Liliana Segre: Auschwitz survivor talks about her experience

Liliana Segre: Auschwitz survivor talks about her experience
Copyright euronews
By Cecilia Cacciotto
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Segre was deported from Italy to Auschwitz in 1944 when she was 13 years-old. She was one of 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to the Nazi concentration camp. Only 25 survived

Italian Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, 89 years old, has been living under police protection since last November after she received death threats. It's a situation which has highlighted concern about the rise of extremism in Italy.

Segre was deported from Italy to Auschwitz in 1944 when she was just 13 years-old. She was one of 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to the Nazi concentration camp. Only 25 survived.

Global Conversation spoke to Liliana Segre to discuss her experience of the concentration camp and the life she led afterwards.

To watch the full interview please click on the player above.

Auschwitz survivor

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews. "75 years after the liberation of Europe from fascism and the Nazis, how does it feel to come back and talk about Auschwitz?"

Liliana Segre: "Coming back from Auschwitz, almost all the survivors were not able to talk about what happened for a long time. It was too difficult at the time to find the right words to talk about what we'd seen and suffered. It was almost impossible for those who hadn't seen the suffering to understand what we endured - coming back to a normal life after those terrible years.

"Of course, there were big differences even among us in the camp. There were intellectuals who were quite sensitive people and quite well educated. They were able to talk and even write about it. The writer Primo Levi wrote about Auschwitz. He described things that were impossible to articulate. I was a silly young girl, I turned 15 once I returned. I was so different from my peers and the few family members left and I chose silence. A heavy silence. But it was better not to talk than to talk and not be understood."

Breaking the silence

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews:"So the moment to break the silence has come. What happened?"

Liliana Segre: "It is not an easy story to tell without shouting, without crying, without interruption. You have to work on yourself. It took me many, many years and then something happened inside of me. I guess it was simply (the joy of ) life, I became a grandmother. Finally, I was able to talk (about it). It has been a long and difficult path, but today I am very proud. It was like vomiting, it's undoubtedly an unpleasant word, but it gets the idea across. It was just like the feeling when someone has something on their stomach and cannot get rid of it and then finally ..."

It was almost impossible for those who hadn't seen the suffering to understand what we endured
Liliana Segre
Auschwitz survivor

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "Words are like therapy?"

Liliana Segre: "Words can hurt you like rocks and can be hard to find, hard to understand. Personally they helped me a lot and they still help me."

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "Did Auschwitz ever leave you?"

Liliana Segre: "Well, every morning when I take my shower, I see the tattoo on my arm which is part of me. I cannot forget my tattoo anymore than I can forget my nose, with that number which in a way represents myself. It never left me - that memory never left me. It's me."

My children wanted to know about the tattoo

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "How did you talk about this number with your children and grandchildren?"

Liliana Segre: "I've never talked about it with my children the way I am doing with you. My children noticed that the other mothers didn't have the tattoo, and in the Sixties, it was not such a fashion thing. Even so, when they were young they started asking me for explanations. I used to answer: when you are a little bit older I will tell you. I 've never reached that point and they stopped asking, in a way we all grew up together."

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "Every day you receive dozens and dozens of hate mail on the internet. What kind of people are those who hide behind a keyboard and what kind of society is it where something like this still happens?"

Liliana Segre: "Honestly I feel sorry for those people. If in your life you are not able to do anything else then sending a death threat to a person who is already 90 years old, well what can I say - those people should use their time better, watching TV, taking a walk, kissing a child, reading a book - this is life."

Anti-semitism in Europe

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "But in Europe, anti-semitism is back."

Liliana Segre: "Excuse me, it's back because we are talking about it (anti-semitism), but I think this kind of hate has always been there. On April 25th, 1945 (Italian Liberation Day) all the anti-semitic people pretended they were not anti-semitic any more. The very big and important difference is that today we can talk about it."

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "Are there any similarities with a certain past. Is there a real risk of a return to that past?"

Liliana Segre: "Absolutely not, not in the way I have lived it, to the nth degree, I don't think we can return to those horrors. Certainly living in a democracy, I hope there are more fair people than unfair ones."

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "What measures can society take?"

**Does history repeat itself?

Liliana Segre: "I don't have a recipe against these evils that I consider to be old habits, but I also believe history may or may not repeat itself."

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "75 years ago you came so close to death. Are you still afraid of death?"

Liliana Segre: "Well, I guess we are all afraid of death, I can say I definitely prefer life. I believe more in human beings and I hope to remain myself until the end."

Cecilia Cacciotto, Euronews: "A human being, as you said, who has to be free."

Liliana Segre: "Free and peaceful."

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