Between September 29 and October 5, 1944, SS troops in their retreat together with local fascists surrounded the mountainous area of Monte Sole and searched the village of Marzabotto and its neighbours for partisans. They shot close on a thousand civilians – children, women and men – and about a dozen partisans in the worst atrocity carried out in Italy. The victims are buried in the local cemetery.
The committee which organizes the official annual commemoration includes the heads of the Peace School Foundation of Monte Sole and they were asked to invite representatives of the PCFF to speak from the platform, together with two other speakers and a member of the Italian parliament, and bring testimonies of the activities of the PCFF as 'an effective work for peace and understanding'. We, Wajee Tameise and I, were given about 7-8 minutes each which, with the translation into Italian, was not a minor part of the proceedings.
The central square in front of the church was filled to overflowing and the crowd, estimated at around 5,000, spilled over into the side streets where there were stalls selling and publicising all kinds of materials and literature. The proceedings started at 11 with the church-bells ringing and a colourful procession led by a big brass-band with flag-bearers preceeding the heads of the villages of Marzabutto and the Bologna region with bright official sashes from shoulder to hip and representatives of army, police, trade-unions and survivors of the massacre. Apart from the band which took up position by the side and performed at intervals throughout the ceremony, all the dignitaries came on to the platform where Wajee and I with our translator had already been given places.
After a couple of greetings and speeches, Wajee was invited to the microphone. He spoke of his family's painful loss, the conditions under occupation and the occasional acts of despair, and emphasized the general desire for an end to the conflict and for peace.
I opened my words by saying how moved I was to be with them in their commemoration, that I felt like one of the survivors of Marzabutto because I was reminded of when, as a small boy, the Nazis came and took my father to a concentration camp and then sent my mother to Teresienstadt and Auschwitz. Before that she had managed to put me on a train to England to save me. After Israel was established I left my job as a research chemist to join a Kibbutz and work on the land. My younger boy is married to a girl from Rovelasca and my grand-children are fluent not only in Hebrew but also Italian. I wish they could be with me now to speak from my heart in your tongue.
My older boy fell in the Israeli Air Force 36 years ago. When he was about 17 he came to the realization that it didn't make sense for a smart people not to find a way to end the conflict and so he became active in Peace Now. With those ideas he joined up and with that outlook he fell. What is left for me now? To try, though without his charisma and lovely smile, to speak up for him and that is how I joined the PCFF. This most impressive commemoration in Marzabutto is important not so much to show sympathy and comfort to the families of the victims but as a show of willingness to struggle that such bestiality does not return. For evil to raise its head, it is enough for good people to do nothing. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
The Israeli-Palestinian Forum of Bereaved Familis for Reconciliation and Peace has several hundred member-families from both sides. A few times a year we come together to talk about what to do, the better to bring our message to the wide public. It isn't all hugging and kissing. There is that too, of-course, but there are heated discussions because we see things from different angles: Wajee is a Palestinian patriot and I'm an Israeli patriot. But after every discussion, however heated, we come out even more convinced that we have to work together to put an end to the blood-shed. We are an exceptional, perhaps unique, organization: we do not want more candidates for membership. There are too many bereaved families already.
Of all our activities, the dearest to our hearts are the meetings with 17-18 year-olds in high-schools of which we manage about a thousand a year. The Jewish youngsters say we're afraid and we're entitled to do everything not to have another Holocaust. All I can say to them is that I'm afraid too but where will we take that fear? After all we've done, still we live in daily danger. We have to think of something else. The Arab youngsters say the Jews have taken their lands and their livelihood and deprived them of their honour. It's no wonder if now and again one of them in desperation will put a belt of dynamite on his belly to blow himself up in a shopping-mall. All I can say to them is that I know what it is to feel helpless like a little refugee, but will another stone or another bomb bring their home-land any nearer? We have to dry up the swamp of despair and find another way.
That way is compromise. No side goes home with all it demands or needs or deserves but all can go home and live without fear. The game is not 'sum zero' where one wins and the other must lose; it is a 'win-win' game, where one can win only if the other also wins.
Fanatics use religion to fan the flames of conflict. All religions have dark, out-dated layers but also great, humanistic teachings which we can uncover and in which we can find inspiration. For example, in Judaism there is the dictum of Hillel the Sage who summed up the Torah in the sentence: What is hateful to you, do not unto others. There are also the great prophets like Isaiah who looked forward to the time when peoples 'will beat their swords into plowshares …not learn war any more … each under his vine and fig-tree …and none shall make them afraid.' The cradle of our culture is in the land of Israel but it has flowered also in various other places which we are entirely free to visit, not because of the might of tanks but because there is peace.
Your empathy and moral support mean very much to us, as we also much appreciate the international recognition expressed again this year by the several prizes for our efforts for reconciliation and peace; but we also need material help because our activities are limited mainly by lack of resources. Our PCFF is honoured to join you in this commemoration with its commitment to a future without more massacres and is grateful for the opportunity to speak to you of our efforts for reconciliation and peace.
After a festive lunch with the mayor and other dignitaries and heads of the police, we were driven to the top of Monte Sole where the School for Peace is situated in beautiful surroundings in a nature-reserve. Here we were again surprised by the number of people who came to participate in the work-shops, with about 30 people, young and old, in each. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict arouses not just interest but much emotional involvement and thought. For close on two hours the lively discussion went on and Wajee and I replied to questions and elaborated on the complexities of the issues, what the PCFF tries to do to bring down the wall of hate and what they might do to help as a group of Friends of the PCFF, morally and materially. At the end we received warm good wishes for our joint efforts to put an end to the blood-shed and sincere blessings for successful continuation of our activities. Even afterwards, outside, small groups carried on the exchange of ideas.