As images of the war between Israel and Hamas sent shockwaves around the world, people in Italy’s capital held a march this week commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Nazi roundup of Rome’s Jewish community during World War II.

Those gathering on Monday said they remember the past because they care about the future.

Esther, a Jewish resident of Rome, said this 80th anniversary “March of Remembrance” was particularly poignant for her as she turns 80 this year. 

She said she and her family survived the Nazis’ 1943 roundup of Rome’s 1,200 Jews only because they were in Africa at the time; some of her relatives were not so lucky. 

“I was born in Africa in Belgium Congo, so I escaped for this,” she said. “If we were in Europe, I don’t know if I can speak with you today.”

Italian authorities, Rome’s Jewish community, and members of the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, a progressive Catholic lay group that works for world peace, remembered the Italian Jews who lost their lives during World War II, and those who survived the horror. 

Julia Camorino’s father, Enzo, and uncle, Lushino, were both taken from the Roman ghetto by the Nazis in 1943, deported to Auschwitz, and then sent to other concentration camps. 

They were two of only 16 Roman Jews who survived the Holocaust. Both were strong enough to work and not chosen for the death camps, she said.

Eventually, they escaped and got picked up by American soldiers.

‘Too much politics’

Camorino told VOA the war between Israel and Hamas worries her. 

“There’s too much politics,” she said. “I’m here for the memory of my ancestors and my dad. He was hoping the world would learn from this and for the world to be better. We should never forget what happened.”

The role of Pope Pius XII and others during the Holocaust has been the subject of controversy, but historical documents show that the Holy See and Italy took actions that ended up saving 80% of the Italian Jewish population. 

Strangers sacrified themselves

Many Italians sacrificed their lives to help people they didn’t know. 

Such was the case of Sandro’s grandfather, who sheltered a Jewish family from the Nazis. 

A Christian, Sandro is a member of the Sant’Egidio community. He took part in the march along with a friend from Italy’s Roma community, whose members were also persecuted by the Nazis during World War II. 

He told VOA it’s imperative to remember all the people who lost their lives. 

“For us, it is very important to remember this day because many citizens of Roma [Rome], many Italian people, Jewish people were martyred in Auschwitz from this area,” said Sandro. “We consider them as a part of this city. The story is very cruel. We will not repeat it. That’s our hope.” 

Stefania Proietti is the mayor of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis. She told VOA that while the march memorializes the persecuted Jews of Rome, it calls attention to all victims of injustice. 

“We need to talk about peace,” she said. “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. We stay here for all victims — Jewish and many other people [who are] innocent are victims.” 

Italian lawmakers are now considering a Holocaust Museum in Rome, but critics say some oppose the plan because they are reluctant to draw attention to the part that Italy’s pro-Nazi, fascist government played during that time in history.