ADL Colloquium

Maria Lombardo, top left, a lecturer on the Holocaust in Italy and the Raoul Wallenberg Award recipient, and Vlad Khaykin, bottom right, national director of antisemitism programs at the Anti-Defamation League, respond to questions asked to them by ADL Regional Director James Pasch, bottom left, and St. Mary Seminary Rector the Rev. Mark A. Latcovich during the virtual 33rd annual Sam Miller Catholic Jewish Colloquium Oct. 21.

Through stories of their family members’ survival, two speakers stressed a need for increased education and compassion to combat rising trends of hate and antisemitism during the virtual 33rd annual Sam Miller Catholic-Jewish Colloquium Oct. 21.

The colloquium, hosted by the Anti-Defamation League Cleveland, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Interfaith Commission and St. Mary Seminary, featured Maria Lombardo, a lecturer on the Holocaust in Italy and the Raoul Wallenberg Award recipient, and Vlad Khaykin, national director of antisemitism programs at the ADL.

The event also included a question-and-answer session with the two speakers, moderated by ADL Cleveland Regional Director James Pasch and St. Mary Seminary Rector the Rev. Mark A. Latcovich.

Lombardo spoke about the contents of her book, “A Camp Without Walls,” which tells the story of her father, Italian World War II resistance fighter Salvatore Lombardo and his journey from a Nazi slave labor camp to the post-war effects on him and his family in the United States.

“Education to him was the most important factor,” Lombardo said. “It is the only thing that no one can take away from you. The Nazis stripped him of his uniform and worldly possessions, but they could not take away his knowledge and thinking.”

Lombardo sought to shed light on the Holocaust in southern Europe and how the Italian population fought for the Jews through many rescue efforts – two aspects that she said are frequently erased from World War II and Holocaust education. These lessons, she said, can help people today prevent additional genocides and stop the rising trend of antisemitism.

“Learning about our past helps us make informed decisions about our future,” Lombardo said. “... But have we learned anything from the past to help us with our future? A possible answer is to start with the children, educating them about people’s commonalities while teaching them to respect differences as they are taught about cultures and historical backgrounds.”

Salvatore Lombardo was an Italian solider who had been sent to Greece by late Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. When Mussolini’s government fell in 1943, Salvatore opted against joining the Nazis and instead became a partisan in the international resistance movement against the Nazis. Disguised as a Greek man, he and fellow resistance fighters championed a movement to free the Jews.

However, Salvatore and over 250 resistance fighters were tricked to turn themselves in to the Nazis, where they were transported to a Nazi slave labor camp in southern Yugoslavia.

Salvatore and the only other survivor were freed by the Serbs, and Salvatore joined their efforts to fight the Nazis. He contributed to the Serbs’ rescues of thousands of Jews, Lombardo said.

“Salvatore was an ordinary man who had done extraordinary things, but he did not feel that he had done anything out of the ordinary,” Lombardo said. “Helping others was just what anyone would have done. He felt a kin to the Jews and lived in a Jewish community.”

Khaykin said his work fighting fascism, antisemitism, Holocaust denial and all forms of bigotry through the ADL is in honor of his grandfather. When Nazis invaded his hometown in Belarus, his grandfather was hidden by a non-Jewish neighbor in a basement. But when another neighbor betrayed this secret arrangement, Nazi death squads removed Khaykin’s grandfather and other Jews from their hiding places and shot them.

Miraculously, Khaykin’s grandfather survived and was nursed back to health by a Russian man. His grandfather then took arms against the Nazis, becoming a highly decorated war hero.

“I begin by recalling the memory of my grandfather, because in the Jewish tradition, memory plays an important role,” Khaykin said. “... Judaism is also a tradition that requires of us to reflect on the past as a way to order the present, with an eye toward building a brighter future.

“... I would offer that the memory of the Holocaust is not only to be enshrined in history as a hollow space in time, but that there are deep lessons for us that we can draw from the Holocaust shouting to be heard, shouting never again.”

Today, Khaykin said it’s vital everyone takes a stand against these rising trends in antisemitism and hate toward all minorities in all political, social and religious movements and groups. Through education, such as learning about all aspects of the Holocaust, listening to survivors’ stories and relating these lessons to the current socio-political climate, hate can be beaten.

“It’s really important to say that we have to address it in those spaces where we have the greatest impact,” Khaykin said. “... If what you’re doing is constantly saying that the problem with antisemitism is somewhere over there, what you’re really saying is, ‘It’s somebody else’s problem.’ We have to take responsibility and address it in the places where we have influence.”

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