Shoah took place in Italy at the hands of German occupants – who exported the nazi policy of extermination of Jews after 8 September 1943 – but its premise was the anti-Semitic policy undertaken by the fascist government in September 1938.
Since 1938, 51.000 individuals, labelled as “of Jewish race” by the fascist regime through a special profiling who targeted them, were the object of a political, social, cultural and economical discrimination policy which made them second category citizens.
This policy was enforced by enacting a legislative package which included proper laws as well as very detailed administrative circulars. The most evident results of fascist anti-Semitism were: expulsion of students and teachers from public schools; banishing of individuals from public administration, professions, culture and show business and, after the outbreak of war in June 1940, also the internment of foreign Jews in special camps.
On the eve of the coup d’état against Mussolini on July 25, 1943 the Jewish community was generally impoverished, strongly reduced in numbers due to emigration; many of its members had lost their job and had subsequently changed their employment.
There were approximately 40.000 Jews in Italy at that time.
After the announcement that the new Badoglio cabinet had secretly signed an armistice with the Allies, on September 8, 1943 German army turned from ally into invader.
Italian Jews, who had been protected so far from the Shoah as citizens of an allied country, fell under the extermination policy enacted by nazi Germany.
The first German roundup took place in the North, in the small town of Merano, where the local Jewish community was arrested and sent to Reichenau concentration camp in Austria (and from there to Auschwitz). The second unforgettable German roundup was carried out in Rome, the former capital of Italy, on October 16, 1943, following the same process operated in Paris for the “rafle du Velodrome d’Hiver” on July 12, 1942: arrests were made at the first light of dawn in asleep homes, doors were smashed, whole families were taken into custody and concentrated in the Military College in via della Lungara before being deported to Auschwitz.
On November 21, 1943 in the Cuneo province, Jews who had crossed the Italian – French border in the Maritime Alps were concentrated in the alpine troops barrack in Borgo San Dalmazzo. They were brought to France and from there to Auschwitz.
More German roundups followed in other Northern Italian cities till Christmas of 1943 with resulting deportations to Auschwitz extermination camp directly from central railway stations in Milano, Firenze and Bologna.
The new government, called Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI), having the small town of Salò as its capital, settled on the shores of Garda Lake. It was led by Mussolini, freed from prison by a German military blitz. He enacted in turn a complex decree against Jews, prescribing the arrest of all Jews, their concentration in provisional provincial camps whilst awaiting a special national camp, and the seizure of their goods to confiscate them.
It was November 30, 1943. Since then, Italian institutions took the lead in managing the persecution against Jews: pursuits, arrests, concentrations were organized by prefects and police commissioners and enforced by police and Carabinieri (a corps of Italian armed forces)
Jews found themselves in a very painful situation. They tried, by the thousands, to cross secretly the Swiss border northward or the southern border towards the Allied troops which had landed in Sicily and were slowly going up through Italy. Those who didn’t manage to move went into hiding, seeking assistance from the Italian population, from both ecclesiastics and civilians.
On December 2, 1943, following the enactment of the Italian law on arrests of Jews, a large national concentration camp for Jews was established in Fossoli di Carpi in the province of Modena. All the Jews who had been caught at home or in their hiding places were concentrated there.
After a while, German occupants took upon themselves the management of Fossoli and started to organize deportations of Jews from there. Italian authorities continued to bring to Fossoli the Jews they managed to arrest. Twelve transports of deportees were organized from Fossoli, mainly to Auschwitz. In the summer of 1944 Fossoli was evacuated and deportations continued from another police transit camp which was located farther north on the outskirts of the city of Bolzano (three transports).
At the same time, on September 11, 1943 the city of Trieste became the capital of a Northeastern Italian territory, which had always been claimed by Austria. That territory, which was called Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral (Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland) was administratively annexed to the so-called Great Reich, so reducing the power of Italian institutions. Jews arrested by German police were imprisoned in the local jail before their deportation; later, they were confined in a police transit camp on the outskirts of Trieste, the Risiera di San Sabba (22 small transports left from there). Jews and partisans were murdered in the Risiera; bodies of partisans shooted elsewhere were cremated there.
The violence of German occupation regime and Italian fascist regime materialized not only through arrests, roundups, deportations to Auschwitz extermination camp and other camps but also through massacres and murders on the Italian territory. Indeed, 327 Jews died in Italy in different circumstances than deportation. Most of them were killed in massacres against Jews or civilians among whom there were Jews: on the Lago Maggiore (September 15-23, 1943); at the Fosse Ardeatine in Rome (March 24, 1944); at Pardo Roques’s home in Pisa (August 1, 1944); at Forlì airfield (September 5, 17, 1944).
Other Jews died in concentration camps or in prisons or during escape attempts or because they didn’t manage to survive an hard life in hiding. Some of them killed themselves in order to avoid arrest.
The main destination for deportations from Italy and normally for all European Jews was Auschwitz camp, where the extermination plants had been installed. More than 6.000 people were deported there from Italy. Other transports were headed to Bergen Belsen special concentration camp which was intended for citizens of neutral countries or of countries not invaded yet by nazi Germany. More than 400 people were deported to Bergen Belsen, most of them survived because they were intended to be exchanged for German nationals held by Allies. Other transports of Jews were headed to Ravensbrueck and Buchenwald concentration camps because their deportation occurred after November 1944, when Auschwitz camp began to be dismantled. Other Jews were caught in SS searches for partisans and, having not been identified as Jews, were deported in concentration camps for political opponents.
Shoah victims in Italy were more than 7.000, more than 300 of them died in Italy without being deported. 12,5% of the total survived the deportation.