November 7, 2019 / 1:11 PM / 13 days ago

Holocaust survivor given police escort in Italy after threats

ROME (Reuters) - Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre has been placed under police protection after she received threats from far-right fanatics, security sources said on Thursday, highlighting concern about rising extremism in Italy.

FILE PHOTO: Participants attend the annual "March of the Living" to commemorate the Holocaust at the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, in Brzezinka near Oswiecim, Poland, May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

Segre, 89, called last month for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate hate, racism and anti-Semitism after she was the subject of a daily barrage of abuse on social media.

Italy’s right-wing parties did not back her proposal and the resulting controversy has only added to the abuse, with a neo-Nazi group this week hanging up a banner to denounce anti-fascism close to where she was making a public appearance.

Segre declined to comment on being assigned a police escort. A security source said the police were only accompanying her to public events and were not providing round-the-clock protection.

“It must be said that Liliana receives vastly more messages of support and solidarity than she does hate messages,” said Paola Gargiulo, Segre’s chief of staff.

Segre was deported from Italy to Auschwitz in 1944 when she was 13 - one of 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to the Nazi concentration camp. Only 25 survived.

She has dedicated much of her time in recent years to visiting schools to recount the horrors of the Holocaust and was named a life Senator in 2018.

Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Dror Eydar, expressed dismay at the news Segre needed a police escort.

“An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor under guard symbolises the danger that Jewish communities still face in Europe today,” he wrote on Twitter.

Government ministers also expressed solidarity. “Forgive us Liliana. The politics of hate will not stop your commitment, nor ours,” said Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova on Twitter.

There was no immediate comment from the leaders of the main rightist parties, the League and Brothers of Italy, who had opposed Segre’s call for a parliamentary commission, warning that it could lead to censorship.

The Centre of Contemporary Jewish Documentation (CDEC), said anti-Semitism appeared to be increasing in Italy, but was still much less pronounced than in France and Britain.

CDEC researcher Stefano Gatti said that until the beginning of November 190 cases of anti-Semitism had been reported in Italy against 197 in all of 2018 and 130 in 2017.

Most were social media attacks and verbal insults, with just two acts of minor violence registered this year.

“The anti-Semitism we are seeing is getting more aggressive, but the number of anti-Semites in Italy is largely stable,” said Gatti, pointing to surveys that suggested around 11 percent of Italians were hostile to, or prejudiced against Jews.

Additional reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan; Editing by Giles Elgood

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