Aged 92, Alberto Mieli, also known as Zi Pucchio, passed away last week. He was among the last Italian witnesses of the Shoah. Born in Rome on December 22, 1925, he was caught by the Fascists and the Nazis in February 1944 and then, after being held in Regina Coeli (Rome prison) and temporarily brought to Fossoli camp, he was deported to Auschwitz Birkenau.
“There is not a moment throughout the day or night my mind doesn’t go back to the life in the camps, to what my eyes were forced to see”, Alberto would say in the several meetings with youngsters in their schools. There on the schools where he talked to the young peope he would always find warmth and friendship waiting for him. Thanks also to that blunt manner of his and the likability he radiated so easily. He was a fighter, hit by his experiences, but never defeated. A fighter, but also an ambassador for hope.
Eravamo Ebrei. Questa era la nostra unica colpa (We were Jews. That was our only fault) is the title of his biography, written with his granddaughter Ester. A journey through horror, recreated through his teenage eyes. And a strong engagement towards the new generations. “I’m happy to be here pointing out once again how important Remembrance is. Now you have the responsibility of remembering so that such horrible things can never happen again”, he noted some years ago, in one of his most emotional and significant days: the presentation of an honorary degree in Philology, Literatures and History by the Università degli Studi di Foggia (Southern Italy).
“I’ve seen men going crazy from hunger, I’ve seen people eating mice from hunger. I’ve seen unmentionable things. Therefore, those who are living in freedom and happiness today can’t understand that they have the chance to experience and appreciate so much in life. Only when life is taken away from you, can you really appreciate its value”, this the message to youngsters.
Rome’s Jewish Community is grieving. “One of the last survivors of those hideous death camps, Mieli was a witness rich in humanity and dignity and ready to strike back. The Community is deeply in sorrow for this loss and joins the mourning of the family, which has loyally sustained the transmission of history”, Chief Rabbi Rav Riccardo di Segni said. President Ruth Dureghello noted: “The Community is grieving a great man. Even though he suffered terribly, he was able to be a guide and an example for young people as he devoted his life to passing on remembrance and as a witness to the horrors of the Shoah; without losing his smile and irony”.
“With Mieli one of the last Roman voices from the Shoah leaves us”, UCEI President Noemi di Segni said. “Alberto was just a kid when he was deported to Auschwitz. That experience marked his life, both physically and mentally. But it did not prevent him from starting a new life and spreading love, determination, and a deep attachment to Jewish values, which marked his life and that of the following generations”.
Mario Venezia, president of the Fondazione Museo della Shoah said: “This is a major loss, not only for our remembrance for when survivors pass away, a part of us leaves with them”.
*Translated by Rachele Ferin with the help of Federica Alabiso, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.