#44 – A woman of worth: Liliana Segre
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Milanese-born Auschwitz survivor Liliana Segre, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, is recognized as an Italian patriot, so much so that in 2018, President Sergio Matarella named her a Senator for life.
Segre’s mother died when she was a baby, and she was raised by her father and his parents.
Segre experienced the evils of antisemitism while still in elementary school. Under the racial laws, Jews were excluded from public office and higher education, and were deprived of many of their civil rights.
After a brief period of persecution, Segre’s father, Antonio, obtained false documents and hid her with friends.
Milan is only 166 kilometers from the Swiss border, and Segre’s father planned to get them to safety in the neighboring neutral country.
They left Milan on December 10, 1943, but Swiss border guards denied them entry. They were arrested in Italy the following day, and after more than a month’s detention in different places, were deported to Auschwitz.
When the war ended in 1945, Segre was 15 years old and alone. Her father and his parents had been murdered. The traumatic reminder for the rest of her days, of her time in Auschwitz , including a death march to Ravensbruck, was the tattooed number on her arm 75190.
Following her liberation by the Red Army, Segre returned to Italy to rebuild her life. Fortunately, her maternal grandparents had survived the war, and she moved in with them. They were her only surviving relatives. In 1948, Segre met her husband Alfredo Belli Paci, a Catholic dissident who had been sent to a Nazi concentration camp for refusing to join Republica Sociale Italiana, which was a German puppet state The couple had two children.
Like many Holocaust survivors, Segre refrained for decades from speaking about her wartime travails. But at some stage in the early 1990s, she realized that no newspaper article, no history book, no television documentary could make as great an impact as a real live survivor. Segre, who had never imagined that there was a difference between her and non-Jewish students until she was expelled from elementary school only because she was Jewish, began visiting schools throughout Italy to tell her story. Following the honor conferred upon her by Materella, she proposed the establishment of a parliamentary control commission on racism, antisemitism and incitement to hatred and violence. Legislation to this effect was enacted, and unfortunately had the opposite effect. Right-wing radicals began a hate mail campaign on social media, and the threats against Segre’s life were such that she had to have permanent police protection.
In addition to telling her own story and the stories of some of those who were with her in Auschwitz, Segre has given numerous interviews to Italian and international media, has contributed to documentary films and this year and on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Segre was invited by David Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, to address it on this historic occasion, and was given a standing ovation.