During the Holocaust, running could be a means of survival. Now, 74 years after Jews were deported from Rome’s historic ghetto to Auschwitz, two races in the Eternal City will honor the memory of Holocaust victims. On Sunday, Jan. 22, five days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) will honor the Holocaust with “Run for Remembrance: Looking Ahead,” a pair of races during which participants will stop at sites related to the Shoah.
The gathering, colloquially called “Run for Mem,” is being advertised as the first of its kind in Europe. At a news conference Monday, UCEI’s president Noemi Di Segni summarized the ethos of the race. “Sport as a means of coming together is a way to affirm life and dialogue,” she said.
Beginning at 10:30 a.m., two race routes―one for athletes that’s 10 kilometers long; the other is for the general public and is 3.6 km—will depart from Largo 16 Ottobre 1943, a square that recognizes the date on which Roman Jews were deported to Auschwitz. From there, runners will visit additional historically significant locales such as Via degli Zingari and Regina Coeli prison, along with a number of other commemorative stops.
Run for Mem will also feature testimonials from several guest speakers, including international marathon runner Franca Fiacconi, Italian actress Cristiana Capotondi, and, most notably, Shaul Ladany, a Yugoslavia-born Israeli Holocaust survivor (of both the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the Munich Olympic massacre). In addition to being a two-time Olympic (and world record-holding) racewalker, the 80-year-old Ladany is an engineering professor at Ben-Gurion University.
In a 2012 interview with The Independent, Ladany described what it was like to run for his life as his family fled from Belgrade to Hungary. “If the Germans had caught us, as Jews we would have been killed on the spot,” he said. “We had tremendous luck then that we were not caught. And so on and so on.” (Those interested in reading more about Ladany can check out his memoir, King of the Road: From Bergen-Belsen to the Olympic Games.)
Whether you’re a serious athlete, a casual runner, or have no athletic inclinations whatsoever, Sunday’s race presents a way to engage with the Holocaust in more visceral and dynamic fashion than, say, through most museum exhibitions or educational events. While artifacts and lectures alone can be affecting, by retracing the steps of the past at a fast pace, we can simultaneously reflect and move forward. Perhaps, in years to come, there will be a proliferation of memory-focused marathons.