“Migrants from Africa and the Middle East have found shelter there in their journey towards a better life.”
Just recently, an anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled the walls of a synagogue in Seattle, saying the Holocaust is “fake history”.
The legacy of the Shoa (Hebrew word for the Holocaust) is essential in learning from the past, from the stories of thousands who escaped, suffered and fought for their right to express their beliefs. Despite this, today we find ourselves witnessing events that are completely different in motives and modalities, but whose final outcomes are all too similar: devastating genocides, thousands of refugees escaping persecutions and destructions, not to mention racism, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitism rhetoric. This leads to a question: what have we learned so far and does the Shoah legacy’s apply to the world of today?
The IPF spoke to Milo Hasbani, one of the presidents of the Jewish Community in Milan to see what relevance the Holocaust has in today’s unfolding events. The community has a strong connection in the city, with an online website called Mosaico and the periodic publication ‘Bollettino della Comunita’ Ebraica’ being at the core of its activities.
Milo said the community has accepted several invitations from the City Angels Association to set up banks for food, clothes, toys and hygiene products to help refugees stranded in the Milan’s central train station.
Welcoming refugees into Milan
According to Milo, City Angels has always been at the frontline in assisting people needing medical care, providing food to the homeless and helping them integrate in the community. The community has been featured in the media for welcoming a group of refugees in Milan’s Shoah Memorial. Migrants from Africa and the Middle East have found shelter there in their journey towards a better life.
“Platform 21 of the Shoa Memorial has this year hosted […] refugees from Ethiopia and Syria, giving them a bed to sleep on, hot meals and the chance to take a nice shower.”
Up to 2,500 people have been accommodated in the memorial site. While this might look like a small number compared to the millions who have been pictured fleeing war-torn areas and destruction – indeed, according to the Intrenational Organisation for Migration (IOM), 2016 has seen 306,401 new arrivals on the coast of Italy, Greece and Spain, with up to 7,509 fatalities reported- the initiative by the Jewish community in Milan still represents an important sign of understanding between people, which is what we need today in the chaotic political and historical frame we are living in.
“We are very keen on helping refugees who have arrived in Italy from war-torn countries or who have fled for political reasons, as many of our community members have found themselves in the same situation years ago. We know what it is like to leave everything and start from scratch.”
Comparing the Holocaust to the refugee crisis
Likening the Shoah to other historical events is frequent, but we need to be cautious in drawing such a comparison. The Holocaust happened in a very particular context- that of Nazi Germany. Specific reasons led to that event in history, just as specific conditions are behind the humanitarian crisis today.
However, what is essential to notice is that, although political and cultural dynamics have changed completely, we are still debating over genocides, mass migration from conflict zones and persecutions on minority groups. They are different historical moments and political frameworks but the outcome stays unvaried: masses of people suffering and escaping destruction.
Remembering the Holocaust in today’s events
We talk about memory and remembrance, but we are still witnessing one of largest humanitarian crisis of all times.
Remembrance means being able to address and defeat episodes like the Seattle scrawling, and being able to open our doors to understanding, and to make an effective step forward to fight the raise of nationalism and right-wing extremist movement.
So while the target may have changed throughout the years, the effect remains that of many people suffering for a world that fails to remember.
From here the question: What does it really mean to “remember”? And are we really capable of learning from the events that have destroyed history?