Holocaust survivor moves European Parliament to tears with speech

“We were breast-less, we had lost our period, we were not wearing any underwear," Senator Segre said. "We can’t be afraid of using these words – this was the way a woman was stripped of her dignity.”

European Parliament President David Sassoli embraces Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre during the plenary session in memory of the victims of the Holocaust at the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium January 29, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)
European Parliament President David Sassoli embraces Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre during the plenary session in memory of the victims of the Holocaust at the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium January 29, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)
Italian Auschwitz survivor and Senator for Life Liliana Segre received a standing ovation for her address to the European Parliament, in a ceremony marking International Holocaust Memorial Day.
In a powerful speech that moved many MEPs to tears, Segre recounted her experience as a young girl facing the evils of humanity, while also launching a mighty message of love for life and to strive against racism and antisemitism.
“I am extremely emotional to be here in the European Parliament," she said. "Upon my arrival, I saw all the flags displayed at the entrance. So many colors, so many countries that are here in a spirit of brotherhood, with people speaking to each other and looking at each other directly in the eyes. This was not always the way things were." She also specifically addressed British MEPs, expressing her sorrow for their imminent departure – the Brexit deal was approved by the EU Parliament on the same day.

Born in 1930 into a Jewish family in Milan, Segre was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 13.
For the past 30 years, she has been one of the most active witnesses of the Holocaust, speaking to thousands of schools and groups all over Italy.
In January 2018, she was appointed senator for life by the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella.
International Holocaust Memorial Day falls on January 27, the day that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz – or, more accurately, as Segre recalled during her speech, the day that Soviet soldiers reached the Nazi extermination camp that the Germans had abandoned several days earlier, and uncovered its horrors for the first time.
“On that day, I was 13, and I was a slave at a nearby ammunition factory,” Segre said. “We began what came to be known as the Death Marches. I was not liberated on January 27 by the Red Army.”
Segre shared the experience of those months, marching through Europe in atrocious physical and emotional conditions, stepping in the cold snow with ulcerated feet, eating dung and snow, “where the snow was not covered in blood.” The villages which they walked through shut down and nobody helped or even threw them a piece of bread. All of those who could not walk anymore were killed immediately.
“We were putting one foot in front of the other, we were not able to lean on anyone,” she said.
“The force of life is so extraordinary, and I think this is what we need to transmit to the young people of today, who are mortified by the fact that there are no jobs or that their soft parents grant them everything they want, while life doesn’t: Go on and don’t lean on anyone,” she passionately said.
“We did not want to die; we were so incredibly, strongly attached to life," she added. "We put one foot in front of the other, and we kept walking."
They marched for months, through Poland and then Germany. The survivor recalled that, “we were young, but we looked old” and it was impossible to say whether they were children, men, or women.
“We were age-less, breast-less, we had lost our period, we were not wearing any underwear. We can’t be afraid of using these words: This was the way a woman was stripped of her dignity,” she recalled.
Segre also recalled how those actions were not carried out only by Germans, but also by people in other European countries allied with the Nazis or occupied by them. Often those who betrayed, sold and persecuted Jews were “our neighbors,” she pointed out.
Segre said antisemitism and racism have always existed, but there are political moments where it becomes more acceptable to express those feelings and attitude.
“The European Parliament and my survival from annihilation seem to me part of the same miracle,” she said.
At the end of her speech, MEPs stood and applauded for several minutes.
During the ceremony, European Parliament president David Sassoli and commission head Ursula von der Leyen also took the floor to reiterate Europe’s commitment to Holocaust remembrance.