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American Students Studying In Rome, Italy.

Duquesne University

Sicily- Rome American Cemetery (12:30)

A Director's Reflection: Be the Difference - Never Again

Michael Aaron Wright

The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno (Italy)

Early in 2016, I received a phone call from Robbie, who told me of an American friend of his, Elizabeth, who had written a book about Jews being saved in Italy during the Holocaust, her family’s village near Salerno that had been the site of a Jewish concentration camp during World War II. Robbie had been using her book in his curriculum and she was coming to Italy and was interested in visiting the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, just south of Rome near Anzio.

 

Elizabeth arrived in Rome and I accompanied her down the Tyrrhenian coast on a beautiful spring morning. As we drove towards the cemetery in Nettuno, I embarrassingly admitted that I had never visited the cemetery where 11,000 U.S. American service members were entombed or memorialized.

 

Melanie Resto, Superintendent of the Sicily- Rome American Cemetery created special tours for us. As we entered this sacred, giant site that was studded with 7,860 gleaming marble crosses and Stars of David tombs, sheltered by the towering umbrella pines of Rome, we moved with our guide through the 77-acre property hearing the harrowing stories of the young men and women who laid at rest and how many these soldiers had never received visits from their loved ones at their graves after the war.

Elizabeth and I were moved beyond words. As we drove back to Rome, Elizabeth spoke of expanding her vision for U.S. American students to visit these cemeteries during their semester abroad and to learn the stories of those who had given their lives for freedom. She called this the Be the Difference- Never Again project. A light bulb went off in my mind, thinking that this might be the perfect project for our Intercultural Awareness course and to create a more meaningful collaboration for our Duquesne University college students and their intercultural partners at the Rome- based Einstein- Bachelet High School.

 

Since November 2016, Duquesne University students in Rome and the Einstein- Bachelet High School students have researched soldiers’ stories, created homages, made a short documentary and helped to put together Memorial Services at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. We want those who have family buried at the Sicily- Rome American Cemetery to know that young Italian and U.S. American students are taking the time to learn the stories of those who sacrificed to help free Italy. 

 

We hope the bringing- to- life of their stories will create an urgency for peace in these young people at a time when there is war again on the continent of Europe. This is the Be the Difference- Never Again project for us at Duquesne in Rome. - Is this staying? I think you were going to ask Michael about this?

The Museum of Memory and Peace, Campagna (Italy)

 

Elizabeth’s book, It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust, began with a little-known secret about her grandmother’s small village, Campagna, hidden in a valley in the province of  Salerno, about 4 hours south of Italy. The village was home to a concentration camp for northern European Jews during WWII. The incredible story of this small village, hidden in a valley, is the symbiotic relation of salvation between the villagers of Campagna and the oppressed Jews. Both groups end up saving each other! An incredible story of light in a time of extreme darkness. As Walter Wolff says, a former Jewish prisoner in the Campagna camp, Bad times, good peopleIs the B capitalized because of the quote? Or should it be lowercase?

 

I was fascinated by this story, especially with my budding friendship with Elizabeth. As I continued to work in my mind how we might be able to add the village of Campagna to our short weekend-long Academic Excursion to the Campania region, the urgency became even greater when the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, killing 11 happened in Pittsburgh, PA in 2018. 

 

Duquesne University’s home campus is in Pittsburgh. Many of the staff and families of students at Duquesne knew those killed in this tragically violent and hateful attack on peaceful people. It was time to add another piece to our Be the Difference-Never Again project.

 

Using Elizabeth's book, in our Intercultural Awareness class, students create presentations to be given to their peers at the Museum of Memory and Peace in Campagna, the site of the former internment camp. It has been part of our Ancient Campania Academic Excursion since 2018 and students often reflect on how much they love the village and how touched they are by the extraordinary story of the Countryside.

 

To responsibly counterbalance this isolated story of good in Campagna, we also take students to the former Jewish Ghetto of Rome, where they learn about the Jewish Roundup that took place by the Nazis, October 16, 1943. Over 1,200 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. The roundups continued and approximately 2,000 Jews from Rome were sent
to the notorious death camps. Only 16 Jews from Rome survived. It decimated the Roman Jewish community and brought the terrible reality of deportation to Italy.

 

The Be the Difference- Never Again teaches students to act when there is injustice and to never be a bystander.
This is an important message for Duquesne students with antisemitism and the normalization of hate for other groups on the rise in our day and age.

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