Never Forget: Florence’s Holocaust Memorial Day

“The Western Wailing Wall” by Fabio Mauri

Falling on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, January 27 marks a global commemorative moment known as Holocaust Memorial Day to never forget. This month, Florence is not forgetting the lives that were lost to a horrific genocide and is preserving the memories of cherished family and friends. A rich program–including ceremonies, art exhibitions and film screenings–has been organized for this annual international day.

Florence mayor Dario Nardella will lay a wreath on a plaque in front of track 16 at the Santa Maria Novella train station for the 300 Jews who were deported to Auschwitz after being arrested; the oldest was 93 and the youngest two years old.

A prologue to Florence’s Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout the month of January was the placement of a number of square-shaped memorials on city streets to remember Jews resident in the city who were taken by the Nazis in 1944 and sent to concentration camps (see original story here).  The remaining 20+ “stumbling stones” (pietre d’inciampo) will find their permanent home on January 27.

A special installation. “The Western Wailing Wall,” will be inaugurated in Palazzo Vecchio’s Sala dei Giglio on January 27, and remain on display through February 23  This work, first presented by contemporary artist Fabio Mauri at the 1993 Venice Biennale, consists of a four meter (13 ft.) tall wall composed of different-sized suitcases and trucks (meant to bring to mind the numerous occasions when Jews were forced to seek exile) made of wood, leather and canvas.  The unveiling will be accompanied by a talk by philosopher Giacomo Marramao, who will examine “The Horror of the Holocaust in the Art of Fabio Mauri.”

Mauri (1926-2009) is also currently being honored with a retrospective at the Novecento Museum of 20th and 21st Century Art in piazza Santa Maria Novella, which will offer free admission on January 27 (open 11 am – 7 pm).

Non-Jews also were also victims of the Nazis.  On Holocaust Remembrance Day, authorities and the public will gather at Badiuzza cemetery in San Donata in Collina to pay tribute to Caesarina Mazzetti, the daughter of a Protestant minister, and her daughters Luce and Cici.  Her husband, Robert Einstein, cousin to famous physicist Albert, was in hiding, but he had no idea that the SS would target his wife and children at their Rignano sull’Arno home.  Robert Einstein would commit suicide a year later out of grief.

Once again on during Holocaust Remembrance Day, the dean of University of Florence, Luigi Dei, will moderate a public discussion on a Jewish Italian resistance fighter, author and poet at the La Colombaria conference room, via Sant’Egidio 23 (4 pm). The subject of the event, Primo Levi (1919-1987), wrote memorably about his concentration camp experience in “If This a Man” (Se quest è un uomo).  On the same day, Cinema La Compagnia (via Cavour 50/r) is screening #AnneFrank, Vite Parallele at 7 pm, followed by a free showing of Vera – Nunca màs el silencio (with Italian subtitles) at 9 pm with the film’s director Manuela Irianni as special guest.  The latter is the true story of an Italian Jewish woman, Vera Vigevani Jarach, whose family escaped to South America in 1939 but who lost her grandfather at Auschwitz and her daughter to assassins of the Argentine military dictatorship.

Another exhibition that is currently on display is the Italian Auschwitz Memorial, which was adopted by the Tuscan Region after the Polish government wished to remove it from its installation at Auschwitz, threatening to destroy it. This three-dimensional art piece was presented to the public in Florence on May 8, 2019 and displays a spiral canvas that loops around a wooden walkway where one can walk through the tunnel and follow the retelling of stories, specific moments, and symbols concerning the Auschwitz concentration camp. The canvas is made up of 23 strips that were painted by Pupino Samona, while the song entitled “Remember what they did to you in Auschwitz” by Luigi Nono, plays in the background. Located in Gavinana neighborhood at the Ex 3 contemporary art space, the memorial can be visited for free by reservation only with guided access. This exhibition is open on Saturdays and Mondays from 9:30 am -12:30 pm and Sundays from 3:30 – 5:30 pm. 

On a final note, on January 28 the Florence synagogue rabbi, Gadi Piperno, will personally accept honorary citizenship on behalf of Italian senator-for-life and Auschwitz survivor, Liliana Segre, granted by the town of Sesto Fiorentino. (tessa cervantes-roth/additional reporting by rosanna cirigliano)