Italian Holocaust Survivor Gets Bodyguards After Surge of anti-Semitic Attacks

Authorities respond after Auschwitz survivor Liliana Segre, 89, is targeted by daily barrage of racist abuse on social media

Davide Lerner.
Davide Lerner
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Italian Holocaust survivor and senator-for-life Liliana Segre escorted by two officers from the “Carabinieri” military police in front of "La Scala" theater in Milan, Italy, on November 7, 2019.
Italian Holocaust survivor and senator-for-life Liliana Segre escorted by two officers from the “Carabinieri” military police in front of "La Scala" theater in Milan, Italy, on November 7, 2019.Credit: ANSA/ CLAUDIA GRECO
Davide Lerner.
Davide Lerner

Italian authorities have assigned two bodyguards to Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, after a surge of threatening messages and other anti-Semitic attacks made against her on social media.

The decision was first reported by Italy’s largest circulation daily “Il Corriere della Sera” on Thursday.

Segre was one of 25 Jewish children under 14 who survived Auschwitz. She has become a favorite target for anti-Semites online in Italy since her appointment to senator-for-life last year put her in the media spotlight.

Italian Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre is seen as a little girl with her dad in August 1937Credit: Fondazione CDEC - Milano

According to a report by the Milan-based Center of Contemporary Jewish Document's Observatory on Anti-Jewish Prejudice (CDEC), Segre receives as many as 200 anti-Semitic attacks daily in online platforms including threatening messages wishing her to die.

She has been assigned two officers from the “carabinieri” Italian military police as bodyguards.

Segre was nominated senator-for-life by Italian President Sergio Mattarella in 2018, when Italy marked 80 years since the introduction of the fascist regime’s racial laws targeting Jews. The nomination was based on her public efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and fight contemporary forms of discrimination.

Efraim Zuroff, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office called the attacks against Segre “a disgrace for Italy.”

“It is an embarrassment for Italy that an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor gets this kind of online abuse,” he said speaking to the correspondent of the Italian news agency ANSA in Tel Aviv. “If the bodyguards are necessary to protect her, so be it,” he added, “I’d be very happy if she came to live with us here in Israel, but I understand as an 89-year-old, it is not an easy choice."

According to an internal report by the CDEC on abuse against Segre, which was seen by Haaretz, one of the biggest waves of attacks came after she called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat racism and online hate speech a year ago.

The proposal was finally approved last month, in the wake of the revelation on the sheer quantity of anti-Semitic attacks against her.

Right-wing parties, however, followed the lead of former Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of “The League,” and abstained from the vote.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 47Credit: Haaretz

In one of his frequent Facebook live streams, Salvini condemned anti-Semitism but dismissed the initiative as a “Soviet committee of an Orwellian kind,” and warned it would muffle free speech and criminalize his “Italians first” signature policy. He also said he considers the Nazi and the communist regimes on an equal footing, but commented that unlike Nazi symbols “the hammer and sickle can still be seen around Italy at times today.”

One of the online threats Segre has received reads:“This dirty Jew Liliana Segre, what the f**k did she do to become a senator paid by us, and she is pro-invasion [of migrants], Hitler you did not do your job properly.”

Another said “Her place is [to burn] in a waste-to-energy plant.”

Far-right online activists, who despise Segre for her testimonies on the Shoah and her support for inclusive migration policies, also call her a “Zionist” and accuse her of exploiting the Shoah to justify crimes against Palestinians.

The final decision to set up a security detail came after militants from Forza Nuova, a neo-fascist movement, put up a banner against her outside a theater where she was holding a seminar with students on Tuesday.

Somewhat sarcastically, Segre pitied her haters in a recent conference commenting “They are wasting their time wishing death to a 90-year-old, nature will do the job anyway."

After September 1943, with the Allies invading Italy from the south and the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini collapsing, Germany invaded its former ally and established the puppet state of the Italian Social Republic, which played a major role in the deportations of over 7,000 Jews.

In total, about 7,172 Italian Jews died in the Holocaust, a figure that climbs to 8,879 when including the territory island of Rhodes, which was under Italian rule at the time.

Segre was 13 when she was deported to Auschwitz on January 30, 1944, on a train departing from Platform 21 at the central station in Milan, where Jews and non-Jewish dissidents were loaded onto cattle cars headed for concentration camps.

In the fall of 1945, at age 15, Segre returned home to Milan after almost a year in Auschwitz, the death march to Germany, and four months in a displaced persons camp. Only at 60 did she decide to break her silence and recount what she had endured.

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