Dante Alighieri Society of Michgan Presents Musica Degenerata

Feb 13, 2018 630

BY: Sandra Tornberg

The Dante Alighieri Society of Michigan and the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, under the auspices of the Consulate of Italy in Detroit, with the support of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, presented Musica Degenerata.  The event took place on January 28 at Temple Beth El. 

Every year the Dante Alighieri Society (DAS) of Michigan organizes activities to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating those Italians who suffered persecution under the Nazi occupation during World War II and as a result of the Racial Laws imposed by the Fascist government. 

Music played an integral role in daily life even under Nazism. Therefore, for the 2018 Holocaust Remembrance Day, DAS invited Davide Casali, clarinetist, conductor and artistic director of the Viktor Ullmann Festival, and Elisa Frausin, pianist and first cello of the stable orchestra of the Ullmann Festival, to perform music by composers deported to concentration camps and Nazi ghettos.

This music was called Degenerate Music, that is, music considered decadent and harmful by the Nazi government. The aim of the duo is to revive the musical repertoire of Italian Jewish composers such as Leo Sinigaglia, Renzo Massarani, and Alberto Gentili, composers who were forced to suffer the Third Reich physical and cultural annihilation.

Dr. Gabriele Boccaccini, Professor of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins at the University of Michigan, began the program with historical comments.  He told the audience that Italy was one of the first countries to establish Holocaust Remembrance Day after the UN decree.  The story of Italian Jews is not well known in the United States.  Dr. Boccaccini told the audience that Jews have lived in Italy since the time of Julius Caesar, and that many Italian Jews led the unification of Italy.  Of the 8,000 Italian Jews who were deported to Auschwitz, only 1,000 returned.  Of the 776 Italian Jewish children under the age of fourteen who were deported to Auschwitz, only twenty-five survived. Fifty thousand Italian Jews were hidden in Italy during the war.

One of the children who survived was Liliana Segre.  Born in a Jewish family in Milan in 1930, Segre was expelled from her school in her young age after the promulgation of Italian Racial Laws in 1938.

On January 30, 1944 Liliana Segre was deported from Platform 21 of the Milan Central railway station to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she arrived seven days later. Liliana was immediately separated from her father Alberto, whom she never saw again and who would die the following day, April 27, 1944. On May 18, 1944 her paternal grandparents were arrested in Inverigo, in the Province of Como, and deported after a few weeks to Auschwitz, where they were also killed on their arrival on June 30.

At the selection, Liliana Segre was tattooed with the serial number 75190. She was employed in forced labor in the Union ammunition factory, which belonged to Siemens, for about one year. During her imprisonment, she underwent three other selections. At the end of January 1945, after the evacuation of the camp, she faced the death march towards Germany.

Liliana Segre was released by the Red Army on May 1,1945 from the Malchow concentration camp, a subfield of the concentration camp in Ravensbrück, Germany. After 1990 she started to speak to the public, especially the young people about her experience.  Italian President Sergio Mattarella made her an Italian senator for life on January 19, 2018.

We are grateful to the Dante Alighieri Society of Michigan for bringing us programs like this, which enlighten and educate the community with regard to Italian culture and history.

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