Authored by: Daniel T. Murphy
This book was originally submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts at Georgetown University (SSCE), and passed “with distinction” on April 7, 1993.
Italy’s response to the Holocaust was remarkable. While the majority of the Jewish population in most European countries perished, a relatively large percentage of Jews survived the Holocaust in Italy. The story of the Holocaust in Rome is particularly impressive. Over 80 percent of the Jewish population in Rome survived, despite the fact that the Italian Fascist government was allied with Nazi Germany, and that Rome was actually occupied by the German Army and SS (Schutzstaffel) from October 1943 through June 1944. No Roman Jews were killed before the German occupation.
There are four main reasons why Jews in Rome survived the Holocaust. The first and most important reason was that during the German occupation, victims and bystanders worked together to save lives. The cases of rescue and Jewish resistance were extraordinary. One survivor said, “all of Rome seemed to divide into two halves, those who went into hiding and those who were helping them.”1
Second, Rome did not feel the full effect of the Holocaust until the German occupation in October 1943. Before the Germans arrived, there had been no organized policy of deportation or extermination of Jews by the Italian Fascist government. There was definitely a measure of anti-Semitism in the Italian Fascist party, but it was not part of the Italian Fascist political ideology.
Third, during the German occupation, individual members of the Catholic Church, especially in Rome, provided critical spiritual leadership to Jews and non-Jews by participating in rescue operations, and encouraging Jews to resist persecution.
Finally, Jews in Rome were highly assimilated into Roman society. By the beginning of World War II, they had developed powerful and dependable social and political ties with the non-Jewish population. They were able to rely on non-Jewish neighbors, relatives, and friends for protection.
The first section of my paper is a short history of the Jewish community in Rome from the Early Roman Empire through the German occupation. Sections two and three focus on rescue, assistance, and Jewish resistance, and support my position that Jewish and non-Jewish Romans worked together to save lives. Section four is an analysis of the Italian Fascist government’s policy toward Jews. Section five focuses on spiritual leadership by the clergy. Section six focuses on Jewish assimilation into Roman society.
THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN ROME
The earliest documentary evidence relating to Jews in Rome is Valerius Maximus’ Factorum ac Dictorum Memorabilium stating that the Praetor Gnaeus Cornelius Hispanus expelled the Chaldaeans, astrologers, and some Jews from Rome in 139 B.C.2 In 63 B.C. Pompey conquered Jerusalem and brought an unknown number of Jewish prisoners of war to Rome. Trastevere was the chief Jewish quarter:
Here were the miserable quarters of the poor, unassimilated, immigrant population, wretchedly housed in vast tenement blocks, perhaps hundreds to a building, as in the poorer quarters of Rome or Naples in our day, subject to the perils of fire, building collapse, and the not infrequent floods of the Tiber…on the whole, it seems that the Transtiberine Jews were a humble fold, occupying a low place on the economic ladder.3
Julius Caesar received a great deal of support from the Jewish communities in Palestine and Egypt during the Civil War (49 B.C.). In turn, he granted the Jewish community in Rome full freedom of worship, allowed them to raise communal funds and pay the Temple tax to Jerusalem. He exempted them from compulsory military service because their religion forbade them to bear arms on the Sabbath or violate the Jewish dietary laws. According to Suetonius, many Jews came to weep at Caesar’s funeral pyre.4
Throughout the later Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, the Roman Jews went through alternate periods of persecution and tolerance. The early Christian rulers and Popes issued laws and edicts, which took away almost all of their civil and political rights.
Things improved somewhat during the Renaissance. Waagenaar said “On the whole, these appear to be happy centuries for the Pope’s Jews. Despite the occasional beating, hanging, or burning, the Jews of Rome lived and worked in relative contentment.”5 Martin V (1417-1431) wrote:
The Jews in their blindness remain stubbornly opposed to the words of the Holy Writ which would make them accept the Christian belief. Yet we do not want to keep our Christian love from them, so they may understand their mistake and come to recognize the true Light of Love, who is Christ. The Jews are created like other men in the image of God, and in order to protect their future, they must not be molested in their synagogues, nor hindered in their commercial relations with Christians.6
From the late sixteenth through the nineteenth century, however, they did not fare as well. They were forced to live in a ghetto, attend Catholic sermons, and participate in humiliating footraces during the carnivals. The Church occasionally burned the Talmud and forced them to convert to Christianity. Throughout the nineteenth century, the ghetto was disestablished and reestablished repeatedly. The Jews were sometimes given equal rights, sometimes limited, civil rights, and other times, no rights. They were repeatedly disenfranchised, re-enfranchised, permitted to work, and forbidden to work.
The Jewish Community After Emancipation
When Italy was united in 1870, the ghetto was permanently abolished and Jews were given full citizenship. At the first meeting of the Italian parliament, Massimo d’Azeglio said, “We have made Italy. Now we have to make Italians.”7 In 1930, Jewish communities in Italy were organized into the Unione delle Communita Israelitiche Italiane (Union of Italian Jewish Communities), with its headquarters in Rome. Compulsory contributions were levied on every Italian Jew for the maintenance of the community and its subsidiary institutions, and for all educational, religious, and welfare needs. The communities were public corporations authorized to possess real estate, cash, and securities, and to receive gifts and legacies. The councils of the Jewish communities acted under the control of the prefetto (Chief Executive) of each Italian province.8
Jewish families in Rome said they were “grateful to the new Italy (liberal or Fascist) for allowing them to work, live and worship as they pleased.”9 The Roman Jews were “enlightened, educated, and assimilated. They were good and patriotic citizens. Why would anyone want to bother them?”10
In 1922, Mussolini and his followers, including 230 Fascist Jews started their March on Rome. Anti-Jewish press polemics written by Mussolini and other Fascist party members, appeared in the 1920s and increased after Italy’s occupation of Ethiopia caused international indignation and economic sanctions which some Fascists attributed to international Jewry. Mussolini’s Jewish policy slowly evolved from non-discrimination to racial anti-Semitism. Waagenaar said “Insignificant weeds, nurtured by imported Nazi manure, were seeking to uproot the solid trees of religious compatibility among the Italian people.”11
In 1938, Mussolini published the Manifesto degli <<scienziati>> razzisti (Manifest of the Racial Scientists), which declared that Italy was an Aryan state, and that Jews did not belong to the Italian race. Twenty-nine Racial Laws were published under the title Provvedimenti per la difesa della razza italiana (Legislative Measures for the Defense of the Italian Race). Italians descended from one or two Jewish parents were no longer allowed to serve in the armed forces, teach non-Jews, or own large factories or factories supporting the defense industry. Jews were not allowed to have non-Jewish servants, and they were prohibited from civil service, banking, and insurance companies. Mixed marriages were forbidden.
On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on Britain and France. Later in the year they concluded the Pact of Steel with Germany and Japan. On October 28, 1940, Italian forces attacked Greece, but were forced by the British Army to retreat. Between January and April 1941, the Italian forces under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani lost Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopa, and 250,000 prisoners to the British forces.
On December 11, 1941, Italy declared war on the United States. Mussolini sent 200,000 Italian troops to assist the German Army on the Russian front. Over 115,000 Italians died and 60,000 were captured. As Mussolini’s credibility declined, individual members of the Italian government, especially in the Foreign ministry, worked hard to protect Jews of Italian nationality from persecution, both in Italy, and in Axis-occupied territories like France, Tunisia, Salonika, and the Balkans. The Racial Laws remained in effect.
Allied bombing, food shortages, rationing, strikes, and especially the June 1943 Allied landings in Sicily made the war increasingly unpopular in Italy. Italian diplomats and military personnel became outraged after witnessing the deportations of Jews from France, Belgium, and Greece, and the Nazi atrocities in Croatia. Under German protest, senior Foreign Ministry and General Staff officials ordered the Italian Army to protect Jews in the Italian-occupied areas of Dalmatia, France, Croatia, and Greece. Thousands of Jewish refugees throughout Europe found refuge in Italy, thanks to the Italian military.
On July 25, 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III took the advice of Italian businessmen, military leaders, and members of the Fascist party, arrested Mussolini, and placed Marshal Pietro Badoglio in charge of the government. Badoglio dissolved the Fascist party. He left the Racial Laws in place to avoid an open clash with the Germans, but met with Jewish leaders to promise that the laws would not be enforced.12
The Events of the Holocaust in Rome
On September 8, 1943, Badoglio signed an armistice with the Allies who had crossed into Italy. But the Allies were still far away from Rome. The following morning, the German Army advanced on the city. On September 10, Rome was occupied by the Nazis, and declared an “open city” under German martial law. Romans were forbidden to ride bicycles; to walk on certain streets and sidewalks; to stock up on food; to telegraph or telephone outside Rome; to enter or leave the city; to walk fast; wear dark glasses; or to listen to the Allied radio broadcasts from Bari and Palermo.13 The Nazis rescued Mussolini and placed him in charge of a new Fascist government which was based in Salò on Lake Garda. The Allies retained Southern Italy for Badoglio and the King. Mussolini’s new government was, in effect, ruled by the German military governor, Gruppenführer Otto Wächter, Rudolf Rahn of the Foreign Office, and Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, general of the Waffen-SS.
Jews throughout Northern Italy were aggressively hunted down, deported, and murdered by the Gestapo, the SS, members of the Fascist Black Brigades, and Italian SS volunteers. In September 1943, the SS conducted roundups and massacres near Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy. Additional roundups occurred in Merano and Trieste in October.
On September 26, 1943, Obersturmbannfürer Herbert Kappler, the head of the Security Police Command in Rome demanded fifty kilograms of gold from the Jewish community. When the Jews paid the fifty kilograms, the Nazis suspended all anti-Jewish measures in order to reduce suspicion that they were planning to conduct a roundup.
Early in the morning of Saturday, October 16, 365 German police (Ordnungspolizei and Sicherheitspolizei) under the command of Theodor Dannecker surrounded the ghetto, began breaking into homes and rounding up Jews for deportation.14 The Nazis carried Communita lists of Jewish residences and gave out notices which read:
You are being transferred. Take along food for eight days, blankets, money, and jewelry. Close the apartment and bring the key. The sick cannot stay behind-there is a hospital in the camp. You have twenty minutes to get ready.15
Some of the victims were ordered directly onto trucks and trains, while others were first taken to a holding area at the Theater of Marcellus and then to the Italian Military College.
From a doorway in Via del Tempio several women with children are pushed brusquely toward the street. The children are crying. Everywhere you hear the heartbreaking cries and pleas of the victims while the thugs – some violent, some indifferent – perform their duty without any sign of human pity. One group of people, mostly women and children, are piled into a truck. Those being taken away yell what seem to me instructions to those remaining behind. It all seemed like a scene out of Purgatory…. I cannot understand what possible danger these innocent creatures could represent to Germany.16
An American woman who wrote under the name Jane Scrivener witnessed the German occupation and the October 16 roundup:
It was a nameless horror. People you know and esteem, brave, kind, upright people, just because they have Jewish blood, treated like this. Some of them are heroic. They came for the father of a family we know. He was out. The Germans said in that case they would take his wife. Whereupon the daughter said: `Where my mother goes, I go too’ and although they did not want her particularly, she was taken as well.17
Dannecker’s police shifted to other cities in the north, including Milan and Florence. Five months later, Kappler’s troops murdered 335 Roman civilians (including seventy-one Jews) in the Ardeatine Caves outside the city in reprisal for a partisan bomb-attack in Via Rasella, near Piazza Barberini, in which 33 German soldiers were killed.18
The whole of Italian Jewry clearly suffered a serious setback. According to Michaelis, thousands abandoned the community, around 6,000 fled and did not return. Many Jews who remained in Italy after the War were physically and spiritually broken. The habit of Jewish life was interrupted, and in many places its setting disappeared.19
There is a brighter side to the story of the Holocaust in Rome though. The Nazis arrested only 1,259 Jews in the October 16 raid. In the following months, they were able to arrest only a few hundred more, even after offering cash rewards. The total number of Roman Jews exterminated was approximately 1,970.20 Over eighty percent of the Roman Jews survived the Holocaust. None were killed before the German occupation. The total number of Italian Jews known to have been killed during the Holocaust is 7,922 out of approximately 40,000. Again, over eighty percent survived.
In contrast, it is estimated that only 300,000 of 3.3 million Polish Jews survived (10 percent); 25,000 of 253,000 in the Baltics (10 percent); 30,000 of 240,000 in Germany and Austria (10 percent); 15,000 of 90,000 in Slovakia (17 percent); 200,000 of 650,000 in Hungary (30 percent); 17,000 of 43,000 in Yugoslavia (40 percent); and 260,000 of 350,000 in France (84 percent).21
The cases of rescue and resistance throughout Italy, and especially during the Nazi occupation of Rome, were extraordinary.
RESCUE AND ASSISTANCE
The Holocaust is to a considerable extent a study in the potentialities of human evil and inhumanity. However, within all the horror, there were still sparks of good and hope. These should be recognized, studied, and communicated to our children. Italy was one of those sparks, which illuminated human good, compassion, and tolerance.22
The most important reason why Jews in Rome survived the Holocaust was because Jews and non-Jews worked together to save lives. Non-Jewish Romans risked their lives to protect Jewish relatives, neighbors, and friends. The documented cases of rescue and assistance prove Hallie’s argument that “Rescue is not always accompanied by blazing guns and blaring bugles. Sometimes the quiet kind can be just as effective – and just as dangerous.”23
When the Gestapo command in Rome reported the October 16 roundup to Berlin, they said they did not use the Italian police during the roundup because they were “unreliable.” The Gestapo described the behavior of the Roman people as “passive resistance, and in some cases, active resistance.” They saw Catholics helping Jews escape and hide. They said the anti-Semitic part of the population was nowhere to be seen during the action, and that some bystanders even tried to stand in the way of the police.24 At the trial of Adolf Eichman, the Israeli prosecutor said “Amongst the Italian people there began a contest of generosity and brotherly love that the Jews of the whole world will never forget.”25 Alexander Stille told the story of the DiVeroli family in his book, Benevolence and Betrayal. Rosa DiVeroli and her family escaped the roundup by hiding in a church:
Since my father used to go around collecting things from all the churches, he knew the priest there, Don Gregorini. He said to us, “Come in, come in, we know everything.” We began telephoning all our friends and relatives, but no one was left at home.26
The DiVerolis later stayed with Catholic relatives in Trastevere. Many people in the neighborhood knew the DiVerolis were Jews, and some brought them food and supplies. According to Michele DiVeroli, family members were scattered all over. His parents were with friends in Ciampino. His youngest brother, Enrico (who was ten at the time), was with a Catholic baby-sitter. Others brothers and sisters were with Catholic families, or in churches or convents.27 Many Jews were able to hide in neighbors’ apartments during the critical hours on October 16. Emanuele Sbaffi, a Methodist minister, hid two Jewish neighbors in his apartment, and told the SS that they had left town.28
There were even some extraordinary cases where Jews were rescued after the Nazis had already loaded them onto trucks. Marco Miele, an eighteen month old Jewish baby was loaded onto a waiting truck by the Nazis. He was saved by a Catholic woman who told the Nazis that the baby was hers, and was Catholic.29 Arminio Wachsberger’s family, including his two-year-old nephew was herded into a truck in Trastevere. Wachsberger handed his nephew over to a Catholic janitor’s wife while the SS police were not looking.30
During the months following the October 16 roundup, many Jews found more permanent refuge with Catholic friends and family members. When Antonio Lando and his mother Ines lost their home in Subiaco to a bomb, Gildo Pietrantozzi’s parents Leonardo and Maria hid them in their house on Via Famagosta, near the Vatican. Antonio was a Professor of Mathematics, and helped Gildo with his algebra homework. Leonardo’s friends, including a police officer, often came to the house to visit, and they all played cards. Gildo was told not to tell anybody about Antonio and Ines.31
Carlo Milano, like many Roman Jews, stayed in Rome during the German occupation because big cities were relatively safe from police searches. In addition, fugitives needed contacts to secure documents, money, and living quarters. A friendly policeman gave Carlo a false identification card, a residence permit, and a ration book. At the same time, Carlo ran a constant risk of being recognized and betrayed. The owner of the boarding house where he stayed with his wife and his two daughters knew he was Jewish, and could have turned him in at any time. His bankers knew he was Jewish, yet they cashed his military pension checks anyway. Because he was a prominent Jewish Community leader, he must have met people who knew him almost every day.32
Non-Jewish Romans clearly worked hard to protect their Jewish neighbors, relatives, and friends. Before he was sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz, Enrico DiVeroli smuggled a letter to his family in Rome from the detention camp in Fossoli. One of his primary concerns was that his family thank and repay the Catholic families who had helped them. Of one friend, Gasparini, he said “Be sure never to forget as long as you should live the great and good action of this man.”33
Olga DiVeroli said “there’s no way around it: the people of Rome opened their hearts to us. Some did so out of self-interest, but a lot of them did it out of pure generosity.”34 Of Italian rescue as a whole, Paul Bookbinder explained that Jewish-Italian survivors had a more positive feeling about their countrymen than did most European Jews, and those who wanted to go home again when the Germans left, knew they would receive a joyous welcome.35
Barzini said the Italian people’s dislike of legal persecution and their kind hearts make them indiscriminately help all victims of the authorities. They feel irresistibly drawn to bandits, fugitives from justice, escaped convicts, and political refugees.36
The Nazis expected their allies and puppet states to support their policies and turn over all Jews under their control. Bettleheim argued that in countries like Rumania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Croatia, where Jews were turned over to the Germans, the psychology of resistance was affected. Jews gave up their struggle to escape or resist because they believed that their fellow countrymen were either hostile to them or indifferent to their fate. In Eastern Europe, most partisan groups would not take Jews, and some would turn them over to the Nazis or shoot them. In Italy, and especially in Rome, Jews did not develop the same attitude of fatalistic resignation.37 Instead, offers of rescue and assistance gave Jews in Rome the will to resist.
I didn’t want to die like a mouse in a trap. If you have to die, better to die with rifle in hand. That’s the way I am.38
Some scholars asked why the Nazis were able to round up even a small number of Jews in Rome. Why were so many Jews caught asleep in their own apartments in the sixth week of German occupation of Rome?
According to Stille, memories of past persecutions and humiliations were so vivid among the poorer Roman Jews that the Fascist racial campaign may have seemed simply the latest in an endless series of storms to be weathered, rather than a radical departure from history.39 Zuccotti said many of the Jews in Rome thought the reports about the concentration camps from Radio London were Allied propaganda. They dismissed the massacres at Lake Maggiore and the arrests of Jewish refugees escaping into Italy from France as actions against foreign, not Italian Jews. They hoped the stories of German atrocities would turn out to be untrue, as they often had in World War One. They thought Mussolini and the Pope would protect them. The Pope, although he was not their staunch defender, had provided jobs for Jews in the Vatican, had helped them emigrate, and had allowed them to study at the Potificium Institutum Utriusque Iuris. The Germans were courteous at first. They shopped in the ghetto and gave no indication that a roundup was planned.40
Gianni DiVeroli remembered listening to Colonel Stevenson and Fiorello LaGuardia on Radio London telling the Jews not to trust the Germans, and warning them what the Germans had done in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Many Romans thought the Americans would arrive at any moment. They thought that “in Rome, the city where they had lived uninterrupted for two thousand years, the Jews would be safe and protected…We didn’t think they would persecute us to the point of eliminating us physically.”41 Elvira Sonnino said, “Nobody would believe the Germans would come and take us.”42 Ugo Foa wrote:
The Roman Jews felt the approach of terrible events, and yet because their own consciences were clear, supported by that high sense of civilization that comes from having grown up in our beautiful Italy, mother of morality and law that from eternal Rome has illuminated the whole world, they refused to believe that the thugs of Hitler would dare repeat the incredible barbarities they had committed in Poland, Germany, Holland and Belgium. Vain illusion!43
Nevertheless, most of the Roman Jews resisted the Nazi occupation of Rome by escaping, hiding, conducting clandestine religious services, joining the partisans, and most importantly, surviving. Like Gregorovius said, “it appears that nature itself has provided the most wretched of all human groups with the most vigorous impulse to survive.”44 Olga DiVeroli described life during the days of the German occupation as “an unbroken string of adventures, escapes and disasters.”45 Elvira Sonnino said “It was a daily routine, running and running. You always had to look behind you.”46
Two of Emanuale Sbaffi’s Jewish neighbors jumped from their back window while SS police guarded the front of their building.47 Piero Modigliani and his family were warned by telephone. His mother and brother, who lived in another apartment, pretended that there was nobody home when the Nazis knocked. The doorman helped convince the Nazis that they had left town. Unable to leave the building, they hid in a classroom, pretending they were students.48
Our building had two exits. So instead of going out into Via del Portico d’Ottavia, we went out the back near the Church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria. Some good person told us, “Escape this way because there’s no one there.” And so we left the neighborhood and went toward San Paolo to the church in Via Filipine.49
Elvira Sonnino and her family were alerted to the October 16 roundup by Catholic neighbors. They left their apartment building and hid in the forum for two days until a friend found them another apartment. According to Elvira, their biggest problem was money. They were forced to move back into their own apartment because they could not afford to pay the rent for a hide out. They sold all their furniture so they could eat. Elvira’s father continued to work, was turned in by the Fascists, and died in a concentration camp. Elvira sold soap in Campo dei Fiori and her mother sold sewing needles and thimbles.50
The chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli grew up in Eastern Europe, and had talked with hundreds of Jewish refugees from Northern Europe in Trieste before he came to Rome in 1940. According to Zolli, he tried to convince Ugo Foa, president of the Jewish community in Rome, and Dante Almansi, President of the Union of Italian Jewish communities, that the Nazis were a significant threat to the community. He recommended the total suppression of public Jewish functions, the closing of administrative offices, the elimination of donor lists, the dispersion of all members of the Jewish community, the distribution of financial aid, and the reduction of the community treasury.51 Zolli and his family survived the Holocaust by hiding with Catholic families, including the family of Amadeo Pierantoni, who stored arms and explosives for the partisans and prepared flyers urging Italian Fascists and German military personnel to desert.52 Another Roman Rabbi David Panzieri walked openly through the streets of Rome during the Nazi occupation, and conducted clandestine religious services at the Temple on the Tiber Island.53
One ghetto resident recalled the work details to which the ghetto inhabitants were assigned. She said “they made all these Jews – many of whom were doctors, lawyers and engineers – dig sand in order to degrade them, but I think it had the opposite effect…A lot of people made comments that Fascism should be ashamed of itself.” She said the Jews did their labor with great pride and dignity in order to show that they had great strength of spirit.54
It is estimated that over one thousand Jews in Italy participated in paramilitary resistance movements in Northern and Central Italy, including Rome. Jews took part in the most dangerous missions, including acting as liaisons between the Italian underground movement, the French maquis, and the Allied Armies. They organized underground presses and radio stations, helped Allied prisoners of war escape from prison camps, rescued other Jews, and carried out acts of sabotage against the Nazis.
A street in Rome is named after Leone Ginsberg, a Jewish literary critic who was a member of the anti-Fascist partisan movement. Ginsberg was arrested for illegal printing, was held in the Regina Coeli prison, and was tortured to death, without revealing any information about the partisan movement.55
The DiVeroli brothers joined a partisan group in the hills of Lazio led by Giorgio Costanzo. Their job was to recover parachutes dropped by Allied aircraft and to give aid to American and British paratroopers. Michele posed as a Neapolitan student, changed his last name to Capuano, and got false documents through friends in the government. He said “Every day a new episode. We were always on the move, trying to avoid a roundup.”56
Paolo Alatri joined the resistance after his family was forced to desert their house in Rome. During the German occupation, he lived with his Catholic in-laws on Via Lombardia, near Nazi headquarters on the Via Veneto. He wrote and distributed a daily bulletin about underground activities, upcoming roundups, possible spies and their tactics, where black-market food could be bought, and news he received on his shortwave radio.57
Some Jews in Rome participated in the anti-Fascist resistance even before the German occupation. Bruno D’Ariccio first met some of the anti-Fascist writers when he worked in his father’s stationary store in the 1930’s. During the Spanish Civil War he collected funds for the anti-Fascist International Brigade and became friendly with an underground group. During 1943, he made contact with Allied agents in Rome and stole weapons from the German soldiers who occupied the Carabinieri headquarters. After the October 16 roundup, he and his brother joined a Resistance group which was based at the Hospital of Santo Spirito, and headed by General Montezemolo. He disguised himself, assumed the identity of Antonio Corsetti, a Fascist army lieutenant, infiltrated the SS and relayed valuable information to the Allies.58
Along with the thousands of Roman rescuers and Jewish resistors, there were also some Jewish collaborators. Celeste DiPorto became one of the city’s most well known informants. She turned in about fifty ghetto Jews to the Germans. She would stand on the bridge leading to Trastevere and point out Jews as they walked across. She earned the nickname “La Pantera Nera” (the Black Panther), and was believed to have turned in 26 of the 27 Jews who were killed in the Ardeatine Caves. Her father was so ashamed that he turned himself into the Germans and died in a concentration camp.59
The Jewish collaborators were few however, and most of the Roman Jews did not trust the Germans. Giacomo DiVeroli said “how can you believe in the good faith of a German officer? When the Nazis came to power, they said that treaties were meant to be torn up, that they weren’t worth using as toilet paper! Nazi brutality was known all over the world…Let’s get out of here and good night!”
Most of the Jews in Rome resisted. They either hid or escaped. Gianni DiVeroli said all of Rome “seemed to divide into two halves, those who went into hiding and those who were helping them.”60
One important reason why so many Jews survived the Holocaust is that Rome did not feel the full effect of the Holocaust until the German occupation of October 1943. It lasted only eight months, until the German retreat in June 1944. Before the German occupation, there was no organized or sustained government policy of deportation, or extermination by the Italian Fascist government. No Roman Jews were deported or murdered until the Germans occupied Rome in 1943. Mussolini’s anti-Jewish policies were, more than anything, opportunistic demonstrations of political solidarity with Nazi Germany. Racial anti-Semitism was not part of the Italian Fascist political ideology or strategy. When the Germans did occupy Rome, they were forced to begin the concentration, deportation, and extermination process independently, with the assistance of very few Italians.
Early Italian Fascist Policy Toward Jews
There were five Jews among the sansepolcristi founders of Fascism. There were three Jews among the Fascist martyrs, and 230 who participated in the March on Rome in 1922. The party did not distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish Fascists. Friction between Fascists and Jews began, mainly because of Fascist suspicions of Zionism and Jewish internationalism. In 1920 Mussolini wrote:
Italian Christians will perhaps be a little surprised and disturbed to learn that there is another people in Italy which declares itself completely apart not only from our religious faith but also from our nation, from our people, from our history and our ideals. A guest people, that is, which stays among us like oil amid water, together but not really mixed together…Now we ask the Italian Jews: Are you a religion or a nation? This question does not have the aim of creating an anti-Jewish movement but rather that of taking out of a shadowy zone a problem which exists and which it is perfectly useless to ignore any longer.61
Aside from sporadic accusations of Jewish internationalism and Zionism, the Fascist government did not encourage violence against Jews, nor did they enact anti-Jewish legislation until 1938. Andrew Canepa pointed out “the nearly total absence in modern Italy of mass violence directed against Jews.”62 In 1935 Mussolini wrote to Jewish students in the United States:
Fascism does not desire that Jewry should renounce its religious traditions, its ritual usages, its national memories, or its racial peculiarities. Fascism desires only that the Jews should recognize the national ideals of Italy, accepting the discipline of national unity-Whatever the foes of Fascism may say, we are tolerant to all.63
Paul Bookbinder compared the Italian Fascists with the Nazis, the Rumanian Iron Guard, and the Hungarian Arrow Cross. He said there was a relative lack of fanaticism on the part of Italian Fascists. German, Rumanian, Hungarian, Croatian, and even French Fascists were unified in their perception of the Jew as a Bolshevik and an enemy. The Italian Fascists did not equate Jewry and Bolshevism. There was definitely an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in popular Italian literature, but it did not reflect the views of a majority of the Italian people or political thinkers; not even the Fascists.64
When the Lateran Treaty was signed in 1929 between Pius XI (1922-1939) and the Italian government, making Catholicism the state religion, Mussolini reconfirmed the total freedom of religion for all Italians, including Jews. He appointed a Jewish Minister of Finance in 1932 (Guido Jung), and opened up Italian universities to Rumanian and other foreign Jews. Mussolini said “there are no more pure races – not even the Jews have remained unmixed,” and “anti-Semitism does not exist in Italy.” Hitler said “Mussolini does not understand anything about the Jewish problem.”65
Mussolini’s approach to the racial issue was the opposite of Hitler’s. He said all persons born in Italy, including Jews, were Italians. He encouraged intermarriage (except for his daughter Edda) and “assimilation not expulsion.66 “During 1933 and 1934, he tried to mediate between Hitler and the Jews. However, by the end of 1934, he concluded that Hitler was “an imbecile and a fanatical good-for-nothing. To listen to him was sheer torture, and instead of discussing pressing problems, he never stopped talking about that totally unreadable book of his, Mein Kampf! That man just doesn’t understand anything.”67
The Evolution of Anti-Semitism in Government Policy
Two events marked a turning point for Mussolini’s Jewish policy. First, in March 1934, Sion Segre-Amar, a 20-year-old Turinese Jew, was arrested at the Italian-Swiss border for smuggling anti-Fascist propaganda leaflets. Second, the war against Ethiopia in 1935 caused international indignation which pro-German Fascists argued was encouraged by international Jewry. Pro-German Fascist party members blew the events out of proportion, and alleged a Jewish conspiracy. Mussolini broke his ties with Italian Jewry. From 1936 until the beginning of the War, he allowed the Fascist press to publish an unprecedented amount of anti-Jewish literature and polemics.68
Paolo Orano, President of the University of Perugia, in his book Gli Ebrei in Italia, wrote “the Jews have no religion, because they lack the means to communicate with God…who refuses them because they refused Him.” Telesio Interlandi, editor of Il Tevere wrote that he wanted “the indespensable and definitive separation of the Jewish element from our lives,” that “the Jews do not belong to the Italian race,” and “their intrusion into the pure Italian race is inadmissible and unbearable.” Piero Pellicano’s book Ecco il Diavolo said the Jews had no military spirit and that they had caused the downfall of Italy. The newspaper Popolo d’Italia declared itself “strictly the enemy of whatever international Jewish or non-Jewish organization that is masonic, subversive and, above all, anti-Fascist.” Another newspaper, Gazzetta del Popolo said that in view of “the menacing attitude of international Judaism, vigilance is needed.”69 Still, most foreign observers, including Sir William Kidston McClure agreed that the propaganda campaign should be attributed to Mussolini’s desire to strengthen his relationship with Berlin. In 1937, McClure wrote that Italy was still “a long way from being anti-Semitic,” and that a minority of Fascists were politically, but not racially anti-Semitic.70
In 1937, Count Galeazzo Ciano wrote:
The Jews are flooding me with insulting anonymous letters, accusing me of having promised Hitler to persecute them. It is not true. The Germans have never mentioned this subject to us. Nor do I believe that we ought to unleash an anti-Semitic campaign in Italy. The problem doesn’t exist here. There are not many Jews and, with some exceptions, there is no harm in them.7
Mussolini continued his policy of discrimination against Jews. When Ciano recommended Mussolini not create a Jewish problem in Italy, Mussolini replied that “he would pour water on the flames, but not enough to suppress the thing altogether.”72 In July, 1938, he published the Manifesto degli <<scienziati>> razzisti. The Manifesto declared that Italy was an Aryan state, and that Jews did not belong to the Italian race. Later in July, Mussolini wrote “to discriminate is not to persecute,” and strongly denied that the Italian government was starting an anti-Semitic policy.73 In October 1938, twenty-nine Racial Laws were published under the title Provvedimenti per la difesa della razza italiana. Italians descended from one or two Jewish parents were no longer allowed to serve in the armed forces, teach non-Jews, or own large factories or factories supporting the defense industry. Jews were not allowed to have non-Jewish servants. They were prohibited from civil service, banking, and insurance companies. Mixed marriages were forbidden. Non-Italian Jews who sought refuge in Italy were sent to concentration camps in Southern Italy. Finally, foreign Jews were ordered to leave Italy and Italian occupied territory by March 12, 1939. In an October speech to party members, Mussolini said “if really difficult hours will come, then this time we’ll not hesitate to eliminate them forever.”74
In Rome, small bands of Fascists occasionally entered the ghetto looking for trouble. According to one resident they came along the Via del Portico d’Ottavia and Via Arenula, punching people, and drawing blood. “They’d denounce some baker for selling an extra un-rationed piece of bread, and maybe smash up his store. They would come into the ghetto, enter a store and take some piece of merchandise without paying for it.75 “Another ghetto resident said “Leaving the ghetto was always an adventure – you never knew if you were going to come back safe and sound.”76
Three days after the Racial Laws were published the Italian Academy celebrated its tenth anniversary at the Capitol with the King. Roberto Paribeni quoted Tacitus: “the Jews declare profane what others hold sacred, and lawful what others consider wicked.” On December 15, the newspaper Corriere della Sera said “one should feel far removed – frankly, on account of its odor – from all that is Jewish in culture.” The Popolo di Roma said Charlie Chaplin was the “foulest, most disgusting, most inhuman and obnoxious” actor.77 When Roman publisher Angelo Fortunato Formiggini, a friend and supporter of Mussolini, went to Modena and threw himself from a tower, Achille Starace, the former secretary of the Fascist Party said Formaggini committed suicide just the way one may expect it from a Jew. “To save the money of a bullet he threw himself from a tower.”78
The Death Knell of Italian Fascism
Most scholars agree that Mussolini adopted a racial anti-Semitic policy in 1938 for political reasons. He was trying to satisfy pro-German extremists in the Fascist party and respond to the indignation of international Jewish organizations over his war in Africa. He was also trying to strengthen the Rome-Berlin axis and to give the Italian defeatists “a punch in the stomach.”79
In effect, the anti-Semitic legislation and the propaganda campaign accomplished little. The Racial Laws have been called the “death knell” of the Italian Fascist government.80 They affected mostly middle-class professional Jews. Less than 2,000 Roman Jews converted to Catholicism, and a few emigrated. Most shopkeepers, clerks, and peddlers of the ghetto were either not affected by the laws, or were already impoverished enough so that they had little to lose. Many Jews were quickly reemployed in the private sector, and many Jewish owned factories were renamed and retained by Jews.81 The order for all foreign Jews to leave Italy and Italian occupied territories by March, 1939 was never enforced.
Some foreign Jews were sent to concentration camps in Southern Italy which were actually loosely supervised, self-governing settlements with schools and medical facilities. One Jewish Polish national, studying medicine in Italy, said he was sent to a “concentration camp Italian style” from which he was allowed to leave to complete his internship in Trieste.82 Capogreco said of the Italian concentration camps “Except for the name, they had nothing in common with the terrible German death camps.” The camp at Ferramonti-Tarsia was certainly uncomfortable. It was built in an endemic malarial zone, the inhabitants were subject to daily roll calls, and they were not allowed to engage in politics, read foreign publications, or possess cameras. However, they were not forced to work, and those who had no income were given a government subsidy. Although there was a scarcity of food, it was not much worse than the situations in the Calabrian towns outside the camp. There was a school and a kindergarten, which was staffed by teachers and intellectuals. There were three synagogues. Internees attended concerts, studied languages, constructed handicraft items, and conducted business activities with the peasant communities outside the camp. According to the Papal nuncio to the Italian government, Monsignor Borongini-Duca:
Here in this sad, deserted marsh, on day rows of white barracks sprang up. Under the lovely sun of Calabria, something unusual happened. The war made a little town come into being.83
Mussolini, in the end, went along with senior Foreign Ministry and General Staff officials who ordered the Italian Army to protect Jews in the Italian-occupied areas of Dalmatia, France, Croatia, and Greece.84 The SS General Roethke complained “Italian military authorities and police protect the Jews in every way they can. The Italian zone of influence, especially on the Côte d’Azure, has become the Promised Land for Jews residing in France. In the last few months there has been a mass exodus of Jews from our zone to the Italian zone…facilitated by the terrain, help of the French and by false identity cards.”85
That was the extent of the Italian Fascist government’s “discrimination” against the Roman Jews. There was no organized policy of deportation, concentration, or extermination by the Italian Fascist government. Even Hilberg agreed that Italy would never have arrived “under their own power at the critical point at which deportations would become a feasible proposition.”86 Some scholars have argued that Mussolini never became an anti-Semite. Schafler described what anti-Semitism is not:
Conflict between peoples concerning territory or power is not anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is the extra dimension of irrational hatred that remains even when the particular irritant is resolved. Anti-semitism goes beyond conflict into fantasy. The Jew is not simply wrong; he is not a normal foe or enemy to be defeated. The Jew is the embodiment of evil, the demonic anti-Christ, the eternal other.87
Piccotto Fargion agreed that for the majority of Italian Fascists, “anti-Semitism, not finding its roots in the deepest political and social history of the country, was a strategic choice adopted after 1936 by Fascist leaders to eliminate causes of friction with Germany.”88
Another reason why so many Jews survived the Holocaust was spiritual leadership. Pius XII has been criticized for not taking a more positive role in protecting the European Jews. However, individual members of the Catholic Church, especially during the German occupation of Rome, deserve great credit for the spiritual leadership they provided. “Humble priests (and nuns), accustomed to spreading words of charity, felt obligated to practice their preaching by saving poor persecuted human beings.”89 They participated in and encouraged the rescue and protection of thousands of Jews. Most important, they empowered Jews to resist Nazi persecution. Similarly, Hallie identified spiritual leadership as one of the two primary reasons why the French village of Le Chambon was transformed into “a kind of rescue machine driven by the desire to imitate Jesus’ love for all mankind.”90
What Vatican Diplomacy Didn’t Do
The Vatican clearly did not work hard enough to try to save European Jews. According to Morley, any attempt to judge the effectiveness of Vatican diplomacy during the Holocaust, must include looking at three distinct levels of diplomacy; the Nuncios, the Secretary of State, and the Pope.
The Nuncios served as foreign diplomats or liaisons between foreign governments and the Holy See. The Vatican consistently claimed that the Nuncios had an obligation to practice an ideal form of diplomacy, “not dedicated solely to the interests of the Vatican which they represented, but devoted to the needs of all the people in their host country . . . Moral, social, and cultural concerns were to be a part of their task as diplomats.”
The Nuncios clearly did not use the full weight of their diplomatic positions as representatives of the great moral and religious power that the Vatican claimed to be. Their condemnations were sporadic and reluctant. Whatever failings they had do not seem to have been those of malevolent men, but rather those of well-intentioned men unable to cope with circumstances beyond their ordinary experience and requiring a commitment to specifically human, rather than institutional, values.91
There is no evidence that the Nuncio in Rome condemned or reacted in any significant way to the October 16 roundup. Ironically, Bishop Hudal, rector of the German church in Rome, following the October 16 roundup, sent a last minute appeal to the General Stahel:
I have just been informed by a high Vatican office in the immediate circle of the Holy Father that the arrests of Jews of Italian nationality have begun this morning. In the interest of the good relations which have existed until now between the Vatican and the high German military command – which in the first instance is to be credited to the political insight and greatness of heart of Your Excellency and which will some day go down in the history of Rome – I would be very grateful if you would give an order to stop these arrests in Rome and its vicinity right away; I fear that otherwise the Pope will have to make an open stand, which will serve the anti-German propaganda as a weapon against us.92
The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione directed and supported the Nuncios in their defense of the rights of the Church and baptized Jews. Like the Nuncios, however, he refrained from speaking out against the persecution of Jews in any of the European countries. Despite overwhelming evidence that Maglione knew about the exterminations in the Ukraine and Poland, as late as 1942, he specifically stated that the reports of German atrocities could not be verified. He did meet with the German ambassador to Rome to protest the October 16 roundup. In the end, he chose to maintain diplomatic presence and relations with the Axis rather than react to the final solution with the full power of the Vatican.93
“That the Pope did not chose any alternative other than diplomacy is a historical fact.” Pope Pius XII, the former Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, had served as the Vatican Secretary of State under Pius XI, and as Nuncio in Berlin before that. Pius and Miglione were in daily contact. He could have imposed ecclesiastical sanctions, discontinued diplomatic ties with the perpetrators, or publicly denounced the atrocities. Pius decided to rely on diplomacy, and to avoid offending any of the Axis nations.
Pius’ biggest failure was the fact that he allowed church members like the archbishops of Bologna and Palermo and Father Agostino Gemelli, president of the Pontifical Academy of Science and rector of the Catholic University of the Holy Heart in Milan, to advertise Fascism, and endorse anti-Semitic books like Alfredo Romanini’s Jews, Christianity, Fascism. Romanini wrote that the League of Nations was a Jewish invention, that thirteen of Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points were based on Masonic-Jewish principles, and that Jewish aspirations in 1939 were first to dominate Europe, and then to enslave the world.95 According to Morley:
It must be concluded that Vatican diplomacy failed the Jews during the Holocaust by not doing all that it was possible for it to do on their behalf. It also failed itself because in neglecting the needs of the Jews, and pursuing a goal of reserve rather than humanitarian concern, it betrayed the ideals that it had set for itself. The Nuncios, the Secretary of State, and, most of all, the Pope share the responsibility for this dual failure.96
While the Vatican Kept Silent
Luckily for Jews in Rome, where Vatican diplomacy failed, most of the individual members of the Catholic church worked hard to save lives. Jewish families like the DiVerolis and the Zollis found refuge in dozens of churches, monasteries, and convents.
The historian Renzo DeFelice identified over 150 churches, convents, and monasteries, who took in Jewish refugees. His list of convents included: the Suore di Nostra Signora di Sion hid 187 Jews; the Suore Adoratrici del Preziosissimo Sangue hid 136 Jews; the Figlie del Sacro Cuore di Gesú hid sixty-nine Jews; the Istituto delle Suore di San Giuseppe hid fifty-seven Jews; the Istituto di Nazareth hid thirty Jews; the Suore Agostiniane hid seven Jews. DeFelice’s list of monasteries and churches included: the Fratelli delle Scuole Cristiane hid ninety-six Jews; the Pontificio Seminario Romano Maggiore hid forty-eight Jews; the Reverendi Padri Domenicani hid eight Jews; the Parocchia di Santa Maria in Trastevere hid two Jews; and the Collegio Nazareno hid nine Jews.97 Some historians claim that Jews were hidden inside the Vatican. Others argue that there is little documentary evidence to support that claim.
Enrichetta Levi was hidden in a Roman convent with her father and husband. One of the nuns, Sister Maria Rita, after living in seclusion for over forty years, was able to obtain false identification documents for the Levis.98
Frida Morpurgo Colbi, found refuge in a convent outside Rome. Only the Mother Superior and her assistant knew Frida was Jewish. To maintain her disguise as a non-Jewish refugee, she attended mass. Frida made sure to tell the Mother Superior that she had no plans to convert to Catholicism.99
Perhaps the greatest rescuer of Jews in Rome was the French Capuchin priest, Father Marie Benoit. Benoit was born in 1895 as Pierre Péteul. He fought in World War I as a warrant officer, was wounded, and earned the Croix de Guerre and the Medaillé Militaire. Father Benoit, along with Angelo Donati, Director of the Crédit Franco-Italien Bank in Nice, worked to rescue Jews who had escaped from Nazi occupied Europe, and sought refuge in the Italian occupied areas of Southern France. When Father Benoit was recalled to Rome in June 1943, he became known as Father Maria Benedetto. Father Benedetto met with Pius XII and gave him documentary evidence of the persecutions taking place in Vichy controlled territory, and the events taking place in the Auschwitz and Treblinka concentration camps. He requested that the Vatican take steps to protect Jews in French concentration camps and to help move Jewish refugees from Italian occupied French territory into Italy. After the war, the Vatican claimed that it did not act on Father Benedetto’s recommendations due to lack of evidence of German atrocities.100
Fortunately, Father Benedetto was undeterred by the Vatican’s inactivity. He and Donati worked with the Italian Jewish Delasem organization (Delegazione Assistenza Emigranti Ebrei-Jewish Emigrant Association) which was based in Genoa and financed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee through Switzerland. Although German troops occupied Southern France and Italy before he could organize a large-scale evacuation of Jews from the French Riviera, Father Benedetto was able to organize a remarkable rescue effort in Nazi occupied Rome. By June 1944, he had rescued or assisted over four thousand Italian and foreign Jews. Most of his funding came from the Delasem and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He received no money from the Vatican.101
The Delasem headquarters in Rome was secretly located in the Capuchin convent and with the Carmelite fathers on Via Sicilia. Hundreds of Jewish refugees from France and the occupied areas of Italy came to Father Benedetto for food, shelter, and false identification cards. The Jewish refugees were housed in small pensiones and hotels, and fed with ration cards purchased by the Delasem on the black market. Father Benedetto used an old printing press and French postage stamps to make identification cards, which were “small masterpieces of deceptive simplicity.”102 According to Father Benedetto:
One must try to imagine the atmosphere we lived in, in order to be able to understand the hallucinating inventiveness of all these crazy ideas. We constantly visited the representatives of more than half-a-dozen countries accredited to the Vatican-Yugoslavia, Spain, France, Hungary, Poland, Belgium, Portugal, the Apostolic Nunciatura, and the office of the Secretary of State of the Vatican. We were in touch with the underground members of all political parties, with Pastor Anselmo Ammenti of the Methodist church, with the Quakers, and we collaborated with various religious and ecclesiastical Orders who supported similar actions. I believe I can safely say that we knocked on any and all doors where we hoped to receive help…103
Another important reason why so many Jews survived the Holocaust in Rome was because they had become highly assimilated into Roman society. By the early 1930s, there were Jewish generals, businessmen, bankers, and public officials. The assimilation process took place slowly over the course of two thousand years, even during the most intense periods of church persecution. After emancipation in 1870, the assimilation process moved ahead with great speed. Before looking in depth at the process of assimilation, it is necessary to point out that there is major problem with the assimilation argument, namely that, Jews in Rome had been persecuted by emperors and popes for two thousand years.
The Problem of Assimilation
Wherever the stranger takes his lodging in Rome, he will scarcely have unpacked his trunks before his ears are saluted by a peculiar cry, not frank, open, and given with the full force of Southern lungs, like the usual street cries, but suppressed, sorrowful, and seeming almost as if it came from some one in pain.104
Mae Briskin asked the million dollar question: “Why – in a country where ghettos were established by papal decree in 1555 and remained in existence until 1870 – did so many Catholics risk their lives to protect Jews?105 “The problem with the assimilation argument is that Jews in Rome had been persecuted for two thousand years before the rise of Fascism and Nazism. They were ordered to march in imperial triumphs, pay special taxes, forced to listen to Catholic sermons, baptized against their will, “despised and degraded – the pariahs of Europe and the Church.”106 On occasion they were expelled from the city.
Cicero said the Jews always stuck together, and they were too influential in politics. He said Judaism was a barbarous superstition, and the Jewish religious rites were repugnant to the glory and prestige of the Empire and to the institutions of the Roman ancestors.107
Tacitus said the Jews gave up both the seventh day and the seventh year to slothfulness because they found idleness alluring. He said their customs were impious and abominable, they were worthless rascals who renounced their national cults, they felt nothing but hatred and enmity toward the rest of the world, and their rituals were preposterous and morbid.
Though immoderate in sexual indulgence, they refrain from all intercourse with foreign women. Among themselves, anything is allowed. Those who are converted to their customs adopt the same practice, and the first lessons they learn are to despise the gods, to renounce their country, and to think nothing of their parents, children, and brethren.108
Under the Emperor Tiberius (14-37 A.D.), at least some Jews were banned from Rome after a Senator’s wife was swindled by four Jewish charlatans. According to Tacitus and Suetonius, four thousand Egyptians and Jews were sent to Sardinia to supress banditry. If the unhealthy Sardinian climate killed them, it would be a small loss. The remaining Roman Jews were ordered to burn their religious vestments and leave the city.109
In 70 A.D., the emperor Vespasian’s (69-79) son Titus (79-81) supressed a revolt in Judea. Titus’ army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and exterminated the city’s inhabitants. More important to the Roman Jews, however, was Titus’ triumph in Rome, which must have made a long-lasting impression. Jewish prisoners of war were roped together and led through the procession. War booty was piled in carts, and there were large tapestries detailing the conquest of Jerusalem.
On one was to be seen the devastation which struck a peaceful nation; on another there were the entire armies of the dead; and on others we saw people in flight or led into captivity. We saw huge walls laid low by engines and powerful fortresses overwhelmed. Here was a scene depicting the crumbling of the defences of a populous city, with a foreign army pouring through the walls. Everywhere a deluge of blood, the hands of the weak and afflicted stretched out in supplication, fire-brands pouring into temples, houses collapsing, and their owners buried in the ruins. And after pictures suggesting the overwhelming desolation and horror came others showing rivers flowing through a land which was not at all peaceful and cultivated, and the waters from the river were not supporting man or beast – these rivers flowed through a land given over to flames.110
In the shadow of what was to become the Jewish ghetto, the Emperor built an arch to commemorate the conquest, and forever remind the Roman Jews that Rome had destroyed their homeland and enslaved them. On one side of the arch is the triumphal procession with the spoils from Jerusalem, including the altar of Solomon’s temple and the seven-branched candlestick.111 Coins were struck which read IUDAEA CAPTA.112 The Jerusalem temple offering, which the Roman Jews had donated annually, was converted into a new poll tax called the fiscus Iudaicus, and was paid to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. For nearly three centuries, all Roman Jews were required to pay the two drachmae per year to the procurator ad capitularia Iudaeorum.113 There were additional revolts in Judea under Trajan (98-117) and Hadrian (117-138). What remained of Jerusalem was completely destroyed after the Bar Kokhba rebellion, and replaced by Hadrian’s new city, Aelia Capitolina.114
A series of violent floods, earthquakes, and storms from 1017 through 1021 were blamed on the Jews.
The Pope (Benedict VIII, 1032-1048) and the citizens were in despair, cursing the elements and praying to have the wind stop. Then someone had a luminous idea. Who had done it? A Jew, of course! So a wretched devil was picked up, and after having been put through a certain number of inquisitorial exercises, he readily confessed to have insulted the image of Christ. Persecutions made Jews excellent human barometers.115
One of the most famous Jew-baiters in Italian history was Nicholas Donin. He was a Dominican monk from France who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism, and campaigned to have the Talmud burned in Paris. He came to Rome to stir up hate against the Jews, and to convince the Pope, Gregory IX (1227-1241), that the Talmud should be publicly burned. Gregory confiscated the Talmud in 1239. Actual Talmud burnings took place under Innocent IV (1243-1254), Clement IV (1265-1268), Honorius IV (1285-1287), and John XXII (1316-1334).116
Boniface VIII (1294-1303) persecuted the Jews with vigor. In 1294, he accepted the customary Torah from the Jewish community and said, “Formerly you were a nation loved by God, but now you are His enemies. Because, while other nations gather around, you continue to close your eyes to the True Faith. Christ has shed his blood for you, yet you refuse to recognize Him as your Saviour!” In 1303, he had the Chief Rabbi Elia de Pomis ben Samuel burned at the stake.117
Giovanni di Capistrano was another famous Jew-baiter. He was a Franciscan monk who claimed the Jews were the source of all evil, hardship, and the plague. He convinced Pope Eugenius IV (1431-1447) to forbid Jews to work as tax collectors, administrators of Christian propery, brokers, or mid-wives. He forced certain Jews to leave the city, and ordered others to be consolidated in one neighborhood. Capistrano and his pupil, Fra Bernardino da Feltre accused Jews throughout Italy of ritual murder, and inspired intense hatred for the Jewish moneylenders.118
In 1466, Pope Paul II (1464-1471) introduced new foot races in Rome to liven up the city during carnival time.
Groan all together now, whee-hee-hee!
It’s a-work, it’s a-work, ah, woe is me!
It began, when a herd of us, picked and placed,
Were spurred through the Corso, stripped to the waist;
Jew-brutes with sweat and blood well spent
To usher in worthily Christian Lent119
The races took place on the Via Lata. The starting line was the Arch of Marc Antony, and the finish line was Palazzo Venezia, on the Piazza San Marco, opposite the present-day monument to Victor Emmanuel. Toward the end of the sixteenth century, the race course was extended to reach Castel Sant’Angelo. Initially, there were categories for young boys; Jews; men over seventy; buffaloes; and donkeys. The Jews enjoyed participating in the races at first because they offered an opportunity to assimilate. Eight Jews took part in the first race.
In later years, however, the races evolved into humiliating spectacles. The Pope added categories for hunchbacks and cripples. The Jews were forced to run in the mud and the rain, and the spectators were encouraged to shout insults and throw things at the competitors. In 1547 a Jewish competitor died during the race. Two hundred years after Paul initiated the carnival races, the Jewish community was able to buy off the requirement to participate.120
The sixteenth century was clearly not a time when the Jews in Rome became more assimilated. Paul III (1534-1549) established the Mons Pietatis in 1539 to combat Jewish moneylending, and levied another tax in 1543 to support the House of Catechumens to house church-paid converts to Christianity. Talmuds and other Jewish books were confiscated and burned on the Campo de’Fiori in 1553 under Julius III (1550-1555). Pope Paul IV (1555-1559) issued the Cum nimis absurdum bull, confining Roman Jews to a walled ghetto, restricting communities to one synagogue in each city, forbidding Jews to own land, and requiring all Jews to wear badges. Pope Pius V (1566-1572) burned 20,000 copies of the Talmud and expelled all Jews from the Papal States except in Rome and Ancona with the Hebraeorum gens bull. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) prohibited the printing of any Talmudic or Kabbalistic books.121
In 1668, Pope Clement IX (1667-1669) required the Chief Rabbi of Rome, along with the Jewish elders to offer a bouquet of flowers and an annual donation to the city magistrates. The Chief Rabbi was required to make a speech promising his devotion, and promising to pray for a long and peaceful reign by the Pope. After the city magistrates accepted the flowers, they gave the Rabbi a ceremonial kick. As the Jewish delegation returned to the ghetto, they were often insulted and spat upon by the spectators. The ceremony was not abolished until 1848 when Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi established the Roman Republic.122
Another longstanding anti-Jewish institution was the practice of forced sermons. Forced sermons began in 1577 under Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585). Three hundred years later, they were still taking place. In 1848, Massimo d’Azeglio wrote “Let us try and imagine what must be the Jew’s feelings. Sitting in the church under the constant surveillance of the carabinieri, he hears the words Charity and Peace which, to him, mean nothing but mockery and insult.”123
The scene was not without its comic aspect – in the audience, Jews, staging a tremendous tumult talking, gesticulating, surreptitiously putting the wax back into their ears whenever they were ordered to remove it, elsewhere Jews snoring in unison; in the aisle, official guards dashing up and down swinging their sticks to enforce theological attention; and up front, the desperate priest trying in vain to make his voice heard above the unceremonious din.”124
Probably the biggest problem with the assimilation argument is that Jews in Rome, for three centuries, had been segregated in a ghetto which as early as 1740, was described by the French scholar Charles de Brosses, as “an archisaloperie, a place that was nothing but a stinking, putrifying garbage heap.”125
Gregorovius said “In majestic halls the stone populaton of statues dwell amidst cool fountains. The marble remains of antiquity, down to the slightest fragment, are royally housed; the only living remains of ancient Rome, human beings with long-enduring hearts, live in wretched filth.”126
In 1852, Charlotte Eaton wrote:
The remains of the Portico of Octavia stands in what I am convinced is the filthiest spot upon the whole face of the globe. It is the pescheria, or fish market – the ghetto, or crowded quarter where the Jews – whatever be their numbers – are condemned to reside; and while miles of uninhabited ground are comprised within the walls of Rome – while it becomes yearly more insalubrious from its desertion, and more deserted from its insalubrity – these poor Israelites are cooped up in a confined hole, the dirt, the stench, and the disgusting appearance of which, it is utterly impossible to conceive.127
Before Emancipation in 1870, William Story said the Roman Jews were:
Crammed together, layer above layer, like herrings in a barrel, the Jews of Rome are packed into the narrow confines of the Ghetto…Every inch has its occupant; every closet is tenanted. And this seems the more extraordinary in spacious and thinly-populated Rome, where houses go a-begging for tenants, and where, in the vast deserted halls and chambers of many a place, the un-brushed cobwebs of years hang from decaying walls and ceilings. With the utmost economy of room, there is scarcely space enough to secure privacy and individuality; and, herded together like a huge family, they live in their sty. The street is their saloon, where they sit and talk, in loud sniffling voices, across from shop to shop, and from pavement to the opposite garret.128
Before Emancipation, Jews were prohibited from holding any civil, political, or military office. They were prohibited from being farmers, lawyers, notaries, librarians, goldsmiths, manufacturers, stone-cutters, and all other public professions and trades except physicians, surgeons and pharmacists. They were not allowed to use public schools, hospitals, houses of refuge, or gymnasia, even though they paid taxes for them. Admission to the universities was possible only after special permission from the Cardinal Vicar.129
Some early twentieth century travel writers were as prejudiced as Cicero. In 1895, Lanciani wrote “The responsibility for the persecutions which took place in the first century must be attributed to them (the Jews), not to the Romans, whose tolerance in religious matters had become almost a state rule… As soon as they were allowed to come back to their Transtiberine haunts, the Jews set to work again, exciting the feelings of the populace, and denouncing the Christians.”130 In 1903, Chandlery wrote “Their number in Nero’s reign is computed to have been twenty or thirty thousand. Then, as now, they attained considerable influence by usury, bribery, and other dark methods.” He said the ghetto and the buildings of the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele were “built for more respectable tenants,” and that the Roman Jews had “repulsive features.”131
Stille argued that while Jewish communities in other Italian cities were assimilated into the growing Italian middle class after emancipation, life in the Roman ghetto went on much as before, “crowded, bustling and desperately poor.” There were some educated, middle-class Jews, who moved out of the area into the newer sections of the city. But the majority of the city’s Jews remained in or near the ghetto and continued to scratch out a living as peddlers, rag pickers, salesmen, tailors and shopkeepers. The 1938 government survey found more than half of the city’s Jews lived either in the ghetto or across the river in Trastevere. While most Jews in northern Italy were cosmopolitan, highly assimilated and far from religious Orthodoxy, Jews in Rome were barely literate, deeply religious and powerfully linked to the life and traditions of their community.132
How can scholars argue that the Roman Jews had become highly assimilated in Roman society by the 1930s, after having been so highly segregated and repeatedly persecuted for two thousand years?
Assimilation During the Roman Empire
It is possible, as some scholars have done, to assemble impressive lists of anti-Jewish quotations from Greek and Roman authors like Cicero and Tacitus, but these are more than balanced by the thousands of Romans who were drawn to the beauties and purities of Jewish life.133
The fact is that after Emancipation in 1870, Jews did become rapidly and verifiably assimilated into Roman society. Stille’s argument that life in the Roman ghetto after 1870 went on much as before, “crowded, bustling and desperately poor,” was only partly correct. That the Jewish quarter remained deeply religious and powerfully linked to the life and traditions of their community was a strength. By World War II, Jews had developed powerful and dependable social, economic, and political ties which endured in spite of Mussolini’s anti-Jewish policies. One of the main reasons they survived the Holocaust was because they could depend on non-Jewish friends, neighbors, relatives, and business associates.
According to Roth, in 1848, there was no European country where the restrictions placed on Jews was more galling and humiliating than in Italy, exept Spain where Jews were entirely excluded. But after 1870, there was no country in either hemisphere where conditions were better. Roth said it was not only that disabilities were removed, as happened elsewhere during those years, but that Jews were accepted freely, naturally and spontaneously as members of the Italian people on a perfect footing of equality with their neighbors.134
Throughout history, Jews in Rome were accustomed to persecution by the church and state. But at the same time, there were emperors and popes who protected and cared for them, and encouraged their assimilation in Roman society. As Rome became more of a melting pot, the Jewish community, like many other ethnic groups, prospered. According to Juvenal, by the first century A.D., only a small percentage of the city residents were of genuine Italian-Roman stock.135 As early as 3 B.C., a Judean embassy which visited Rome was escorted to the palace by 8,000 Roman Jews.136
From the very beginning, many early Roman imperial statesmen freely accepted Jews, and welcomed their participation in Roman society. Augustus provided banquets for the people of Jerusalem, decorated their Temple, and allowed King Herod’s sons Antipas, Archelaus, and Philip to be educated in Rome. The Jewish prince Agrippa was one of Claudius’ supporters during the critical hours following the assassination of Caligula. Claudius rewarded him with a consulship, brought up his son, Agrippa II, in the imperial household, and issued edicts affirming the special rights and privileges of the Jews.137
Contrary to popular belief, Nero did not have Jews thrown to the lions. In fact, he may have been well-disposed toward them. Greeks and other easterners were well-represented in his administration, and his grandmother had strong ties with the Jewish aristocrats of Alexandria and the Kings of Palestine.138 The Jewish actor, Alityrus, was one of Nero’s favorites. Some historians have suggested that Poppaea, Nero’s second wife, converted to Judaism.139
Jews in Rome received mostly fair treatment under the Severan dynasty (193-235). Like other emperors, Septimus Severus (193-211) forbade conversion to Judaism or Christianity, but did not rigorously enforce it.140 The Severans made Jews eligible for public office and exempted them from military service and other duties which would interfere with their religious practices.141 The Emperor Elagabalus (218-222) had himself circumcised, abstained from pork, kept a bust of Abraham in his palace, and allowed the practice of Judaism in a temple on the Palatine.142
The Vigna Randanini catacombs on the Via Appia show that there were at least some Jews in ancient Rome who were fairly wealthy. Two connecting burial chambers have walls and a ceiling decorated with colored paintings of people, angels, and animals. Other chambers show that there were Jews employed as craftsmen, shopkeepers, butchers, tentmakers, and bankers. In some cases their names were Latinized; Tullio, Aurelio, Giuliano, etc.143
Assimilation During the Middle Ages and Renaissance
There were a number of popes during the late Roman Empire and after the fall of the Empire, who treated the Roman Jews with care and respect. Pope Gregory I (590-604) tried to gain Jewish confidence and support through “kindness, love, and benevolence.” He allowed them to “live as Romans and to have full authority over their possessions.” He worked through the Jewish community in Rome to protect Neapolitan Jews from militant groups, and against the Bishop of Palermo who had confiscated several synagogues, poor-houses, and schools.144
In 1073, Alexander II (1061-1073) complimented the Vicomte de Beranger in southern France for protecting the Jews: “We have seen with pleasure that you have protected the Jews from the death that threatened them. God does not rejoice in the spilling of blood in His name…It is the duty of all good Christians to fight the Saracens who persecute the true believers, and to save the Jews, who are peaceful and inoffensive.”145
Many popes had Jewish physicians. Nicholas IV (1288-1292) had a Jewish doctor named Yitzhak ben Mordehai. In 1291 Nicholas said:
Recently the Jews of Rome asked for protection when they were insulted and threatened by the clergy. We do not want Christian love to be so inflamed as to result in insults and injuries to the Jews. We hereby declare that they are protected by us against torture, and that those who act against our wishes will be punished.146
In the 1340’s, while Jews were being burned throughout Germany, Pope Clement VI (1342-1352) prevented Roman Jews from being persecuted. According to Waagenaar:
Thus life was livable enough during these first centuries of the second millennium. Being able to reside wherever they wanted to, homes – at least those of the well-to-do Jews were often comfortable and large. Street dress was important, and fashions were followed with great attention. Women wore blouses embellished with flowers and bird designs. Elaborately embroidered belts were tres a la mode, holding tight the long trains flowing down from the blouse…147
There were even some Popes during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who protected the Jews and welcomed them into the city. Alexander VI (1492-1503) created a Hebrew Chair at the University of Rome, frequently met with the Chief Rabbi, and allowed the Jewish population in Rome to nearly double with the influx of Jews from the Spanish inquisition. The Jewish population doubled again under Leo X (1513-1521), and the Roman Jews were allowed to send an official delegation to Jerusalem to see if the Messiah was hiding somewhere. Paul III (1534-1549) banned the theatrical “passion plays” from being presented at the Colosseum because they had often resulted in attacks on Jews.148 Cardinal Sadoleto wrote angrily to Paul III in 1539. He said “Never have Christians waxed so rich through privileges and concessions as have the Jews in these recent years; they have been verily armed with honors, distinctions and special marks.”149 According to Partner, there seems no reason to suppose the sixteenth century Jewish ghetto to have been more of a slum than any other neighborhood in Rome. The average Jewish household was five people, more or less the same as the Christian households.15
Stow published documents from the Archivio Segreto Vaticano, the Archivio di Stato in Rome, and the Archivio Storico Capitolino to show that the papacy protected the Jewish community because it was a source of taxation:
The early sixteenth century witnessed a wholesale, and, as will be seen, conscious program on the part of the papacy to erect a series of remarkable privileges for the Jewish communities of the Papal State. These expansive privileges have been explained against the background of the so-called Renaissance papacy. Concerned with art, riches, worldly glory, and mainly family power and entrenchment, and ignoring capriciously, or at best avoiding, the serious breaches about to shatter the Catholic World, the Renaissance popes naturally, and especially if a handsome douceur was to be had, showed themselves most lenient in their dealings with their Jewish subjects.151
Assimilation After Unification
In the nineteenth century, Roman Jews assimilated themselves by becoming highly involved in the struggle for Italian unification. Three Roman Jews were elected to the National Assembly of the Italian Republic in 1849 after the defeat of Papal troops under Pius IX. Others served on the City Council and on the Committee for Defense.152 Giuseppe Garibaldi named a Jew, Enrico Guastalla, the “hero of Vascello.” Over 350 Jews served with Garibaldi to defend Rome against French and papal troops in 1849, and at least three Jews, sixteen-year-old Ciro Finzi, Dr. Giacomo Venezian, and Israele Levi gave their lives.153 Roman Jews also fought and died in battles against the Hapsburgs in Lombardy in 1848, 1849, and 1859, and in the battle against the Papal forces for the annexation of Rome in 1870.154
Hughes’ believed the impact of Italian unification and the Jewish emancipation in 1870 should not be underemphasized:
From 1848 on, the mounting recognition of the absurdity, impracticality, and inhumanity of the old restrictions began to sweep them away in a torrent that soon turned to a flood…the ghetto’s inhabitants burst forth into the wide world outside; the more talented and ambitious threw themselves with enthusiasm into the activities and professions from which they had previously been barred. In countless cases a single generation sufficed to bring individual Jews to the forefront of whatever calling they had chosen…Perhaps to no other European people did it come with so little resistance from the majority and so much gratitude from its beneficiaries. Before the turn of the century, Italy’s Jews appeared fully integrated into the national life.155
Isacco Artom served as private secretary to Prime Minister Camillo di Cavour in Piedmont in the 1850s, and later served in the diplomatic corps. Three Jews were elected to the first Italian parliament in 1861; nine were elected in 1870; and eleven were elected in 1874.156 In 1899, Crawford said “the prejudices against them are disappearing, even among the poorer Romans, whose hatred was most tenacious, and by and by, at no very distant date, the Jews in Rome will cease to be an isolated and peculiar people.”157
According to Zuccotti, the prompt appearance of Jews in prominent positions after emancipation suggested that a large segment of the Italian population did not share the prejudices of the pre-Unification rulers. When revolutionary movements freed the ghetto inhabitants on several occasions during the early nineteenth century, witnesses described jubilation by Jews and non-Jews alike. The assimilation process was enhanced by the fact that Italian Jews looked, dressed, spoke, and were educated like everyone else.158
Jews in Government Service
In 1904, King Victor Emmanuel III told Theodor Herzl that “Jews may occupy any position. The army, the civil service, even the diplomatic corps: everything is open to them . . . Jews, for us, are full-blown Italians.”159 Luigi Luzzatti served in parliament fifteen times, then served as Minister of Finance; Minister of Agriculture, Commerce and Industry; Minister of the Interior; and Minister of State. In 1910, he was appointed Prime Minister. Salvatore Barzilai served eight terms in the Chamber of Deputies beginning in 1890, served in the cabinet during World War I, and as a member of the Italian delegation to the peace conference at Versailles. Ernesto Nathan became mayor of Rome in 1907. Baron Sidney Sonnino, the son of a Tuscan Jewish landowner, served first as Finance Minister and Foreign Minister, and finally as Prime Minister in 1906, 1908, and 1910. By 1902, there were nineteen Jews in the Italian Senate.160
Jews in the Military
Before 1938, there was no discrimination against Jews in either the Italian Army or the Italian Navy. Italian troops who captured Rome in 1870, were led by a Jewish Captain named Giacomo Segre.162 The first Jewish general, Giuseppe Ottolenghi was appointed in 1888. He later became a senator and Minister of War. Fifty Jewish generals served in World I, including Emanuele Pugliese, who was the most decorated general in the Italian Army. Roberto Segre, an artillery commander, designed the artillery defenses that checked the Austrian offensive in June 1918. General Guido Liuzzi was commander of the War School, and General Angelo Modena served as president of the Supreme Army and Navy Tribunal in the 1920s.
There were thousands of Italian Jews who served as officers and enlisted members of the military during the early years of Fascism. More than a thousand Jews won medals. Among Mussolini’s earliest supporters were Rear Admirals Aldo Ascoli, Paolo Maroni, Renato Senigallia, and Walter Hirsch. As late as 1940, the Naval Ministry called on the Jewish ex-Inspector General of the Naval Engineer Corps, Umberto Pugliese, to raise the Italian battleship CAVOUR, which had been sunk by the British fleet in the Bay of Taranto.163
Equality in Education and Welfare
There was no discrimination against Jewish students in the Italian public school system or in the universities before 1938. In fact, in education, Jews were above average because in addition to having access to the public school system, Jewish communities in major cities like Rome, Florence, and Turin maintained elementary schools on their own. The schools were co-educational, government regulated, and exempt from taxation. After 1938, when Jews were excluded from the Italian public school system, the Jewish schools remained open. According to statistics published in 1938, there were 100 Jewish university professors in Italy. In Civitavecchia, near Rome, the Revisionist-Zionist group maintained a marine academy with government support, under the direction of a government appointed naval officer.164
Italy had a progressive, non-discriminatory (until 1938) system of social security (assicurazioni sociali, assicurazioni infortuni sul lavoro, etc.) and compensation programs for family; old age; unemployment; disabled veterans; disabled workers; accidents; and occupational diseases. Catholic charitable organizations were likewise, non-discriminatory. The Jewish communities, in addition, had their own public welfare institutions, including the Associazione Donne Ebraiche d’Italia (Association of Jewish Italian Women), which offered maternity aid, aid to the sick, aid for Passover, and other assistance.165
Jewish Assimilation in Private Industry
Jews throughout Italy were clearly assimilated in private industry. In fact, some Fascist press polemics accused them of becoming overly assimilated in business and finance. They alleged that Jewish high finance in Europe and abroad were the cause of international indignation over Mussolini’s Ethiopian campaign. There were a number of small private banks and a few large companies like Olivetti in Northern Italy, which were owned by Italian Jews. However, there were no major banking institutions under direct Jewish control in Italy. Especially in Rome, the financial situation of the Italian Jews was not outstanding enough to make it conspicuous before the Italian public. Jews were not overly prominent in the ownership or directorship of the general press. Enrico Rocca was a theatre and literary critic for Lavoro Fascista. Paolo Milano was on the staff of Scenario, and Pier Filippo Tagiuri an editor of the sports paper Il Littoriale.166 In Italy as a whole, 41.5 percent of Italian Jews were employed in trade and commerce, twenty-three percent in professions, civil service, and military service, and 8.1 percent in agriculture. By 1938 there were almost 7,500 mixed marriages.167
Religious and Ethnic Diversity
As late as 1937 the newspaper Nuova Antilogia said “in Italy a Jewish problem cannot exist…our nation is too strong and too close-knit, and because moreover the Italian Jews represent one of the most homogeneous and most select groups of Judaism in general.”168 Roman Jewry was, in fact, homogeneous from the very beginning. Stow wrote about the large number of Jewish ethnic groups in Rome in the sixteenth century, the high level of out-marriage between Jewish ethic groups, and the low level of inter-ethnic frictions:
Multiplicity bred, as it were, familiarity instead of the sense of opposition that the existence of only two camps might have fostered. Preceding the Spaniards in Rome had been the Provencals (toward the end of the fifteenth century) and Ashkenazim (some decades earlier). There were also the Sicilians (1510 and 1542).169
The religious and ethnic diversity of the Jewish community in Rome, and in Italy as a whole, was a strength. Centuries of assimilation within the ghetto made assimilation in Italian society after emancipation easier. The offspring of those marriages included approximately 2,000 Jews and 7,000 Catholics.170
According to Bato, apart from the differences of tradition, the contrast between the restricted horizon of Germany and the much more liberal one of Italy was also significant. Jewish-German scholars, although excellent scholars of the Talmud, lacked in their knowledge of general secular culture. Unlike Italian Jews, they were unfamiliar with philosophy and the classical languages. A Roman rabbi, Serachya ben Tizchak, was surprised when one of his German students had no acquaintance with philosophy.171
Bato said that from the end of the eighteenth century, Italian Jews, having been attracted by European culture in continually increasing numbers, identified themselves so completely with it that they became divorced from Jewish tradition and lost all interest in the religious reform movements taking place in other parts of Europe. They solved the problem of irksome observances simply by not paying attention to them.172
The fact is, Roman Jews did become highly assimilated into Roman society by the 1930s, even though they had been so highly segregated and repeatedly persecuted for over two thousand years. Two millennia of persecution were balanced by an equally long tradition of care and protection by emperors and popes. There was a rapid process of assimilation after 1870 which was the result of the decline of church power; the liberalization of the Italian government; and the endurance of the Jewish people. In 1870, Story watched the sun set over the Tiber, and reflected on the relationship between Christians and Jews in Rome:
The sun turns all to gold as it drops to the horizon. The round, broken, ivy-covered walls of the Golden Palace of Nero, that lift themselves before us, it regilds; the tall dark cypresses are hung with golden balls; the mediaeval tower of St. Maria in Cosmedin is sheathed with flashing plates of gold; the yellow molten river of Midas sweeps along under our feet. Even in the windows of the Ghetto that look out upon it there are golden panes that dazzle the eye. Nature is as prodigal to their humble, wretched houses as to St. Peter’s dome that towers against the evening sky. It gilds their roofs, and paints the flowers at their rickety lattice windows with dyes richer than Popes’ tiaras and Cardinals’ robes. It recognizes no difference between Christian and Jew.173
For two thousand years we mourned
Beside this stream, whose yellow waves
Rush savagely, in wild confusion,
Past the ghetto’s dreary walls;
With our fathers’ wailing courage,
One in grief, we have endured:
We weep, as they have wept,
Eternally, to this same stream174
Gregorovius noted almost eighteen hundred years had passed since the Arch of Titus was built with its depiction of the holy vessels carried in Titus’ triumph over Jerusalem. Nothing was left of that Rome but ruins and dust. But as Gregorovius wandered through the ghetto of Rome, he saw the seven-branched candelabrum etched here and there, alive and functioning as a symbol of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people.
He said the Roman Jews “cling fast, like the undying green ivy to the ruins. Their power to endure is so remarkable that I confess I cannot explain it.”175 Other historians in the nineteenth century, when the Jewish ghetto was in its very worst condition, testified that the Roman Jews did have a certain power to survive. Eaton wrote:
I thought its smells were enough to breed a pestilence; but it is singular, and apparently rather an unaccountable fact, that this very spot, with its narrow lanes, crowded population, and extremity of filth, is the healthiest quarter in Rome, and its inhabitants are the most hardy and robust.176
The history of the Jewish community in Rome, like other Jewish communities in Europe, is one of persecution and discrimination, of heroism and power to survive. The most important reason why Jews in Rome survived the Holocaust was because Jews and non-Jews worked together to save lives. Gay Talese said, “the enduring quality of Italians is their capacity to survive the most atrocious invasions of their homes and their families. Never underestimate the ability of Italians to defeat their enemies.”177
In addition, Roman Jewry benefitted from the fact that the Holocaust in Rome did not actually begin until the German occupation in October 1943, and it lasted only eight months until the German retreat in June 1944. Before the German occupation, there had been no organized policy of deportation or extermination by the Italian Fascist government because anti-Semitism was not officially part of Mussolini’s political agenda or the Italian Fascist political ideology. Father Benedetto and other members of the Catholic Church played a pivotal role in the rescue and resistance effort by participating in and encouraging rescue operations, and providing spiritual leadership to Jews and non-Jews. Finally, Jews in Rome were highly assimilated into Roman society. The majority of Jews in Rome had powerful and dependable social and political ties with the non-Jewish population, and they were able to rely on non-Jewish neighbors, relatives, friends, and co-workers for protection.
The story of the Holocaust in Europe is clearly one of the great tragedies of Western civilization. Most of the world did nothing while six million Jews were systematically murdered. Bookbinder said that unfortunately the Italian experience has been overshadowed by our need to reveal to the world the scope of Nazi crimes and the complicity or indifference of so much of the western world. While the evil cannot be forgotten, its darkness all the more serves to contrast with the light of the Italian response.178
The story of the Holocaust in Rome must be remembered. Many of the Roman people risked their own lives and the lives of their families to rescue and protect Jews. Hallie said “we must teach our young, our friends, our very selves, the heart virtues of compassion and generosity, the mysterious, life-giving virtues that are impractical.179 “To prevent such a tragedy from happening again, we must seek to understand not only the horror of the Holocaust, but also our capacity for goodness.
1. Alexander Stille, Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism (New York: Summit Books, 1991), 189.
2. Valerius Maximus, “De Superstitionibus,” Factorum ac Dictorum Memorabilium Libri IX, I.3.3; Abraham Berliner, Storia degli Ebrei di Roma (Milan: Rusconi, 1992), 11.
3. The original Jewish quarter was located between what is now Viale di Trastevere and the Tiber, near the churches of S. Cecilia and S. Francesco a Ripa and Via Anicia, Via dei Genovesi, and Via dei Saluma. During the Middle Ages, the Jewish community moved across the river to its current location. Harry J. Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome, (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960), 136-137.
4. Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae 220.127.116.11-124; Bellum Iudaicum, 18.104.22.168-184; Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 84.5.
5. Sam Waagenaar, The Pope’s Jews, (LaSalle: Open Court Publishers, 1974), 118.
6. Ibid., 107-108; Berliner, 126-127.
7. “The State of the Nation State,” The Economist, (December 22, 1990), 73.
8. “The Jews of Italy,” The Jewish Communities of Nazi-Occupied Europe, Prepared by the American Jewish Committee Research Institute on Peace and Post-War Problems (New York: Howard Fertig, 1982), 2.
9. Stille, 179. Information about the history of the DiVeroli family comes from a letter from Michael Tagliacozzo to Stille, and from Stille’s interviews with the family.
10. Zuccotti, 9.
11. Waagenaar, 311.
12. Maria DeBlasio Wilhelm, The Other Italy: The Italian Resistance in World War II (New York: Norton, 1988), 156-157.
13. Paolo Monelli, Roma, 1943 (Milan: 1963), 197-233.
14. Giacomo Debenedetti, 16 Ottobre 1943 (Rome: Edizioni del Secolo, 1945).
15. Waagenaar, 372.
16. Michael Tagliacozzo, “La persecuzione degli ebrei a Roma,” ed. Liliana Piccotto Fargion, L’occupazione tedesca e gli ebrei di Roma: Documenti e fatti, (Rome: Carucci, 1979), 156-157.
17. Jane Scrivener, Inside Rome with the Germans (New York: Macmillan, 1945), 38-39.
18. Attillio Ascarelli, Le Fosse Ardeatine (Rome: Fratelli Palombi Editore, 1945).
19. Meir Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews, German-Italian Relations and the Jewish Question in Italy 1922-1945 (London: Clarendon Press, 1978), 414; According to Hilberg, 7,304 Italian Jews had emigrated by 1941, and 5,705 Italian Jews converted to Catholicism between 1938 and 1945. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, Volume 2 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985), 665.
20. Zuccotti estimated 10,000 Jews lived in Rome before World War II. Susan Zuccotti, The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1987), 136-137; The American Jewish Committee estimated 14,000, including refugees from the rest of Italy and Europe. The Jewish Communities of Nazi-Occupied Europe, 1; The 1931 census figure was 11,280. Hilberg, 670.
21. Waagenaar, 375; According to Fargion, there were approximately 40,000 Jews in Italy before World War II. Between September 1943 and April 1945, the Germans deported at least 8,613. Less than 1,000 returned. At least 291 Jews were killed in Italy. Liliana Piccotto Fargion, “The Jews During the German Occupation and the Italian Social Republic,” ed. Ivo Hertzer, The Italian Refuge: Rescue of Jews During the Holocaust (Chicago: The Catholic University Press, 1989), 137-138; Lucy S. Dawidowcz, The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 (New York: Bantam Books, 1975), 403. Hertzer’s book is a collection of papers presented at the conference Italians and Jews: Rescue and Aid During the Holocaust, sponsored by the National Italian American Foundation on November 6 and 7, 1986.
22. Paul Bookbinder, “Italy in the Overall Context of the Holocaust,” The Italian Refuge, 108.
23. Phillip P. Hallie, “A New Kind of Rescue,” Dimensions, Vol. 5, No 3 (1989), 4.
24. Lilana Picciotto Fargion, “L’Occupazione tedesca e gli ebrei di Roma,” (Rome and Milan: Archivio Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea, 1979), 19.
25. Michael Stern, An American in Rome, (New York: Random House, 1964), 22.
26. Stille, 203.
27. Ibid., 203.
28. Michael Tagliacozzo, “La Comunità di Roma sotto l’incubo della svastica: La grande razzia del 16 ottobre 1943,” Gli ebrei in Italia durante il fascismo: Quaderni del Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea (CDEC), III (Rome: November 1963), 8-15; Stille, 103.
29. Tagliacozzo, L’occupazione tedesca e gli ebrei di Roma, 156-157.
30. Ibid., 157-158.
31. Telephone interview with Gildo Pietrantozzi, Quincy, Massachusetts, February 18, 1993.
32. Zuccotti, 206-207.
33. Stille, 218.
34. Ibid., 211.
35. Bookbinder, 108.
36. Luigi Barzini, The Italians (London: Readers Union, 1966), 315.
37. Bruno Bettleheim, “The Effect of Hopelessness on the Will to Resist,” a lecture presented at Milton Academy, Milton, Massachusetts, April 1985.
38. Stille, 211.
39. Ibid., 181.
40. Zuccotti, 104-105.
41. Stille, 191 and 199.
42. Telephone interview with Mrs. Paul (Elvira) Showstark (née Sonnino), Miami, Florida, March 30, 1993.
43. Ugo Foa, Ottobre 1943: Cronaca di un’infamia, (Rome: Comunita Israelitica di Roma, 1961), 24.
44. Ferdinand Gregorovius, The Ghetto and Jews of Rome, trans. Moses Hadas, (New York: Schocken Books, 1948), 25.
45. Stille, 211.
46. Telephone interview with Elvira Sonnino.
47. Tagliacozzo, Gli ebrei in Italia, 8-15; Stille, 103.
48. Piero Modigliani, I nazisti a Roma: Dal diario di un ebreo (Roma: Città Nuova Editrice, 1984), 21-23.
49. Stille, 202.
50. Telephone interview with Elvira Sonnino.
51. Israel Zolli, Before the Dawn: Autobiographical Reflections, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954), 138-63; Wallace Sillanpoa and Robert Weisbord, “The Baptised Rabbi of Rome: The Zolli Case,” Judaism, 38, (Winter 1989), 79.
52. Zolli was one of the most controversial figures of World War II. After the liberation of Rome, Charles Poletti was put in charge of the Allied Military Government in Lazio-Umbria. He allowed Zolli to return to his post as Chief Rabbi. Zolli was criticized by community leaders (including Foa and Almansi) for having gone into hiding at a time when his people needed him the most. Foa and Almansi were removed because of their ties to Fascism. Zolli stepped down as Chief Rabbi and converted to Catholicism on February 13, 1945. Sillanpoa and Weisbord, 81.
53. Sillanpoa and Weisbord, 78.
54. Stille, 183.
55. Masimo Adolfo Vitale, “The Destruction and Resistance of the Jews in Italy,” ed. Yuri Suhl, They Fought Back, The Story of the Jewish Resistance in Nazi Europe, (New York: Schoken Books, 1975), 301-303.
56. Stille, 211.
57. Wilhelm, 160-161.
58. Ibid., 158-160.
59. Stille, 213-214.
60. Ibid., 189 and 197.
61. Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews, 31 citing “Religion or Nation,” Popolo di Roma, November 29-30, 1928.
62. Andrew Canepa, “Christian-Jewish Relations in Italy from Unification to Fascism,” The Italian Refuge, 13.
63. Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews, 83 citing Mussolini’s message to Jewish students in the United States, in La Nostra Bandiera, December 1935, page 3.
64. Bookbinder, 100; S. J. Woolf, ed., Fascism in Europe (London: Methuen, 1981).
65. Waagenaar, 296-298; Renzo DeFelice, Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il facismo (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1988), 68.
66. Meir Michaelis, “Fascist Policy Toward Italian Jews: Tolerance and Persecution,” The Italian Refuge, 67.
67. Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews, 411; Waagenaar, 307.
68. Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews, 101 and 417.
69. Waagenaar, 313; Piero Pellicano, Ecco il Diavolo (Milano: Baldini and Castoldi, 1938).
70. Michaelis, The Italian Refuge, 51.
71. Galeazzo Ciano, Ciano’s Hidden Diary (New York: 1953), 40.
72. Ibid., 71.
73. DeFelice, 555-556; Wilhelm, 153.
74. DeFelice, 576-580; Waagenaar, 339 and 348; Wilhelm, 156.
75. Stille, 184.
76. Ibid., 174.
77. Waagenaar, 345.
78. Ibid., 350.
79. Michaelis, The Italian Refuge, 65.
80. Canepa, 13.
81. Wilhelm, 155.
82. Mae Briskin, “Rescue Italian Style,” The Jewish Monthly, May (1986): 24; Wilhelm, 155-156.
83. Carlo Spartaco Capogreco, “The Internment Camp of Ferramonti-Tarsia,” ed. Ivo Hertzer, The Italian Refuge: Rescue of Jews During the Holocaust (Chicago: The Catholic University Press, 1989), 159-168.
84. Menachem Shelah, “The Italian Rescue of Yugoslav Jews, 1941-1943,” and John Bierman, “How Italy Protected the Jews in the Occupied South of France, 1942-1943,” The Italian Refuge, 205-227.
85. Wilhelm, 157.
86. Hilberg, 666.
87. Samuel Schafler, “Enemies or Jew-Haters? Reflections on the History of Anti-Semitism,” Judaism 41, (Summer 1992): 354.
88. Piccotto Fargion, 115.
89. Ibid., 113.
90. Hallie, 5.
91. John F. Morley, Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews During the Holocaust, 1939-1943 (New York: Katav, 1980), 195.
92. Hilberg, 672.
93. Ibid., 201-207.
94. Ibid., 208.
95. Waagenaar, 352-355.
96. Morley, 207-209.
97. DeFelice, 628-631.
98. Zuccotti, 213-214, citing Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea (CDEC), Milan, 5-H-b.
100. Waagenaar, 380-382.
101. Ibid., 383-396.
102. DeFelice, 417-433 and 633-634; Waageaar, 392-397.
103. Waagenaar, 401 citing Father Maria Benedetto.
104. William W. Story, Roba di Roma (London: Chapman and Hall, 1871), 395.
105. Briskin, 23.
106. Story, 401.
107. Cicero, Pro Flacco, 66-69.
108. Tacitus, Historiae, 5.5, trans. W. Hamilton Fyfe, (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1912), 206-207.
109. Philo, Legatio, 24.159-160; Cicero, Pro Flacco, 1.1; Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae, 22.214.171.124-84; Tacitus, Annales, 2.85.4.; Leon suggested only foreign Jews and freedmen, who did not enjoy the rights of citizenship were forced to leave. Leon, 19.
110. Josephus, Bellum Iudaicum, 7.5. trans. Robert Payne, The Roman Triumph (London: Abelard-Schuman, Ltd., 1962), 170.
111. Paolo Romanelli, Das Forum Romanum, (Rome: Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, 1977); Fillipo Coarelli, Roma: Guida Archaeologica Laterza (Roma-Bari: Laterza & Figli Spa, 1985), 93-94.
112. H. Mattingly and E. Sydenham, The Roman Imperial Coinage, II (London: 1926), 26, 73, 127, 131; H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, II (London: 1930), 115-118; 131-132.
113. Cassius Dio, 66.7.2; Berliner 31-32; There was also a fiscus Alexandrinus and a fiscus Asiaticus. M. Ginsburg, “Fiscus Iudaicus,” Jewish Quarterly Review, No. 21, (1931): 281-291.
114. Leon, 38.
115. Waagenaar, 77; Berliner, 76-80.
116. Waagenaar, 97-98; Berliner, 126-135.
117. Waagenaar, 106; Berliner, 117-118.
118. Waagenaar, 126-127; Berliner, 130-131.
119. Augustus Hare, Walks in Rome Vol. 1 (New York: MacMillan, 1896), 163.
120. Waagenaar, 131-144; Christopher Hibbert, Rome, The Biography of a City (Middlesex: Penguin, 1987), 205; Kenneth R. Stow, Päpste und Papsttum (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1982), 60; Berliner 208-211; Elio Toaff, Il Carnevale di Roma e gli Ebrei (Milan: Sally Mayer Foundation, 1956).
121. Waagenaar, 166-167; Berliner, 171-189.
122. Waagenaar, 131-144; Berliner, 209.
123. Waagenaar, 198 citing Massimo d’Azeglio, Gli ebrei sono Uomini (Roma: Organizzazione Editoriale Tipographica, 1848); Berliner, 183-184.
124. Waagenaar, 197-198.
125. Waagenaar, 227 citing Charles de Brosses, Lettres historiques et critiques sur l’Italie, 1799.
126. Gregorovius, 94.
127. Charlotte A. Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1852), 284.
128. Story, 407 and 429.
129. Ibid., 436-438.
130. Rodolfo Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, (London: Macmillan, 1895), 311-312.
131. P. Chandlery, Pilgrim Walks in Rome: A Guide to Its Holy Places (New York: The Messenger, 1903), 225.
132. Stille, 171-172.
133. Schafler, 355.
134. Cecil Roth, The History of the Jews of Italy (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1946), 474.
135. J.P.V.D. Balsdon, Romans and Aliens (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 14.
136. Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae 126.96.36.1990-301; Bellum Iudaicum, 188.8.131.52-81; John E. Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1988), 95; Historians believe the figure of 8,000 suggests a Jewish population in Rome between 20,000 and 60,000. Leon, 15 and 135.
137. Philo, Legatio, 155-157; Josephus, Antiquitates Iudaicae, 19.5.2-3.279-291; 16.3.3-4; 1.86-7; 184.108.40.206; 19.4.1-2.326-245; 220.127.116.110-362; 18.104.22.168; 22.214.171.124-6; 126.96.36.199; 16.6.4-7.167-73; 188.8.131.52-15; Bellum Iudaicum, 184.108.40.2063; Berliner 28-29.
138. Miriam Griffin, Nero: The End of a Dynasty (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 213.
139. Leon, 28 citing B. Henderson, Life and Principate of the Emperor Nero, (London: 1903), 467.
140. M. Platnauer, Life and Reign of the Emperor Septimus Severus, (London: Oxford, 1981), 153.
141. Digest, 220.127.116.11; 18.104.22.168.
142. Lampridius, “Antoninus Heliogabalus,” Scriptores Historiae Augustae, 3.4-5; 7.2′ 29.2; Dio, 79.1.
143. Waagenaar, 64; Berliner, 46.
144. Waagenaar, 71; Berliner, 75.
145. Waagenaar, 91-92.
146. Waagenaar, 91; Berliner 100-101.
147. Waagenaar, 76-78.
148. Ibid., 104-105.
149. Berliner, 159
150. Peter Partner, Renaissance Rome, 1500-1559, A Portrait of a Society (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univerisity of California Press, 1976), 101.
151. Kenneth R. Stow, Päpste und Papsttum (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1982), 1.
152. Roth, 462.
153. Waagenaar, 268.
154. Zuccotti, 15.
155. H. Stuart Hughes, Prisoners of Hope, The Silver Age of the Italian Jews, 1924-1974 (Cambridge: The Harvard University Press, 1983), 18-19.
156. Roth, 476.
157. Francis Marion Crawford, Ave Roma Immortalis: Studies from the Chronicles of Rome (London: Macmillan, 1899), 118.
158. Zuccotti, 16.
159. Meir Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews, 3, citing Theodor Herzl, “Tagebücher, iii,” Gesammelte Zionistische Schriften, iv (Tel Aviv: 1934), 549.
160. Roth, 479; Franco Catalano, Luigi Luzzatti: La Vita el’Opera (Milan: Banco Popolare di Milano, 1965).
161. The Jewish Communities of Nazi Occupied Europe, 5.
162. Waagenaar, 274.
163. Zuccotti, 18 citing Gina Formaggini, Stella d’Italia Stella di David: Gli ebrei dal Risorgimento alla Resistenza (Milan: University of Mursia, 1970), 45; Waagenaar, 325, 358-359.
164. The Jewish Communities of Nazi Occupied Europe, 5-8.
165. Ibid., 7.
166. Ibid., 6.
167. Hilberg, 661.
168. Waagenaar, 311 citing Nuova Antilogia, April 1, 1937.
169. Kenneth R. Stow, “Ethnic Rivalry or Melting Pot: The `Edot’ in the Roman Ghetto,” Judaism 41, (Summer 1992): 286-296.
170. Hilberg, 661.
171. Yomtov Ludwig Bato, “Italian Jewry,” Publications of the Leo Baeck Institute of Jews from Germany, Year Book III (London: East and West Library, 1958), 334.
172. Ibid., 338.
173. Story, 443.
174. Gregorovius, 11.
175. Ibid., 25.
176. Eaton, 284.
177. Joseph Lapalombara interviewing Gay Talese, “Gay Talese, Back to the Roots,” Italy Italy, Year XI No. 1, (January-February 1993): 39.
178. Bookbinder, 108.
179. Hallie, 6.
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Copyright 1993 Daniel T. Murphy.