Today, to my shame, I forgot what day it was. I remembered only when a colleague called me up to ask me to see if any Vatican sources had published articles about it. 27 January 2016: International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On 27 January 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops. But the author of the article I read at the link below, is right: Forgetting is not the worst enemy of remembrance. Manipulation of the facts, superficiality, confusion and excessive obsession are. As I was reminded when I watched “Labyrinth of Lies” this evening. A dear friend of mine – who was also oblivious to what day it was as well as to how perfect her choice of film was – invited me to watch this film by Italian actor and producer Giulio Ricciarelli. The real test for any writer, director, artist etc., when so much food for thought has already been given on a subject, even on an event as horrific as the Holocaust, is to move an ordinary person like me to tears when they have not lived that event themselves. Better still if it inspires them to take action! This film certainly moved me. And it confirmed something which the abovementioned article says: The starting point for not turning the commemoration of the Holocaust into something banal or letting Holocaust Remembrance Day gradually transform into a merely rhetorical and superficially celebrated date, is perhaps reflecting on the price that is paid for remembering. And by that I mean the pain that it causes, not just the sense of shame the film talks about. It is only by listening to the personal story of each individual, by letting their voice guide us through the door of memory and into their experience, it is only by seeking out the details, as the article writer says that we ensure our memory of the Holocaust never dies. This day is not only important as a remembrance of the past and a time to honour the dead but also as a lesson for the present and the future. The Holocaust is a strong reminder of what we are capable of as humans no matter what age we are born into and of how discrimination can lead to hatred and obsession and this in turn to coldblooded killing, ISIS being one of today’s prime examples. The challenge we face when remembering a painful event like the Holocaust is finding a balance between ensuring that the respect we feel for the pain suffered by millions of men and women never fizzles out and not becoming caught up in an obsessive frenzy for revenge. As the neuropsychiatrist Gabriel Levi wrote: “Memory can only guide us toward freedom if this memory is not trapped in a prison of painful repetitiveness”.
This time last year I stood up in front of a large audience at Turin’s Teatro Agnelli and took part in a collective reading of one of Erri De Luca’s books, “Il Torto del Soldato”, about a war criminal who slipped back into ordinary everyday life when World War II ended, believing that the only thing there was to feel ashamed about was losing the war. I accepted the task at the last minute, knowing pitifully little about the plot. As I stood on the stage and began to read his beautiful words I realised what I wonderful thing I had agreed to do. Remembering the tragedy of the Holocaust should make us realise how lucky we are for the gift of life and freedom.