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A thundering silence

· Letter from the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities ·

On the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp as part of his journey to Poland, the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities sent him a message in Italian. The following is a translation of the letter in its entirety.

Dearest Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio,

destiny desired that a blessed land, the Land of Israel, unite us in our sentiments and intentions. But at the same time, and with immense suffering, destiny has demanded that there also be a cursed land, that of the extermination camps where in the heart of Europe, in the years of the Shoah, millions of innocent people were exterminated.

I write to you now on behalf of Italian Jews just days before your visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

The highly anticipated event will draw the attention of millions of people to that dark page of history which is an open wound in the heart of Europe and which continues to question the conscience of all those citizens who are urged, from the depths of the heart, to defend peace, freedom and democracy.

I would like to say that I greatly appreciated your decision not to intervene with a formal address but to concentrate the emotion of this most significant visit in a long and intense silence. A form of prayer that thunders and that will echo, I am certain, the cries and the pain of so many children, mothers, young people, men who never returned from that land. Yours prayer together with so many of our own will render that land of suffering a place of worship.

Your visit is the emblem of an introspective course of rediscovery and defence of the most profound values — respect for others and respect for life — that today new and terrible enemies always seem to call into question, along with the formidable losses that Italy, Europe, the whole world have been able to overcome since the postwar period. The fruit of a pact between generations born from the very ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau and of other places of death from that season: democracy, European integration and the existence of Israel are proof of the long journey travelled so as not to forget the tragic lesson of the Shoah and to guarantee to everyone, without exception, a prosperous and better future.

Never like today have religions and their leaders been called to be an example for all citizens, apart from single ideal, spiritual and cultural affiliations.

Thus a long journey of commitment and cooperation awaits us in the awareness that the elements that unite us are more numerous and more significant than those that divide us.

Only in this way can the cursed lands of extermination and hatred take on the holiness of all the martyrs who in the name of love and tolerance sacrificed their lives there.

Noemi Di Segni




St. Peter’s Square

Oct. 23, 2019