Jews in the Ghetto Vecchio in Venice after the Liberation, Archive of Jewish community in Venice
When Italy entered the war in 1940, many Jews appealed to Mussolini and to the king, reiterating their loyalty to their country and requesting to be able to join the armed forces as volunteers. Anti-Semitic propaganda in the press intensified, insisting that “international Jewry” was responsible for the war. One of the Fascist government’s first measures was the imprisonment of all foreign Jews and those among the Italians who were considered dangerous. Many internment camps were opened in the central and southern regions, the largest one at Ferramonti of Tarsia, in Calabria. Other Italian and foreign Jews were sent off to forced residence in isolated locations. In the general atmosphere of violence that had been created by the war, there were many attacks on Jewish people, anti-Semitic writings, and destructions of synagogues. In May of 1942, a law of forced labor for Jewish adults, both men and women, was decreed, assigning them to manual labor of various kinds. On 25 July, Mussolini fell from power and Marshall Badoglio formed a new government.
On September 23, 1943, Mussolini, just liberated from prison by the Nazis, formed the Italian Social Republic (RSI), which entered the war on the side of the Nazi Germany. The anti-Jewish policy was one of the fundamental points of the new manifesto of the Fascist Republican Party, known as the “Carta di Verona.” Point # 7 reads: “Those belonging to the Jewish race are foreigners. During this war they belong to an enemy nationality.”
Shop owners post the sign “Arian shop” following the Racial Laws, Rome 1938
On November 30, 1943, the Minister of the Interior prepared the arrest of Jews, their confinement to camps, and the seizure of their assets. The measures were enforced immediately by prefects and police chiefs who ordered the ordinary police and carabinieri to carry them out. Single and collective arrests took place throughout the entire territory of the RSI. At the same time the anti-Semitic propaganda was intensified. With the dissolution of the Jewish communities, in 1944, precious sacred objects and valuable libraries were also confiscated. Starting on November 30, 1943, the Minister of the Interior of the RSI opened dozens of provincial concentration camps. From there, detainees were gradually transferred to the large national concentration camp in Fossoli, near Carpi. In February of 1944, Fossoli was used by the Nazis as a police and transit camp, from which convoys were sent to Auschwitz and other camps.
Those arrested in the “Operation Zone” Litorale Adriatico, were instead brought to the Risiera di San Sabba camp in Trieste to await deportation. Some of the numerous political prisoners (especially Slavic partisans) detained there were killed and cremated in the camp.From 1943 to 1945, more than 300 Jews were also killed in the course of robberies, retaliatory actions, and other events (in addition to various suicides). The most severe was the slaughter of Fosse Ardeatine in Rome, in retaliation for an attack against the occupying German forces. 335 prisoners were killed, of which 75 were Jews awaiting deportation.
About 770-7900 Jews were either killed or deported from Italy. Among the deported, only 837 survived. For most the destination was Auschwitz, although some were sent to Bergen Belsen, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg.
Prison cells, extermination camp of San Sabba, Trieste, 1943-1945
Around 6,000 italian Jews undertook a dangerous journey to Switzerland; others were stopped at the border. About 500 fled to the southern regions of Italy.
A thousand Jews participated in the partisan struggle. Many died for the cause and received the greatest national honors. The Jewish relief organization, Delasem organized assistance, providing emergency funds, commodities, forging documents, and finding safe hideouts for the persecuted. It often avail itself of help of sectors of the Catholic Church, which had a large network of safe hideouts in convents and religious houses, especially in Rome.
Many Jews were saved by their non-Jewish fellow-citizens: civilians like doctors, town clerks, farmers, and even smugglers offered help to the persecuted. Anti-fascists and partisan troops gave them shelter. Other Jews, however, fell victim to informants.