By Edwin Folven, 1/30/2014
The names of 8,000 Italian Jews who perished during the Holocaust were read aloud at schools and cultural institutions throughout Los Angeles on Monday during an event organized by the Italian Consul General’s Office in Los Angeles, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH).
More than 1,000 students participated in the readings of the names of Italian Holocaust victims at Jewish campuses such as Milken Community Schools, New Jewish Community High School and Yeshiva University High School. Names were also read at the Italian Cultural Institute and LAMOTH and, for the first time, at catholic schools such as Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto High School, Marymount High School and St. Bede the Venerable School.
The readings were started three years ago by Italian Consul General Giuseppe Perrone, and occur annually on Jan. 27 — the United Nations-designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Republic of Italy has also designated Jan. 27 as a day of remembrance to commemorate Italian Jews who were victims of the Holocaust, and others who risked their lives to help Italian Jews. Approximately 1,000 names were read at each location.
“Through the Remembrance Day, we intend to personalize the Italian victims and survivors of the Holocaust, to remember that each one of them was an individual whose hopes and dreams were extinguished by the Nazis in their destructive and inhuman fury,” Perrone said. “By reading each name aloud all over Los Angeles, our hope is to commemorate, educate and share, especially with younger generations, the moment of remembrance for the individual victims.”
According to the AJC, approximately 50,000 Italian Jews lived in Italy in 1933. Despite its alliance with Germany, the fascist regime in Italy at the time did not comply fully with German demands to deport Jews residing in Italian occupation zones to camps in the German-occupied Poland. Italian military authorities generally refused to participate in the mass murder of Jews or to permit deportations from Italy or Italian-occupied territory. After the Italian fascist regime collapsed in 1943, the Germans took over the country and deported over 8,000 Jews from Italy, primarily to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. More than 40,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in Italy.
Beverlywood resident Gertrude Goetz, a childhood Holocaust survivor from Italy, attended the reading at LAMOTH and said it is important to remember the victims. Goetz, 82, said her family fled from Austria to Milano in 1939 to escape the Nazis.
The Italian government allowed approximately 5,000 German and Austrian Jews into the country at the time. When Italy came under German occupation in 1943, Italian governmental authorities warned Goetz’s family, and they went into hiding in nearby forests. After approximately one year, the family moved to a camp in Southern Italy for displaced individuals. She said they spent five years in the camp prior to immigrating to the United States.
“They helped us and saved us,” Goetz said. “[The Nazis] were shipping us out to Poland. We had heard things were going on, and thought it was better to go into hiding. They alerted us and helped save our lives.”
Perrone read the first group of names, followed by Samara Hutman, executive director of LAMOTH, and Rabbi Mark Diamond, director of the Los Angeles region for the AJC. Then representatives of the Catholic Jewish Women’s Organization, board members from AJC and community members continued the readings.
“We are in the third year of a partnership with the Italian Consulate, initiated by Consul General Perrone. It’s an important program for the community, and an outstanding example of a collaborative partnership,” Diamond said. “The one thing that really stuck with me is the power of reciting the names. It’s how we honor their memories, and work together for tolerance and understanding.”
Hutman added that it is an important event to host at LAMOTH.
“We join … to remember the individual lives lost and to honor the dignity of those who perished and those who survived the Holocaust,” Hutman said. “We hope that this public reading animated the ongoing conversation about the possibilities for justice and injustice that can exist at every moment, and which only we, the people, can shape in our own time each and every day,”