Holocaust survivor under police protection in Italy after threats

Liliana Segre, 89, had to be escorted by police at public events after hateful anti-Semitic messages on social media.

Liliana Segre has dedicated much of her time in recent years to visiting schools to recount the horrors of the Holocaust [File: Luca Bruno/AP]

Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre was placed under police protection after she received threats from far-right fanatics, highlighting concern about rising intolerance in Italy.

Segre, 89, called last month for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate hate, racism, and anti-Semitism after she was the subject of a daily barrage of abuse on social media.

Parliament approved her motion, but without votes from Italy’s right-wing parties.

The resulting controversy has only added to the abuse, with a neo-Nazi group this week hanging up a banner to denounce anti-fascism close to where Segre was making a public appearance.

On Thursday, Italian state radio said Milan’s prefect, who reports to the interior minister, assigned a Carabinieri paramilitary police security detail to Segre because of the threats against her.

A security source said the police were only accompanying her to public events and were not providing round-the-clock protection.

Segre declined to comment on being assigned a police escort.  

“It must be said that Liliana receives vastly more messages of support and solidarity than she does hate messages,” said Paola Gargiulo, Segre’s chief of staff.

There was no immediate comment from the leaders of the main rightist parties, the League and Brothers of Italy, who opposed Segre’s call for a parliamentary commission, warning it could lead to censorship.

Rise in anti-Semitism

Segre was deported from Italy to Auschwitz in 1944 when she was 13 – one of 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to the Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Only 25 survived.

She has dedicated much of her time in recent years to visiting schools to recount the horrors of the Holocaust and was named a life senator in 2018.

Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Dror Eydar, expressed dismay at the news Segre needed a police escort.

“An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor under guard symbolises the danger that Jewish communities still face in Europe today,” he wrote on Twitter.

Government ministers also expressed solidarity. “Forgive us Liliana. The politics of hate will not stop your commitment, nor ours,” Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova tweeted.

The Milan-based Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation (CDEC), which disclosed the hateful messages directed towards Segre on social media, said anti-Semitism appeared to be increasing in Italy, but was still much less pronounced than in France and the UK. 

CDEC researcher Stefano Gatti said until the beginning of November, 190 cases of anti-Semitism had been reported in Italy against 197 in all of 2018 and 130 in 2017.

Most were social media attacks and verbal insults, with just two acts of minor violence registered this year.

“The anti-Semitism we are seeing is getting more aggressive, but the number of anti-Semites in Italy is largely stable,” said Gatti, pointing to surveys that suggested about 11 percent of Italians were hostile to or prejudiced against Jews. 

Source: News Agencies