Rome (illustrative)
Rome (illustrative) iStock

Recent months have seen a rise in far-right and extreme left anti-Semitic crime throughout Europe. The former rides the noisy protest of the no-vax, no-Green-Pass movement, and even more so during elections, such as the Italian municipal ballot, held in two rounds over the past weeks. In that election, the extremists raised the stakes, influencing and infiltrating the conservative camp as much as possible.

In Rome, the right-wing candidate and reported front-runner, Enrico Michetti, had banalized the Holocaust in a radio talk, making clear reference to [Jewish] "lobbies that own banks or are capable of deciding the destinies of the planet."

On the eve of the first round of the municipal elections, Michetti found himself cornered by his own anti-Semitic remarks, and thus apologized: "I used terms that still feed, with unforgivable lightness, today's historical prejudices and ignoble stereotypes towards the Jewish people."

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre monitored the election.

"Considering the result of the ballot in Rome, the low turnout and the choice of a majority seemed fed up with populist anti-Semitic stereotypes. We hope the new centre-left mayor will keep to municipal issues, one of which is to take action against hatemongering," the Wiesenthal Centre said in a statement.

In an op-ed, published in the Italian liberal-conservative daily Il Foglio, the Wiesenthal Centre drew parallels between current extremist hijacking of rallies and events a century ago, such as the instability of Weimar Germany and the rise of fascism in Italy and throughout continental Europe, which led to World War II and to the Holocaust.

The article recalls the 1944 Ardeatine Caves massacre, the murder of 335 Italian civilians and political prisoners, including 75 Jews, by the Nazis as a reprisal for the attack by the Resistance against thirty-three SS troops in occupied Rome.

The Centre had been active on this specific case, in 1995, to bring to trial Erich Priebke, who served as the commanding officer of the Gestapo unit that had carried out the massacre. In post-War Italy, Priebke escaped through the Nazi ratline, finding refuge in Bariloche, Argentina.

Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Centre's Director for International Relations recalled, "After obtaining his extradition, we participated in a tormented two-year trial."

Priebke was first exonerated for simply "following orders" - Hitler demanded ten Italians be executed in reprisal for each of the 33 Nazis killed. The Centre accompanied the martyrs’ families and the Roman Jewish community to obtain a final ruling of life imprisonment on the grounds that he executed 335 people, who were "five innocents too many."

The Italian media and public opinion agreed with the Centre.

Priebke died in 2013 at the age of 100, outliving the children of the martyrs. He was buried in an unmarked grave. He was the prime example of Simon Wiesenthal’s aphorism, “Longevity is not a cause for impunity.”

"We offer to work with the new mayor on a campaign focusing on the Ardeatine Cave Massacre as a case study against hate," the Centre's statement concluded.

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