Hold on, Sami! You have to do it !. These are the last words spoken by Jakob Modiano, Samuel’s father, in a hut in Birkenau.
Sami is fourteen years old and will always carry with her, throughout her life, the blessing of her beloved father. In that factory of death – he says today at ninety, as if she was still there – we lost Lucia, my sixteen year old sister, the beloved eldest daughter whom my father had not seen since she was kicked and punched from him on the Birkenau ramp. He could not stand and let himself go. He decided to turn himself in to the clinic, which there, in that hell, meant going straight to the gas chamber.
Sami Modiano one of the very few to be back. Why me? Why? I’ve wondered so many times. I was just a kid, I had come to weigh 23 kilos, but death passed by me several times and he didn’t want me, he continues to question himself, moved, on the phone with the Courier. That question has become a commitment forever: to testify. I won’t stop as long as I have strength, he promises. And remember: Help me read Primo Levi. I had met him at Auschwitz, at the liberation, we exchanged a few words. He was older, I was a little boy. But on my return I didn’t read it right away. “It has the same story as me,” I thought. Then when picked up If this a man, “That’s why,” I told myself. He had been the first to tell. I had to do my part too. This was the meaning of my being alive.
For years he has testified, Sami, and accompanied the students to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The first time he found the strength to return was in 2005, on a trip with the boys in which the then mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni took part. And now to them, to the young people that Sami loves so much and they care about him, dedicated Lair free all, the book by Veltroni (to be released on January 21 by Feltrinelli), which tells the story of that little boy who fell into the abyss. On that trip I saw him spend hours discussing with the boys, never avoiding the pain of memory, the author writes in the book.
Lair free all traces the existence of Sami. The birth on July 18, 1930 in Rhodes, then under Italian rule, a peaceful childhood until the racial laws of 1938, the expulsion from school. I study, I behave well. Why do I have to be kicked out, isolated, branded for a fault that doesn’t exist? I’m Jewish, so what ?, says little Sami in the book, incredulous and infinitely sad. Some parts of the fascist measures are reported, because you have to know the horror to be able to fight it.
Those laws were the beginning of the precipice. Then came the deportation, the concentration camp, the selections, the death march. Until the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945 (remembered every year on the Day of Remembrance) and the difficult return to life. Added to the story are images of Sami and his family, illustrations by Giovanni Scarduelli, historical notes and proposals for reading and in-depth analysis that include essays, novels, films, documentaries and sites dedicated to the Shoah.
With this book – explains Sami – we turn to young people, the hope of tomorrow, to whom I feel even closer in this difficult time of Covid. They will read that I was a boy like them at the time. I don’t want them to ever see what these eyes of mine have seen. Compared to the new generations, he adds, I am full of confidence: thank God, thank God, thank God, I want to repeat it three times, they have given me so much feedback. They are the stimulus to move forward. Many students I met years ago have grown up today but continue to write to me. One became mayor. And I am happy, because I have always tried to convey the importance of studying, to make myself a position and a family, precisely because all this was torn from me.
Sami had lost her mother too, who died before deportation. And after all, as we read in the book, already after the arrest, when he is crammed into a hold for the animals, he finds himself thinking that it is fortunate that she is not here, in the midst of this hell.
What he saw in the concentration camp was terrible: Death was always before our eyes. At a certain point, he says, Piero Terracina and I, who was sixteen at the time and would become my best friend, who was also locked up there, were given a cart. In the morning we had to go get the bodies of those who, wanting to end it, had thrown themselves against the barbed wire loaded with electricity.
Sami Modiano will find her brother Piero (who passed away in 2019) about forty years later, in Rome, during a tormented existence even on his return from the concentration camp. After the war Sami managed to rebuild a life in Congo, where he joined an uncle who had taken refuge there, but he lost everything and was forced to return to Italy due to the violence and persecution of the dictator Mobutu. Let me be clear – we read in the book -: nothing in history can be compared to the Shoah. Six million Jews killed, the inhumane purpose of the “final solution” for a people condemned for the mere fact of existing. Nothing can ever come close to the greatest crime in human history. Mobutu was nothing by comparison. But for me it was a lot. Even psychologically. Again discriminated. First as a Jew, now as a white man. Discriminated by those who, in the course of history, have in turn been exploited, chained, killed. By whom was a slave. Accepting the other is always difficult, but the only way to live and to live safely.
The meeting with Selma was decisive to resist everything, met on a return trip to Rhodes. Since then – we read in Lair free all – many tens of years have passed, I hold the sun by the hand, every day, every moment of my life. Because it is not easy, explains Sami, to be next to a survivor: not a person like any other, he has nightmares, depressions. I have never left Birkenau.
For this today, when every evening the news of hundreds of Covid victims push me back in the face of death, the lines of those who went to the gas chamber come to mind. Indelible images that come back, come back.
This is why hate messages and denial are so bad. Last July, the president Sergio Mattarella was attacked on social media precisely for having appointed Modiano Cavaliere di Gran Croce. Denialism – says Sami – pains me, we talked about it with Piero. Several times we have asked these people to meet us, but they have always refused. To all the others, on the other hand, I can only say, simply, to reason. Always evaluate with your brain.
January 15, 2021 (change January 24, 2021 | 19:56)