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Milan station marks Holocaust

Commemoration ceremony ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day

26 January, 18:30
Milan station marks Holocaust
Milan station marks Holocaust
Milan station marks Holocaust

(ANSA) - January 26 - The first stone in a new memorial commemorating Italian victims of the Holocaust was laid at Milan's central station on Tuesday.

The memorial will stand at Platform 21 in the station, the departure point for trains carrying thousands of Italian Jews to concentration camps over the course of two years during World War II.

''This highly important site will bear witness to a tragic event that should always act as a warning for future generations,'' said Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, in a message read out at the ceremony.

The president said Italians had a duty ''never to forget what happened in this dark period of our history''.

The complex, which will include a library and prayer room, will stand next to two train wagons made of wood, accurate reproductions of those that carried thousands to their deaths. ''This memorial centre will be a place to study and exchange ideas, to debate, learn and meditate,'' said the memorial foundation's director, Ferruccio De Bortoli, during a ceremony attended by the region's top political figures. Italian Holocaust survivors also spoke at the event, describing painful memories of being taken away and life in the camps, including the final days before liberation. The ceremony comes ahead of international Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday, which commemorates the Soviet Army's liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, on January 27, 1945.

Piero Terracina, who now lives in Rome, was one of those freed by the arrival of the Russians. He recalled that the Germans had fled five days previously, taking all food and water with them, leaving their starving captives in subzero temperatures, surrounded by dead bodies. Terracina, who had just turned 16 at the time and had seen all his family members die, recalled that his fellow survivors were so numbed by desperation they had no response when the Russian arrived.

''I told them, 'Look, the Russians have arrived, we are free'. But there was no reaction. Only silence,'' said the survivor, who weighed just 38 kilos when he left the camp. Among his clearest memories was the response of the Russian soldiers who opened the camp.

''Even they, who had fought a war, had never seen men and women reduced to our condition, and many of them started crying when they saw us,'' he said.

A prominent Jewish spokesman, Amnesty International and the Italian gay rights organization Arcigay also released statements ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year comes a month after the theft and recovery of the infamous Auschwitz entry sign, 'Arbeit macht frei'.

Amos Luzzatto, the former president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, recalled his own memories of deportation and compared the tragedies of the past with today's suffering, citing ''those persecuted for reasons of race and those abused by political powers''. ''It is a sad fact that the motto 'never again' is ignored on a daily basis,'' he added.

The Italian head of Amnesty International Christine Weise said it was critical to remember the ''horrendous crime that was the Holocaust'' in order ''to build a better world, one that permanently rejects discrimination, torture and every form of slavery''. EVENTS ACROSS ITALY TO COMMEMORATE VICTIMS. Arcigay President Aurelio Mancuso said his organization had planned dozens of events across Italy for Wednesday in order to commemorate the gay and lesbian victims of Nazi Germany, ''tortured and killed because they did not meet the norms of the regime''. The planned events will include the distribution of 10,000 pink triangles outside schools, recalling the badge that gay concentration camps prisoners were forced to wear. In Rome, the National Union of Young Lawyers have a similar initiative planned outside the city's main courthouse, where they will appear wearing yellow Stars of David, recalling the badges worn by Jewish camp prisoners. Union President Gaetano Romano recalled that Jewish lawyers had been struck off the roll en masse as a result of Fascist race laws. ''The Supreme Legal Council rejected their desperate appeal out of hand, adhering bureaucratically to the principles behind the racial laws,'' he said. In Italy, many Jews initially supported Mussolini and some even took part in his grab for power, the March on Rome, in 1922. But in 1929 he passed laws limiting freedom of religion and in 1938 produced his Manifesto of Italian Racism. This declared that Italians were part of the ''pure race'' along with the Aryans. Jews were expelled from all public services, such as the army and also public schools. Many Jews decided to leave Italy in hope of finding better lives for themselves. In 1940 Mussolini joined the war alongside Hitler and ordered the Fascist army to ransack the ghettos. Confinements and deportations began in 1943. More Jews fled hoping to find shelter in the Alps, convents, and monasteries.

Others joined the partisans.

An estimated 7-8,000 Italian Jews died in the Holocaust and there were 48 concentration camps on Italian soil. photo: Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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