Milena Santerini, a professor and representative in Italian Parliament, has been a longtime partner and supporter of the Giving Memory a Future project with USC Shoah Foundation. That’s because she believes it is vital to teach Italians the true story of the Roma/Sinti people so that this long-excluded minority can find its place in Italian life.

Santerini serves on Parliament’s Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination and has also served on committees for inclusion of minorities, the commission for culture, education and sports, and she also serves on the Council of Europe’s Commission for Equality and Non-Discrimination. At Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Santerini is professor of intercultural pedagogy. She has long organized educator training programs that incorporate USC Shoah Foundation and the Visual History Archive.

Santerini initially had the idea to create the Giving Memory a Future resource because of her experiences teaching the Holocaust as well as the integration of the Roma. She thought the same methods of teaching the Jewish experience of the Holocaust that have resulted in greater awareness of discrimination and exclusion could also be applied to the Roma/Sinti, or “gypsy,” persecution during the Holocaust, which is much less known.

With the new Parliament resolution, a working group of experts will make Giving Memory a Future available to all teachers and create an annual contest for students about the Roma Genocide also using the resource.

In Italy, prejudice against the Roma and Sinti people is very strong, Santerini said. People are hostile toward them – even if they’ve never met one in their lives – because the Roma and Sinti have become a symbol of danger and what is “foreign” in Italy. This is partly because they have always been a nomadic people without a country, which inspires fear and distrust in many Italians. Because they are frequently excluded from Italian society, there is a lot of crime in their communities and they are the “lowest rung of the social ladder,” Santerini said.

Though there are laws to protect Roma and Sinti, it is still important to teach students how dangerous even casual discrimination can be.

“We have to let young people understand that prejudice can grow and we have to fight it from the beginning. We can’t accept that it’s normal,” Santerini said. “We’re not trying to say that all Roma are good, but they deserve respect.”

She said Italians have a responsibility to help Roma and Sinti and understand them because their current situation is largely the result of politicians turning them into scapegoats and blaming them for everything that’s wrong in Italy – not because of any wrong they have actually committed.

Giving Memory a Future is a very powerful way to teach students that the Roma/Sinti were persecuted in the Holocaust – something many are simply not aware of. Through testimony, students are also shown the devastating effects of the Holocaust on children, who were treated as if they were worth less than other people and denied basic rights like education.

“It’s very important to show that entire families, children and innocent people who did nothing wrong can be targeted and killed,” Santerini said. “Testimony makes history come alive, makes it real. Therefore history becomes current and we can understand where you can get to with hate.”

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