Italian Holocaust survivor under police guard after racist threats

An 89-year-old Italian woman who survived the Holocaust has been given a police escort after receiving a barrage of anti-Semitic threats. 

Liliana Segre, who was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 13, has been receiving up to 200 hate messages a day.

The torrent of abuse accelerated after Ms Segre, who is a member of the Italian Senate, last week called for parliament to set up a committee to combat racism, anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred. 

Although the motion passed, it was opposed by parties on Italy’s Right, including the hard-Right League, led by former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia, led by three-times premier Silvio Berlusconi. The far-Right Brothers of Italy party also abstained from the vote.

The parties said they were concerned that the establishment of the commission could be used to justify pushing an anti-nationalist agenda and censorship of the Right. But their opposition was criticised by Jewish groups as well as the Vatican. Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, called it “dismaying” and dangerous.

Ms Segre now requires police protection when attending public eventsCredit:
Duilio Piaggesi / IPA

The vote led to hundreds of anti-Semitic messages being directed at Ms Segre on social media. A neo-Nazi group displayed a banner at an event where the senator was making an appearance.

Police in Milan decided the threats were serious enough to warrant giving the Holocaust survivor police protection when she attends public events. An investigation has been launched by the public prosecutor’s office into the hate messages.

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Dror Eydar, Israel’s ambassador to Italy, expressed dismay at the need for the 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.

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

Ms Segre was one of 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. Only 25 survived.

Appointed a senator for life in 2018, she devotes much of her time to visiting schools to recount the horrors of the Holocaust. She said people who sent her anti-Semitic messages “should be pitied or treated.”