In Honor of Yom HaShoah – “The Same Day”

Written from an interview I conducted during my research in Rome (in first person of the man I interviewed):

“The Same Day”

Another winter is coming, the days growing ever-shorter. Right on schedule my knees are starting to bother me, just as every Sunday a small group of neighborhood children beneath my window decide who will be “it” first, to find the others who are hiding.

This time I watch them, a sturdy little boy was supposed to be “it,” but another one had to take his place. They all run in every direction to secure the best hiding places; the only one who doesn’t find shelter is the smallest, who runs aimlessly until he finds a hole, covered with blackberry bushes and sticks, where he hides: “If he stays hidden there, they’ll never find him,” I think, “and he will be the winner.” Just as I, at his age, hS hidden right there, the night when, for me and for so many others, it was life itself that hung in the balance.

That night, sixty years ago, was the last time I saw my father.

All I remember is that from that hole, I was barely able to glimpse a truck covered with a black canvas, surrounded by men in uniform who, in an unknown language, were forcing people to climb aboard.

That night too they were deciding who would be “it,” but the numbers shouted out that way made me afraid.

I didn’t see my father climb aboard but I understood he had left with them only when, returning home, I found my mother in tears, amid the confusion of our belongings scattered across the floor.

The smallest child wasn’t found. Making one last attempt, the others divided up, moving out toward the Teatro Marcello and the Temple of Apollo, to look for him. It was at that moment that the little boy emerged and, running, ended up shouting “home free,” touching the wall where they had been counting, under the stone that gives the piazza its present-day name, “Largo 16 ottobre 1943.”

On the kitchen table, today’s newspaper bears the same date at the top, above the headline “VIOLENCE ONCE AGAIN ON THE DAY OF REMEMBRANCE.”

I read the article: there are still people in this world who do not accept differences in religion, sex, social class and race, and who resort to the same violence that so frightened me as a child.

Meanwhile the laughter in the piazza becomes louder; the smallest boy is now on the ground, in tears, curled up on one side, his hands on his stomach. Standing, facing him, with challenging expression still on his face, the sturdy little boy laughs at him. Around them, the other children have formed a circle, cheering on the winner. I am too late to react before they all race away, vacating the piazza.

The little boy is still there, on the ground, allowing time for the smug cries of those who had been his playmates to fade into the distance.

Looking at him slowly get back up, battered, brushing off the dust from his clothing and drying his tears to eliminate any trace of what had happened, I know that what really hurts him now is not the pain of the punches he received, but the inconsolable pain of an injustice suffered.

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