With far-right leaders, Italy remembers WWII roundup of Jews

ROME (AP) — Italy’s far-right political leadership marked the 79th anniversary of the World War II roundup of Rome’s Jews on Sunday with calls for such horror to never occur again, messages that took on greater significance following a national election won by a party with neo-fascist roots.

Giorgia Meloni, who is expected to head Italy’s first far-right-led government since the war’s end, phoned the leader of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello, to commemorate the anniversary, according to a community spokesman.

Meloni said in a statement that the anniversary serves as a “warning so that certain tragedies never happen again.” She said all Italians bear the memory “that serves to build antibodies against indifference and hatred, to continue to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

On the morning of Oct. 16, 1943 during the German occupation of Italy, 1,259 people were arrested from Rome’s Ghetto and surrounding neighborhoods and brought to a military barracks near the Vatican, bound for deportation to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived.

Meloni called it a “tragic, dark and incurable day for Rome and Italy,” that ended with the “vile and inhuman deportation of Roman Jews at the hands of the Nazi-Fascist fury: women, men and children were snatched from life, house by house.”

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party won the most votes in Sept. 25 national election — about 26% — and is expected to head a government along with the right-wing League and center-right Forza Italia. Her party traces its roots to the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, or MSI, which was founded in 1946 by the remnants of Benito Mussolini’s final government in the Nazi puppet state in Salo, northern Italy. It remained a small right-wing party until the 1990s, when it became the National Alliance, which sought to distance itself from its neo-fascist origins.

Meloni, who joined the MSI as a teenager and headed the National Alliance youth branch, founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 along with another former MSI and National Alliance member, Ignazio La Russa, who was elected president of the Senate this week. La Russa has proudly shown off his Mussolini memorabilia collection and, early on in the pandemic, suggested Italians use the fascist salute rather than shake hands in a tweet that he blamed on an underling that was quickly removed.

On Sunday, La Russa also commemorated the anniversary of the roundup, saying it was “one of the darkest days of our history.”

“It is the duty of everyone, starting with the highest institutions, to pass on the memory so that similar tragedies will never happen again in the future. To the Jewish community, today as always, my sincere closeness,” he said in a Facebook post.

Italy’s other political leaders also commemorated the anniversary with tweets, messages and statements. Rome’s mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, attended a commemoration in the Ghetto itself alongside Dureghello and other members of the Jewish community. They paused for a moment in front of a wreath outside Rome’s main synagogue alongside Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni.

The community launched a social media campaign #16ottobre43 with a video scrolling the names of the people killed “whose only ‘guilt’ was that of being Jewish.”

Dureghello recalled that the anniversary marked “the date in which we remember the first Nazi-Fascist deportation of the Roman Jews. Men, women and children torn from their homes and sent to die. Keeping the memory alive is a moral imperative that serves to extinguish the sirens of hatred and fanaticism.”

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