A renowned Holocaust survivor from Italy was appointed last week as senator for life, a great honor granted only to citizens who have made outstanding contributions to society.
Liliana Segre, who was deported to Auschwitz from Milan when she was 13, was one of few to make it back home. She began telling her story in the 1990s, and has since become one of the most public witnesses of the Shoah in Italy, bringing her testimony into many Italian schools.
Italian president Sergio Mattarella called her on Friday to announce the appointment. Segre said the phone call came as “a bolt from the blue.” The survivor, who is now 87, said that she’s never been an active politician; her goal, she continued, will be to “pass on the memory” and to bring to life the voices of the thousands of Italian Jews who suffered the humiliation of the Racial Laws in 1938. After the Nazis occupied the country, about 10,000 Jews were deported, mainly to Auschwitz, nearly 8,000 of whom died.
Liliana Segre was one of 25 lucky Italian children deported to Auschwitz to return home at the end of the war. Her father and her paternal grandparents were killed upon their arrival to the camp.
Over the last decades, Segre has been committed to sharing her testimony with the younger generations, visiting schools to meet with students. “Knowing I’ll be among senators-for-life is an honor and a great responsibility,” she said. Yet, she told Pagine Ebraiche that teaching children about the Holocaust will remain her main commitment. “My duty is to speak to the young people, and I won’t stop doing that.”
Each Italian president can appoint up to five senators to life; Liliana Segre is the first to be appointed by the current president.
It is not a coincidence that the appointment occurred this year, which marks the 80th anniversary of the promulgation of the Racial Laws, introduced by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who banned Jews from public schools and jobs.
Simone Somekh is a New York-based author and journalist. He’s lived and worked in Italy, Israel, and the United States.