AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
The Holocaust is regarded as the most fatal and infamous genocide in recorded history, it stained our hearts forever. Families were ripped apart; innocent people were manipulated, tortured, and murdered. Survivors and witnesses were left with a sense of emptiness and despair beyond imagination. This overpowering hatred and racism not only took the lives of six million Jewish people, but was also the cause of death to 54 million others.
Although the general idea of what happened during WWII is largely universal, each country saw it from a different perspective. The United States, for example, was geographically separated from Europe, and abstained from the war for as long as possible. When they were finally drawn into the conflict, America joined the Allies to end Nazism.
Italy on the other hand had a completely different experience. Before WWII, Italy’s Jewish community represented one of the oldest in Europe. In 1938, Italy’s fascist regime was pressured by Nazi Germany to legislate antisemitic regulations excluding Jewish people from otherwise normal activities. Although loyal to the Axis forces, the fascist leadership and Italian military drew a line at the participation of mass murder. This made Italy safer for the Jewish refugees than German occupied territories. In fact, thousands were able to escape Germany and find safety in Italy.
After the vote of “no-confidence” and consequent fall of Mussolini in 1945, the new leader, Marshall Pietro Badoglio, began secretly collaborating with Allied forces until he announced his country’s surrender on September 3, 1943. Germany then rushed to occupy northern Italy and subsequently began deporting refugees. Overall, Germany deported 8,564 Jews from Italy and Italian territories; of this amount, only 1,009 returned. Shortly thereafter, German forces were pushed back by Allied troops. Mussolini and his mistress were executed in April of 1945. German forces finally surrendered to the Allies in Italy a month later.
Approximately 40,000 Jews were able to survive the Holocaust thanks to the benevolent consciousness and selfless efforts of the Italian people. Through the courageous combat of the Allied forces, Hitler’s Nazi regime was defeated.
In post-war comments given by the prominent German pastor, Martin Niemöller, he once described, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
As we take the time to ruminate on what happened 76 years ago, let us also use this as a critical lesson of how dangerously fatal indifference can be and how essential it is to stand up for what is right. After all, our humanity depends on it.