Today in Italy is the Day of Memory, when we remember the victims of the Shoah.
Usually on this day I post a clip or something from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be, but I posted on this subject ten days ago and I know there is a limit to how boring I can be.
So, no Lubitsch today1. I just think I’ll ramble a bit.
My family lived the war years on the wrong side of the nightstick, and both my grandfathers had their experiences with the Nazis and the Fascists.
My mother’s father was a member of the workers’ union, lost his job, and had to live in hiding for years, while my father’s father, who was the kindest man in the world, and held no political views of any sort, one day in the winter of ’43 was loaded on a train with many others – because he was a railway employee, and therefore “a prisoner of war”.
We never knew to what camp he was destined to: along the way, before crossing the Alps, the train made a stop, and one of the guards, a German, opened a door and let out as many prisoners as he could. My grandfather was one of them – he walked home.
We had many family friends that did not make it, never walked home. They just went, forever.
Simple people, good people.
Doctors and serving maids, clerks and university students.
People that worked to put bread on the table, liked a good laugh2, tried to hold on.
Some were taken for their religion, others for their politics, others for their lifestyle, all of them because someone had decided what they were was wrong.
It was really that simple, that horrific.
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was a small woman, maybe five foot three.
While her husband was hiding from the Nazis, there was a young man, living in her building, who was an enthusiastic member of the Fascist Party. He was probably eighteen or nineteen, wore a uniform and carried a bayonet. He used to stop my grandmother on the stairs, push her in a corner, pull his bayonet and hold her there, explaining in detail what he and his pals would do to my grandfather once they found him, before they came for her too.
Those two men came to my mind together today – the German railway soldier and the Italian kid with his bayonet. Both wore uniforms, both were part of a system, both made personal choices.
This connects, for me, with the Day of Memory.
We must remember because we can make laws against what happens, to try and prevent it from happening again, but laws are useless if each person, individually, does not remember what happened, and does not make that personal choice.
We should not forget what happened, because it was the loss of what makes us humans.
You can’t forget such madness, because madness has this habit of coming back cyclically.
But it can’t be imposed or ruled – each one must do his part to stop such horror from coming back, remembering how it was.
End of ramble.