Ghetto of Rome: Auschwitz survivor on October 16 1943

Alberto Sed, one of 18 'everyday heroes' honoured by Mattarella

15 October, 18:17

    A picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943 A picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943

    - ROME - "On October 16 1943, I was there" says Alberto Sed an 87 year-old Roman Jew who was only 14 when he saw Nazi military vans arrive at sunrise in the ghetto and heard the desparate screams of women and old men mixed to the cries of children still half at sleep.

    That day marked the deportation of Roman Jews (1, 259 people) to Nazi concentration camps, an event that the Jewish community will commemorate tomorrow.

    Fatherless Alberto Sed, miraculously survived with his mother and three sisters but their escape was short-lived. In March 1944 a tip-off sealed they fate, they were captured in a warehouse in Porta Pia and sent to Auschwitz. "Few of us came back from there" the elderly Jew who witnessed his mother and sisters get killed (one of them mauled to death by SS dogs) tells ANSA . For fifty years he kept silent about the horror he lived, even with his wife and children.

    At last he unblocked and "came out" as he says, of Auschwitz, telling his story first with a book written by the journalist and officer of the Carabinieri police, Roberto Riccardi, called "Sono stato un numero", "I was a number" (published by Giuntina) and then with hundreds of meetings in schools and with young people, convicts and common people.

    With his testimony he made history come alive for thousands of people previously oblivious to the horror. So much so that the Italian President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella announced that he will honour him together with other 17 "everyday heroes" with the the Italian title of "commendatore".

    Sed can not believe it: "when they called me from the Quirinale (the Italian presidential palace) I thought it was a joke", he said. "And I wouldn't have believed it if some journalist hadn't called me after that". The survivor does not feel he did anything special. On the contrary.

    "It's the love and solidarity of the people I talk to every day that brought me out of the horror of the concentration camp" he explained.

    Once a friend told him: "Alberto, if there will be another Holocaust, not necessarily against the Jews, none of the people you spoke to will be on the side of the executioners".

    Sed is proud about it. Only eight years ago he revealed his most atrocious memories.

    "I never managed to hold an infant, not even my own children because at Auschwitz the Nazis made us fly babies in the air and enjoyed hitting them like in clay pigeon shooting". "I've never managed to go inside a pool because I saw an Orthodox priest being massacred and drowned by executioners" he added. "The Nazis - he said - didn't just kill Jews but also gipsies, partisans, political opponents and even Germans when handicapped or mentally ill. They didn't know what to do with them".

    Tomorrown, on the day marking the deportation of the Jews of Rome, Sed will talk about the Shoah in a school in Ladispoli. "I've been invited by some tv stations too, but I prefer the youth" he explains, adding that he was just able to attend elementary school.

    When he was ten, the doors of schools and football teams were barred to him because of race laws: "I wasn't a child anymore, I had become a Jew".

    That happened a few months before men led by SS colonel Herbert Kappler stormed the Portico d'Ottavia at 4:30 A.M on October 16 1943. 

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