Union of Italian Jewish Communities President and Member of the Executive Noemi Di Segni spoke at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Quirinale Palace in Rome with the presence of Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
The ceremony, dedicated to “The Righteous Among the Nations,” featured speeches by Sami Modiano, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Simonetta Della Seta, the President of the IHRA Memorials and Museums Working Group, and the Minister of Education and Merit, Giuseppe Valditara. It concluded with a speech by President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella.
Below is an English translation of Noemi Di Segni speech:
Distinguished President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella
Distinguished Minister of Education and Merit, Giuseppe Valditara
Distinguished civil, military, religious authorities,
Dearest Survivors and students,
The Ten Commandments are the statutory heart of our faith, for individuals', family and social doing. The imperative of the second commandment reinforces the monotheistic principle with the prohibition of creating an image of G-d. It is the absence of the image and the strength of G-d that we are called to believe in. On the other hand, in relationships between humans, images have always been the conductor of thoughts/intentions of those who create them, those who disseminate them, and those who consume them. Yesterday images carved in stone, and today created by artificial intelligence.
Images taken on January 27 with the liberation of the Auschwitz camp revealed to the world the horror of the extermination. This is the final solution stage that has been reached after centuries of anti-Jewish prejudice and planned propaganda, which has penetrated minds through images of the dangerous Jew, with his hooked nose and attitudes to exploitation and control. Images of the cleverly hidden/concealed horror that evidenced how a man created in the image of G-d had been able to exterminate his similar by considering himself a superior race, placing the Duce-Führer above G-d himself, iconizing and praising them everywhere. The first commandment overhauled, demanding again the sacrifice of lives and new crusades. The uniqueness of the Shoah is lapidary as the tablets of the laws.
Yet, in front of the images of the thrown bones, the disfigured bodies, the experiments on women and children, the survivors with imprisoned in the extermination camp forever, there are those who have decided to look away, avoiding any question of responsibility – of Nazism and fascism – or even worse to deny that this has truly happened. Arguing that we invented those images to generate pity and gain more power. In recent years, we have seen the distorted use of images of Anne Frank in stadiums, trivializing and thus abusing the memory of the Shoah.
The imperative Memory of the Shoa – established also as a law commitment over 20 years ago – is an immense screen that transmits to us the courageous testimonies of survivors, the images of the drowned and the saved, of the maps, of the Righteous recognized by Yad Vashem, the images of distortion and those that are suffocated as nightmares.
At dawn on October 7, on the holiday dedicated to that sacred text donated on Mount Sinai (Simcha Torà) thousands of Hamas terrorists massacred, tortured and burned entire families and children in their homes or while they were dancing, taking more than 260 hostages and during the barbaric crusade they fiercely published their acts on social media the images of a horror that no one would have thought could exist. Or “never” exist again. An horror which we still do not know how to name. It is not the Shoah, but it is the mirror of an extermination plan. It is not Nazism but Islamic fundamentalism. It's not Heil Hitler and Long Live the Duce, it's Alla-Ua-kbar. Shortly thereafter, anti-Semitic hatred flared up and images that we thought were those of history books became current snapshots in our cities and communities.
The Israeli-Jewish hunt of the social center squads, the Roman salute, the fear of walking around with a kipah or speaking in Hebrew, the writings with hooked crosses. The past comes back with its images and its screams. We sewed the yellow star on the membrane of memory, convinced that we could freely wear that little Star of David as an ornament.
October 7 is for us the puzzle of the images of the hostages, (of little Kfir Bibes) in their lives just before, of the raped women, images kept in the drawer out of media modesty and respect for the dignity of the victims, of the underground cities and those bombed again. October 7 is for us the image of missing Red Cross and the dark shadow of an imminent decision by the International Court of Justice.
How can we live through a 27th January after October 7th? What kind of memory is it if 80 years after the deportations, we are told that Hitler and Mussolini were right? If there are universities that decide to boycott Israeli research and remove Jews from universities? if Israeli and the Jews all over the world – those survivors who have been sworn "never again" – are the genocidal Nazi and the executioners are martyrs fighting for liberation, who quote Primo Levi? If Europe is in danger of being united by sovereigntist sentiment? How do we celebrate the Holocaust Remembrance Day today if we are told that the concentration camps are in the Middle East and the that Jewish culture is the gas? if our imageless G-d is considered vengeful rather than merciful. If defense has become genocide. All this happening not only to generate an accusation in the media but also on a judiciary level. It's hard for me to be here today.
It is a Memory that risks being emptied, that weakens consciences by mitigating responsibilities. That re-proposes ancient prejudices, that whispers a "never again" only to the six million of dead but does not recognize it as a right to the living. It must be made clear with subtitles in all languages that the images of January 27 are solely and exclusively of the Shoah. Those of the room of mirrors with photos of the children at Yad Vashem, of the kilometers of archives, of the avenue of the Righteous, of Tati and Andra, Sami, who are here. That those of October 7 and the events experienced in recent months are an underground tunnel that will lead us out to Auschwitz if we are not seriously vigilant. Today we are worried, and we cannot avoid the warning of coherent remembrance, addressed to institutions and individual citizens. What image of you do you mirror when you look at yourself every morning? Of those who keep high the memory in the light or of those who choose that indifferent twilight?
Our responsibility, as Jewish communities, is to continue to transmit images of morality even in the most lacerating dilemma, solidarity in the reconstruction of what has been burned and destroyed. Images of life that goes on despite the threats. Of commitment to live in our small daily life with those who carry the image of the same or another G-d, of communities that inspires recognition, peace.
Italy, in preparing to lead the G7 and play an important role in Europe's future, must transmit that capacity for innovation in safeguarding the values and dignity of the person. Traditional and social media must associate images with a correct narrative that informs and does not indoctrinate hatred; schools should bring on civic education; fight against all forms of hatred and anti-Semitism must continue with conviction. Italy must carry the engraved image of Memory and of those who are still witnesses of it as part of its DNA. To them in particular, to all those who fought dictatorships, to the Righteous who gave back the spark of life to the saved, our homage of remembrance.