On the occasion of Yom Ha’Shoah – Holocaust Memorial Day, the Memorial Crypt of Santa Croce has been transformed in a solemn location for an exhibit organized by the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Open for free to visitors and school groups the exhibit “1938-1945 la Persecuzione degli Ebrei in Italia: Documenti per una Storia” will remain open until February 8th, 2015.
The exhibit is organized in collaboration with the Jewish Community in Florence, the State Archives, Historic Archive of the Commune of Florence, Oblate Library, National Library and Opera di Santa Croce. It features documentation and photographs on the prosecution of the Jews in Florence and it’s province dating from 1938 to 1945.
Every photo tells the story. Here is the moving account of Sara Cividalli, the President of Jewish Community of Florence, when she found herself in front of a black and white photograph of her own mother featured in the exhibit.
It’s raining. My older sister calls me in Milan, where I’m living. It’s also pouring in Florence. It’s pouring, the traffic is crazy, it’s absurd to go out by car, but she insists that she wants to go to ADEI (Association of Italian Jewish Women) to the conference of a historian, Marta Baiardi, who’ll speak about Florentine women during the Shoah. I can’t convince her to stay home. She calls me the next morning, because she wants to tell me herself: last night Marta, who had done research in the archives, told the story of a woman who she felt was particularly worn out, but lucid, intelligent and capable. A story narrated in the first person, in a written statement dated 28 August 1944, a few days after the liberation of Florence. The historian thought she was speaking of a stranger to the public, but she was speaking of a woman who instead had been the president of ADEI for many years. This was how I learned to story of Miranda Servi – my mother. Her odyssey starting from September 1943: the truck that stopped under her house on 6 November to “take them away” towards an unknown destination, but the house was empty, the hiding places, escape, people who helped, the spies, the capture of her beloved parents, the death of her mother in the hospital the day after the liberation, killed by sedatives. Her father, who died shortly after escaping deportation because he was dying of typhoid. Names of dead relatives who I hadn’t even known existed, and who rose in the smoke of the crematorium.
What did my mother tell me? She told me that when students and teachers were thrown out of the public schools after the racial laws of 1938, a Jewish school was created for junior and senior high school students. There was an exceptional principal, professor Scaramella, and colleagues, among whom Marcella Frankenthal with whom she shared the desire to create an oasis of normality for the boys and girls who, outside of Via Farini, lived excluded from the world in which they were raised and found it difficult to find tranquility at home. Those students, motivated, were made to study at a high intellectual level, but they continued to be kids: she smiled and was proud to tell me that they played jokes, put materials that created smoke in the stove that heated the classroom and, coughing and laughing, had to interrupt the lessons and go outside.
The friendship of her students, the bond between them, this is what she told me. She only showed me a single photograph: the photo of the class taken on the steps of the Synagogue. She showed me her students, some of whom I met as adults: Paolo Salmon, Emanuele Gnagnatti, Franca Cassuto, Renzo Servi, Rirì Lattes, Carlo Sadun. They were always her students.
No-one can judge whether or not it’s right to remain silent about the tragedies that have been lived. The strong message that I received is that life, friendship, study, and being oneself are indestructible values that we have to safeguard and defend. Only the strength of these values can overcome any kind of barbarity.
In addition to the dramas of the Shoah, this is what we have to tell youth: that we are still here, strong in our identity, and that Memory has a sense only if placed in the present, allowing us to recognize those signs, those prejudices, that inevitably have consequences, which first lead to marginalization and then to persecution.