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JAN 31, 2013

Italian Holocaust Victims Remembered

By Ryan Torok

The names of 8,000 Italian Jewish victims of the Holocaust were read aloud on Jan. 25 as part of four area events in honor of Italy’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The names were split among four venues in L.A. County: the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) in Pan Pacific Park, Milken Community High School in Bel Air, Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto High School in Harvard Heights and St. Bede the Venerable Catholic church in La Canada Flintridge.

“We vow never to forget the sanctity of their lives,” Rabbi Mark Diamond, director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Los Angeles chapter, said of the victims. He read names at LAMOTH, where he was joined by Giuseppe Perrone, consul general of Italy in Los Angeles; Perla Karney, vice president of LAMOTH’s board of directors; and the Rev. Alexei Smith, director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

In 2000, the Italian government declared Jan. 27 a day of remembrance, which honors the 8,000 Jewish Italians deported by the Germans to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps following the fall of Italy’s fascist government in 1943. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated Jan. 27 — the date in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau — as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the more than 8 million victims of the Holocaust.

This was the second year that AJC and the Italian Consulate General in Los Angeles co-sponsored a remembrance ceremony.

One of the 8,000 Italian Jews was Dario Gabbai, 90, a Holocaust survivor and former member of the Sonderkommando, a team of prisoners forced to move and cremate the bodies of those killed in the gas chambers. Gabbai visited Milken and the LAMOTH to read names aloud.

Reading in the morning from the list at Milken, Gabbai paused when he came upon one he recognized. 

“I knew him,” he told the crowd, explaining how this friend had died in Auschwitz.

Interested in forming Jewish partnerships worldwide, students at Milken, one of the largest Jewish day schools in the country, organized the Italian remembrance ceremony at their school. It was an unfamiliar, albeit rewarding, ceremony for Milken 11th-grader Jenna Goldstein, who co-chaired the event with fellow student Shauna Shafai.

“Most of my life, I’ve been honoring everyone as a whole, so it was a different experience to focus on Italian Jews,” Goldstein said.

St. Bede’s participation arose because the school’s leader, the Rev. Antonio Cacciapuoti, has a “close relationship with the [Italian] consulate,” said Gosia Szymanska Weiss, assistant director for international relations at AJC-Los Angeles.

As for Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto’s participation, it was born from past collaborations  between the AJC and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which oversees Catholic high schools, among other institutions. Representatives of the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles and of AJC joined the school’s students in reading 2,000 names.

Two days later, the LAMOTH honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Tours included pieces on loan from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum of Poland, and survivors spoke in person.

Perrone, the consulate general, is one of dozens of diplomats who works with AJC on global Jewish advocacy. He said that the Holocaust is difficult to talk about, and so, in this case, “We decided to let the names do the talking.”

A version of this article appeared in print.

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