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Thousands rally around Holocaust survivor in Milan

A Holocaust survivor who has been put under police protection due to anti-Semitic threats was escorted Tuesday evening through the center of Milan by hundreds of Italian mayors and thousands of ordinary citizens behind a banner reading: "Hatred has no future.''

‘’I have known hatred. I have known what it means to be a reject of the society to which I believed I belonged,'' Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old senator-for-life who survived Auschwitz as a child, told the crowd.

"I heard the words of hatred, hateful and insulting, and I saw with my eyes the realization of a ferocious program prepared from hatred," Segre said.

Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, center, attends an anti-racism demonstration in Milan's Victor Emmanuel II arcade in northern Italy that was joined by mayors of some 600 Italian towns, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. In Italy, controversy flared recently when Segre called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day. The banner in Italian reads: 'Hate has no future'. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

Segre said she now looks for hope in the eyes of school children when she tells her story, and in the eyes of mayors and ordinary citizens “who came here to shout, ‘Enough hatred.’ ”

Segre was given a police escort last month after a stream of anti-Semitic posts and threats were aimed at her after she championed a new parliamentary panel against racism, discrimination, anti-Semitism and online hatred.

"Let's leave hatred to the anonymous ones at the keyboards,'' she said to cheers in front of City Hall.

Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, right, flanked by Milan's Mayor Giuseppe Sala speaks at an anti-racism demonstration in Milan's Victor Emmanuel II arcade in northern Italy that was joined by mayors of some 600 Italian towns, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. In Italy, controversy flared recently when Segre called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala told thousands in the crowd, including about 1,000 mayors, that such demonstrations would continue ‘’until this climate of hatred changes.''

The mayors, wearing sashes in the Italian green, white and red, were applauded as they entered the arcaded Galleria, and the crowd chanted “Liliana” when Segre met the mayors below the central glass dome.

Thousands of ordinary Italians joined the march or cheered form the sidelines, singing the anti-fascist anthem "Bella Ciao,'' as the march proceeded through the 19th century Galleria to the square in front of City Hall.

Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, center, attends with Milan's Mayor Giuseppe Sala, fourth from right front row, an anti-racism demonstration in Milan's Victor Emmanuel II arcade in northern Italy that was joined by mayors of some 600 Italian towns, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. In Italy, controversy flared recently when Segre called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

The march was organized by the Italian mayor's association and was meant to cut across party lines. But the role of League leader Matteo Salvini in fomenting anti-migrant and racist sentiment was recognized.

Bologna Mayor Virginio Merola told The Associated Press that rising racism in Italy could be traced to the country's long economic crisis along with the League's provocative rhetoric. Bologna is the largest city in Emilia-Romagna, a traditionally left-wing stronghold that faces tough regional elections next month, where Salvini is poised to make strong gains.

"There is too much racism, hatred and anti-Semitism in Europe, and Italy,'' Merola said. “We need to react and show citizens that the way to live together is through civil cohabitation.”

Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, bottom center, flanked by Milan's Mayor Giuseppe Sala attends an anti-racism demonstration in Milan's Victor Emmanuel II arcade in northern Italy that was joined by mayors of some 600 Italian towns, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. In Italy, controversy flared recently when Segre called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

Segre said the history of Italian Jews was represented in each of the 8,000 towns and cities in Italy "in the names of the streets, to the headstones, to the rare Jewish vestiges," that will remain when there are no more survivors to bear witness.

It was a reminder made more poignant by recent anti-Semitic incidents involving just such markers of Jewish life. The city council of Schio, north of Vicenza, last month blocked as “divisive” the town mayor's move to put up so-called stumbling stones to remember Schio's Holocaust victims. And vandals in Rome defaced street signs that had been rededicated to honor two Jewish female scholars and an anti-fascist professor. The streets had previously been named after anti-Semitic scientists.

Segre is backing a National Museum of Resistance, which was announced this week to be built in Milan. ‘’It is a moral commitment to support and carry forward the memory,'' she said.

Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, bottom center, flanked by Milan's Mayor Giuseppe Sala, right, attends an anti-racism demonstration in Milan's Victor Emmanuel II arcade in northern Italy that was joined by mayors of some 600 Italian towns, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. In Italy, controversy flared recently when Segre called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)

General view of an anti-racism demonstration in Milan's Victor Emmanuel II arcade in northern Italy that was joined by mayors of some 600 Italian towns, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. In Italy, controversy flared recently when Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day. (Flavio Lo ScalzoANSA via AP)

Liliana Segre, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and senator-for-life, center, attends an anti-racism demonstration in Milan's Victor Emmanuel II arcade in northern Italy that was joined by mayors of some 600 Italian towns, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. In Italy, controversy flared recently when Segre called for the creation of a parliamentary committee to combat hate, racism and anti-Semitism after revelations that she is subject to some 200 social media attacks each day. (AP PhotoLuca Bruno)