It was the greatest embrace in history, the greeting that Liliana Segre gave Rondine this morning. It was a hug for each of the millions of young people physically or virtually reunited in Arezzo’s Cittadella della Pace, who will take her message from this day forward into the future, doing their bit to overcome the horror of one of history’s darkest chapters. The senator for life chose Rondine as the place to address them, who are “in a way all my grandchildren. I never tire of mentioning them whenever I tell my story, which contains pain, love, compassion and the heartrending memory of what I was as a little girl. I am now their grandmother, a grandmother who can’t quite believe that she’s so close to them; who sometimes can’t bear being so close to them without crying, even all these years on.”
The memory lives on in Rondine’s young “enemy-friends”, as Segre calls them, who hail from parts of the world that have been riven by war. These young people, who belong to groups who are at each other’s throats, chose to go beyond the wounds and the hatred and try to start a conversation with the other side, so that a future of peace might be possible. Thus Phil, a Nigerian student at Rondine’s World House, welcomed the senator: “My country is torn apart by a civil war. It divides us; it sows hate and apathy. I came to Rondine so that I wouldn’t give in to those. I decided to put myself face to face with my enemy and get to know him as a person. It’s not always easy, but it’s a task that we choose to face every day.” Thoughts echoed by Noam, an Israeli student – “Here with my colleagues, who like you all have stories of suffering and violence, we chose to transform hatred into growing hope” – and Maria Giovanna, a Sardinian student who attended Rondine’s “Quarto Anno Liceale d’Eccellenza”: “Faith implies responsibility, and thanks to our faith and belief, we are ready to uphold your message.”
These are the young people whom Segre today entrusted with her testimony, that it may live on into the future.
“I always remember the effect that Rondine had on me all those years ago,” she said. “Even then it was a utopia, a dream shared by a handful of good people, but from the start it enchanted me: it was everything that I wanted to realise in my life.” It was in these powerful words that Liliana Segre described Rondine and justified it as her chosen place to deliver her last memorable testimony.
More than one hundred and fifty students were seated in the auditorium. Together they listened as Segre narrated the Holocaust that she, as a young girl, had lived. They heard about the cruelty of the prison guards, who were determined not to see her and the other captives as human. And of all these memories, one of the most important was her decision to let go of the desire for vengeance on her tormentors, a decision that changed the course of her existence: “I chose life, and from then on I was free.” Words that remain carved into the ethos of Rondine, next to the shadow of a gate that recalls the gate into Auschwitz, though this one is closed. “Your life,” said Franco Vaccari, President of Rondine, “confirms that there have been gates in the past and that gates there are still, but it also shows that gates can become mere shadows, and that a person can turn them into doorways to life.”
Such is the gate that leads to the Arena di Janine, the place dedicated to Segre’s memory and to the memory of her friend whom she didn’t get to say goodbye to before she was sent to the gas chambers. This is the warning against indifference that Rondine sounds, a warning that will ring into the future. Liliana Segre herself cut the ribbon to this symbolic place, a natural arena given to the young, where they can meet and build a new future together. A collective gift in recognition of her indefatigable activity over three decades, testifying to the Shoah.
The highest figures of State paid their respects to Segre and guaranteed that the institutions they represented would promote her message, starting from schools.
Education minister Lucia Azzolina sent the senator an anastatic copy of the first edition of the Italian constitution, a gift from the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella. The gift contained the following message for Rondine students:
“This constitution was written in the face of the horrible events that Liliana Segre lived through as a girl, and was sealed with the fierce determination that the monsters of totalitarianism and antisemitism, which had devastated Europe only a few years before, should never again be allowed to poison Italy, our continent, or the world.
Never again would freedom be suffocated, wars of aggression fought, human rights denied. No more racism, intolerance or hatred. This was the common will of our ancestors, who wrote it.
It is thanks to them that our Republic was founded upon the priceless values of democracy, liberty, equality, the centrality of the human being, peace and justice among nations.
This inheritance is entrusted to you for the future.”
This morning also saw Minister Lucia Azzolina announce the competition ‘Voltati, Janine vive!’. Inspired by the life of Senator Segre, the competition is promoted by Rondine Cittadella della Pace and is open to all schools across the country. Azzolina explained: “Liliana Segre’s message is the fundamental core of this collective, and as such we are going to make sure that it is heard in schools. We are proud and humbled to be standing before the senator. Her story is our story. We will bring her message to the world, starting with schools, with the belief that we will overcome hatred and apathy wherever we find it.”
The competition is part of the agreement signed by the Ministry of Education and the Rondine Cittadella della Pace association. It forms part of the activities promoted by the two parties, with the aim of educating new generations about all different forms of violence and discrimination, while making sure that the memory of the Shoah never fades from schools.
Representatives of various organs of the Italian state also paid their respects to the senator. “It is on the courage of woman like Liliana Segre that we must build a tomorrow that promises hope and opportunity,” said Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, president of the Senate. “And I am certain that, thanks to Liliana, you will be all the better prepared to meet this challenge.”
“Liliana Segre’s message and testimony is enshrined in our Constitution,” said Roberto Fico, president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. “And on that Constitution, on those principles and values, we vow to carry her testimony forward. Today is a day that institutions such as ours again shoulder a great responsibility.”
President of the Italian Council Giuseppe Conte had this to say: “We are here today to hear a person bear witness to terrible events. Her testimony implores us to root out apathy and equivocation, to take clear positions and make clear decisions. On behalf of the Government, I guarantee that this testimony will not finish here, but will resound forever.”
The European institutions offered their applause through a video message from David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament: “Rondine bets on the young people who leave their war-torn countries and bet upon the value of meeting the other. The extraordinary life force here is what we want to transmit to the young of today, so that they will be able to make the right decisions.”
The event was planned by the Promotional Committee for this, Liliana Segre’s public event. The committee is headed by Rondine Cittadella della Pace, working with the Ministry of Education and the project partner Fondazione Cr Firenze, with the support and contribution of the Tuscan Region. Introduced by Ferruccio De Bortoli, editorial panellist at Corriere della Sera, the event was produced in media partnership with RAI and Agenzia Stampa Dire, and was streamed directly at grazieliliana.rondine.org and on Rai 3. It was also shared on the Ministry of Education’s social media pages (and on the ministry’s website www.miur.gov.it), thus giving more than eight million Italian students the chance to listen live to Liliana Segre’s speech and recognise the lessons to be learned therein.
Rondine Cittadella della Pace opened two new spaces devoted to welcoming and forming the future leaders of peace who will go on to build the Cittadella of the Third Millennium. This plan to expand and transform the hilltown aims to make Rondine an ideal municipality, a model of environmental sustainability, open to all and able to aid the development of relationships and civic harmony, local and global. Numerous institutions have invested in Rondine’s growth as a centre of top-end international education, including Luigi Di Maio at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Luciana Lamorgese at the Home Office; Gaetano Manfredi at the Ministry of Universities and Research; Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference; Noemi Di Segni, president of the Union of the Italian Jewish Community; and Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education.