“Anti-Semitism is the suicide of the European man because when the European man rejects the Jewish man, he also rejects himself and denies a fundamental part of his own identity”.
This is a clear message from Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has spoken at the Great Synagogue of Rome last week. He was invited to the Jewish neighborhood to welcome a delegation of 800 youths from over 50 Russian cities on their visit to Rome under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.
Their trip is part of the ‘Yachad’ project of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, held annually in a different European capital before moving to Auschwitz, where it usually ends. This year the project is also celebrating the 100th anniversary of Primo Levi’s birth.
The President of the Jewish Community of Rome Ruth Dureghello, Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni and Holocaust survivor Sami Modiano welcomed Giuseppe Conte to the Great Synagogue of Rome.
“The extraordinary experience of Primo Levi clearly shows how art is capable of giving a voice to people’s feelings, commemorating the past in the highest sense of the word”, the Prime Minister said.
In Primo Levi, as well as in many other Jewish intellectuals he mentioned in his speech, remembrance is conveyed by “simple but evocative writing, with a style that even today arouses emotions”.
He also mentioned Levi’s harsh descriptions, “in which every single word reveals a tragic and personal experience”. According to Conte, Levi’s work has given life to European culture, which would not be the way it is without the Jews”.
The Prime Minister also emphasized the role of culture itself, which he sees as a “vehicle for transmitting universal values”, and an instrument “capable of broadening one’s mind, of crossing borders and uniting people”.
He then added: “Unfortunately, in many European countries, including Italy, we are witnessing acts of violence which mark a backward step in civilization. As Prime Minister, I wish to reiterate the government’s commitment to promote religious freedom and dialogue and to combat without hesitation all forms of discrimination and intolerance”.
Welcoming the 800 youths coming from Russia, Di Segni recalled the history of the synagogue as well as its symbology. “A place that embodies both acquired and denied rights, the persecution and the Palestinian terrorism it was subject to. But this is also a central place representing our identity and liveliness”.
President Dureghello, after reading a message from Life Senator Liliana Segre, pointed out how hatred is “a global political issue”. Also, by recalling her family experience, she mentioned the role Roman Judaism played in welcoming many Jews escaping from Communism and heading towards the State of Israel.
In his emotional speech, Modiano emphasized the significant role Russian soldiers played in saving people from the Holocaust, for it was they who opened the gates of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. That day he saved himself from death, together with many other people among whom was Levi.
“We have come in large numbers to this place – Lazar said – and this is the sign that we are a community that remembers the past and looks at the future, in friendship and brotherhood with the Roman Jews”.
*Translated by Arianna Mercuriali, student at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, intern at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.