Sojourn Through Italy – Remembering The Refugees

Speech for Memory March – Gesso Valley – Pass of Finestre

      How We Are Here – September 1, 2013
      © Ari Roth
At the French-Italian border

At the French-Italian border

La Colle delle Finistre
is translated as “The Hill of Windows”
For the hikers who’ve discovered the torturous pleasures of this pass
It has been given the name “End of the Earth”
And it might well have been “The End” for one thousand Jews
In flight from their French protectors
Gendarmes turned predators
running raids and round-ups
transports of human shipments in train cars
box cars
For the one thousand who took to the mountain pass we have just ascended
It may as well have been a hike into heaven:
Fate Unknown.

Few had trained for such an expedition.
Because let’s face it: Most Jews do not know from Mountains such as these.
We were not outfitted; nor equipped;
Neither at home nor trained
Frightened by the elements
We ascended into the elements
We were in flight
In a fight for our lives.

Sandro and Ari with singer on Summit

Fueled by fright.
Young girls and old men,
broken by brutishness
already hiding for years
Mothers with their hair falling out
Their hearts beating in delirium
And yet here, in these vaulting massifs
Came a base camp,
group leaders,
the healthy helping the sick
believers pulling the vanquished
Parceling biscuits
Allocating water
And then came news of a priest on skis,
of a trusted path and a stone cave,
and a farmer’s wife.
A shelter from snow
A sanctuary from death.

panaorama from summit

We are here to remember
that before a guide book made this pass attractive
a band of refugees
found people of the land who could show them a haven;
to a cover from darkening skies.
Evil was absent here
Only the howling cheeks of nature
Blowing and blanketing
Enveloping and exposing
Protecting and threatening…

To be At One with these elements
At peace with the Fierceness of Mother Earth
is all one can ask
As a respite from the cruelty of being hunted by one’s fellow man.

* * *

You march from two sides of this mountain,
to meet at the apex
to remember
While others run to forget.
For 15 summers now
You retrace the steps of our parents
You, neighbors and comrades
While so many retreat to the sea shore
What moves you?
What brings us to follow you?

In gratitude and commitment we have found resources to stand together
Because we would not be here on this earth, if our forbearers had not summoned the bravery to be here first.
We example only a fraction of their resolve.
Were they not this desperate, this full of urgency,
this present of heart and conscience,
then there would be no one here to partake of this ritual of returning
To commune and commemorate today.
We are here to feed from the legacy of desperation
Of tenacity and will
And the advent of good fortune, kind weather, benevolent strangers
Ample space for keeping safe
as the winter of 1943 set in


We are here, 70 years later, because we are thankful
We are here, 70 years later, because we are modeling strength
We are here to be better citizens of the earth
Better partners with nature
Better children to parents and better parents to our children
Struggling in a world less brutish
Yet equally challenging

We thank you for welcoming us
for sheltering us
for hosting us and showing the way
You are our guides who have led us to safety
And to the gateways of memory
From whence we were delivered
From round-up to rescue

1176302_10151603336737073_1958279938_nWe are delivered. We will return.
We will transmit. We will light the light.
And this moment will shine in every country where someone learns of this gathering
Of Italians, and Frenchmen, of Israelis and Americans, and Germans, and Partisans, Muslims, Christians, and Jews reconvening to rededicate.
We are here to declare that Memory lives
Memory Gives
Long Live The Refugees
And their saviors
We are in their company.
We are the story tellers now.
Each of us with our own ownership
Questions and confusions; insights and inspiration
We bring a stone from the cava where the Blua family hid the Horowitz’s
And place it on this summit.
Goodness is in our midst. And so is the sacred.
We are in its presence.
on this Holy Hill of Windows.


Alps more beautiful


2 thoughts on “Sojourn Through Italy – Remembering The Refugees

  1. Thank you, Ari, for sharing this experience and sharing it so beautifully. This is the still insufficiently told story of the Shoah. Finestre and Valdieri and mountain passes and communities like them and attics and haylofts and families that aided and sheltered their fellow human beings need to be celebrated along with remembering the human depravity and horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Majdenik, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Finestre and Valdieri did not just save Jewish lives, but redeemed humanity.

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