviet bloc and in the Arab world; to eventually let a serious discourse about genocide prevention and the systematic reporting of crimes against humanity arise.


This is Gariwo’s aim. With this in mind we launched a universal battle throughout Europe to remember the Righteous in all genocide cases on 6 March, and we also addressed a letter to Pope Francis to ask him to recite an Angelus in Saint Peter’s Square to remember the faithful of all religions and the non-believers who risk their live sto prevent the evil of the Holocaust to rear its ugly head again in the world.


Our goal is that of turning the great moral potential of our country into a great example for the international community.

I am persuaded that if the Jewish communities like me feel this gratitude towards Italy and open themselves to the memory of all genocide cases, understanding how openness to the other’s plights is the best way not to banalize the Holocaust and fight any kind of bereavement, Holocaust Memorial Day in Italy will go on being the most important commemoration in Europe. 
A source of pride for our international prestige and hence for all Italians and Jews.

Gabriele Nissim, Chairman of Gariwo, the forest of the Righteous

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Chairman of Gariwo, the forest of the Righteous

21 January 2014

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