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Napolitano blasts pigs head provocation on memorial day

Synagogue, Israeli embassy targeted on Holocaust Remembrance

27 January, 19:26
Napolitano blasts pigs head provocation on memorial day (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, January 27 - Three pig heads sent to important Jewish institutions in Rome were "a miserable provocation" for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday.

The intense and somber mood surrounding the day of remembrance for six million Jews who died in Nazi death camps in the Second World War was made even darker by the desecrations of important Jewish sites around Rome.

The pigs heads were sent on the weekend to Rome's main synagogue, the Israeli embassy and a Jewish exhibition in what has been described as a hate crime. As well, anti-Semitic slurs were found painted around the Italian capital and two men have been charged with instigating racial hatred by painting such phrases as "Holocaust lies" on public buildings. Napolitano spoke during a Holocaust memorial ceremony at the presidential palace, directing his message to console and clear tensions after the offenses directed at Jewish institutions in Rome. "Let me...immediately rid the field of the miserable provocation that just assaulted all of us," said Napolitano during the ceremony held on a cold, wet January day.

"The perpetrators - who I hope can be rapidly identified and are only comparable to the same repulsive material used in those packages (of pig heads) - have nothing to do with Rome and the Romans who, for human and civil sympathy, democratic awareness, education and culture, are close to the men and women of Jewish origins and religion, embracing them in solidarity and in a commitment to a rigorous fight against all forms of anti-Semitism". The delivery of pig heads outraged many in the Jewish community, and some said it was an insult to all Italians.

"It's a hideous act, an enormous offence that I do not accept," said Italian Auschwitz survivor Sami Modiano.

"There are certain things that make me ache, acts that awaken a hate that I didn't think I'd have any more," he said. "I'm a Jew but also Italian. What has happened offends all Italian people". The Israeli foreign minister's office told ANSA the act was "intolerable and brutal". Police quickly caught two men, ages 33 and 47, who were spray-painting anti-Semitic slurs in a main square in Rome.

They said that one belongs to an extreme right-wing movement Militia, and the other had been placed under investigation during a previous probe into the neo-Nazi website Stormfront. Meanwhile, in Milan vandals painted a red swastika on to a Jewish school that dates from the 19th century, authorities said Monday. Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino expressed her "firm condemnation of the reprehensible acts of anti-Semitism" while Premier Enrico Letta emphasized the importance of preserving the lessons of the Holocaust to educate future generations.

One survivor's testimony was heard Monday in the northern city of Vicenza, where the man said that deadly 2012 earthquakes in the area released his ability to speak out about his memories of the death camps.

"Before the earthquake, I couldn't tell anyone, not even my family. The brutality I experienced was so atrocious I didn't believe anyone would understand," painter Enzo Ronchetti, 89, said during a Holocaust remembrance day event there.

Earthquakes and their aftershocks in 2012 killed a total of 27 people and left thousands homeless in the north-central Emilia Romagna region, where Ronchetti was born. "Those very experiences are what make me want the new generations to practice tolerance", said the painter. Another measure to preserve the memories of the Shoah is a series of audiovisual interviews being conducted with Holocaust survivors and preserved in Rome. The USC Shoah Foundation - promoted by the US film director Steven Spielberg whose 1993 Hollywood blockbuster film "Schindler's List" raised awareness of the Holocaust for younger generations - has put together some 52,000 video interviews.

That included 434 Italian interviews and triggered the idea of a similar project called Jewish Memories in Rome's Jewish Cultural Center.

"Our aim is for the youth of 2015 to be able to hear the history of Italian Judaism, and especially that of Roman Jews, as we heard it from our fathers and grandfathers," Miriam Haiun, the director of the center, said Monday.

The Jewish Memories project includes a collection of interviews conducted between 2010 and 2012 in which members of Rome's Jewish community talk about their experiences during the Second World War.

But Haiun said the project also aims to include memories beyond the war's end in 1945. In Milan, as many as 7,000 people over Sunday and Monday visited the city's Shoah Memorial at track 21 in the city's central station.

There, between 1943 and 1945, almost 2,000 Italian Jews and political dissidents were packed into windowless cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen Belsen concentration and death camps, or to Italian concentration camps at Fossoli and Bolzano.

The first convoys for Auschwitz left track 21 on January 30, 1944. Of the 605 Italian Jews who were deported that day, only 22 came home.