Sensitive and sensible" is how Joanne Squitieri describes her son Mark. The 15-year-old Bayonne High School sophomore reacted predictably, said his mother, when he talked about the content of "Mai Piu" ("Never Again" in Italian), a Holocaust video he worked on with Pasquale DiIorio, his freshman Italian teacher and an old family friend. "He cried," Squitieri said of her only child. "He said, ‘I can’t believe people could do this to other people and on such a large scale.’ The enormity of it overwhelmed him."
Inspired by an Italian pop song composed in the 1960s by Francesco Guccino, "Auschwitz: Song of the Child in the Wind," DiIorio intended for years to create an educational documentary on the Holocaust.
"Mai Piu," will be presented to Bayonne’s seventh-graders at the high school on Thursday, April 5, as part of the district’s Holocaust studies curriculum. A screening for the community is scheduled for Sunday, April 15, at Bayonne City Hall in commemoration of Yom HaShoah. There are also plans to air it on BEN-TV, Bayonne Educational Network, the public access cable channel ”, Mark was told.
The song is "very haunting, poetic, and meaningful. The words ‘in the wind’ refer to the ashes of a child and the millions of others that are part of the wind [after their extermination]," said his mother, who teaches sixth-grade social studies at P.S. 14 in Bayonne. The entire film is short, no more than 15 minutes, but "you’re watching it with a lump in your throat," she said.
"It’s really a wonderful project," said Mark. He’s hoping other school districts will have a chance to see it, and that "whoever sees it will learn to put aside their racial ethnic and religious differences and come together and live in peace so that a Holocaust will never happen again." Sounding a sensible note, he observed, "That’s why we entitled it "Never Again."
When Bayonne educational officials first viewed the video in the fall, they agreed it was powerful, but worried that some of the images were too graphic for a middle school audience, Joanne Squitieri recalled. For instance, photos of mass graves were edited out of the final cut.
As someone involved with the project from the beginning, Mark was deeply affected, she said, by what he read and saw as part of his research. "He found it very disturbing when he learned about the people in charge of dividing up the personal belongings of prisoners and giving the Nazis jewelry and gold from teeth. It’s one thing to learn about wars and battles, but this was different. The intensity of the hatred got to him and how women and children and [whole] families, people’s lives, their futures were gone." Nor did Mark realize, said Squitieri, that three out of four people deported to concentration camps went straight to crematoria, that anyone incapable of working didn’t make it past the gate to the barracks.
Last spring, DiIorio had his beginner Italian class watch the 1997 Oscar-winning Italian film "La Vita e Bella" ("Life is Beautiful"), the tragicomic story of an Italian Jewish family deported to Auschwitz. The character of the father, portrayed by Roberto Benigni, who also directed the film, dies while trying to shield his son from the horrors surrounding them by fabricating a world of light and laughter.
DiIorio then assigned the students to write original stories, asking them to imagine they had been Jewish children living in wartime Italy. DiIorio selected Mark’s account of the fictional Guidice family, which included a boy named Jacob, to serve as the storyline for the video. (Unlike the child in "Life is Beautiful," Jacob does not survive.)
For the video, Mark narrated the script in Italian, using DiIorio’s translation. Subtitled in English, the production features recorded music and a montage of period photo clips. The narrative is followed by renditions of the song, first in Italian and then in English, as the screen projects images of the actual Auschwitz, then and now.
Mark’s mother also helped with the project, editing the English subtitles, as did his father, Mark D. Squitieri, a middle school math teacher at Lincoln School in the city. He found the English lyrics to the song "Auschwitz" on the Internet, she said.