The extermination of the Jews in Italy took place during the brief period of the Italian Social Republic and the German occupation that began on September 8, 1943. Its roots, however, lay in the anti-Semitic policies implemented by the fascist government in September 1938.
From 1938, 51, 000 individuals were labelled "of Jewish race" by the fascist regime. They became objects of political, social, cultural and economic discrimination and were designated second-class citizens.
These racist policies were codified into law and implemented by way of very detailed administrative bills and decrees. The key tenets of fascist anti-Semitism included: the expulsion of students and teachers from public schools; the barring of individuals from holding positions in public administration, the professions or cultural and creative trades; the confiscation of business and real estate assets above a certain value or number of employees and the withdrawal of permission to exit the country with money, assets or stocks. After the outbreak of war in June 1940, foreign Jews were interned in special concentration camps and internment sites (these were mostly for women and children).
On the eve of the coup d'état to overthrow Mussolini on July 25, 1943, the Jewish community was impoverished and strongly reduced in numbers due to emigration and many of its members, having lost their jobs, had subsequently migrated from one odd job to another.
There were approximately 37.000 Jews in Italy at that time, including Italian and foreign nationals.
After the announcement that the new Badoglio cabinet had secretly signed an armistice with the Allies on September 8, 1943, Mussolini - with the support of the Germans - took over the regions lying between South Naples and the Alps and instituted the Italian Social Republic. German troops descended on Italy, transformed from ally to ambivalent supporter and - in some cases - occupying force.
Italian Jews, who had, up to that point, been protected from the Final Solution as citizens of one of the Axis' main allies, would now be subject to the same extermination policy being enacted in Nazi Germany.
The first German roundup of Jews took place in the North, in the small town of Merano, where the entire local Jewish community was arrested and sent to the Reichenau concentration camp in Austria (and from there to Auschwitz). The second, in Rome, on October 16, 1943, employed the same tactics as those used in La Rafle du Velodrome d'Hiver (The Vel'd'Hiv Roundup), in Paris on July 12, 1942: assaults were made on sleeping homes at first light; doors were smashed in and entire families taken into custody and incarcerated 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 confined in the barracks of the Alpine Brigade in Borgo San Dalmazzo. They were brought to France and from there to Auschwitz.
More German roundups followed in other Northern Italian cities until Christmas of 1943 and all those arrested were deported directly from the main railway stations in Milano, Firenze and Bologna, to the extermination camp at Auschwitz.
The new government of the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI), named the small town of Salò its capital and settled in on the shores of Lake Garda (Lago di Garda). On November 30, 1943, the RSI Minister of the Interior Guido Buffarini Guidi issued an order demanding the arrest of all Jews, the confiscation of their assets and their incarceration in provincial camps - pending the establishment of a special national concentration camp.
After Buffarini's order, the Italian authorities would become the leaders and managers of the persecution of the Jews: using census lists, the Italian police and carabinieri deployed their forces to locate, arrest and incarcerate Jews, who were then surrendered to the German SS.
Jews found themselves in dire straits. They tried, by the thousands, to secretly cross the Swiss border and head north or the southern border towards the Allied troops, who had landed in Sicily and were slowly advancing northward. Those Jews who couldn't manage to move went into hiding, seeking help from the resistance forces, the clergy, and the Italian people.
On December 2, 1943, the Italian authorities established a large national concentration camp for Jews at Fossoli di Carpi, in Modena. All Jews who had been arrested at home or in their hiding places were incarcerated there.
Shortly thereafter, the Germans took over Fossoli and began to organize the deportations. The Italian authorities, meanwhile, continued to send Jews there. Twelve transports of Jews would depart from Fossoli, mainly to Auschwitz. In the summer of 1944, after the liberation of Rome and Florence, Fossoli was evacuated; but deportations continued from another police transit camp located further north on the outskirts of Bolzano.
In the meantime, on September 11, 1943, Trieste became the capital of a northeastern Italian territory - one previously claimed by Austria. This area, now named the Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral (Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland), being administratively annexed to the Greater German Reich (Grossdeutsches Reich), was no longer under the control of the Italian authorities, whose power was significantly reduced. Jews were now arrested by the German police and 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, from which 22 smaller transports departed. Jews and partisans were murdered in the Risiera. The Risiera was also used to cremate the bodies of Jews and partisans shot elsewhere.
The ferocity of the German army of occupation and the Italian fascist regime, so evident in the manner of its arrests and roundups and the deportations to Auschwitz and other camps, was further demonstrated in the many massacres and murders that took place on Italian soil. 327 Jews died in Italy in circumstances other than deportation. Most of them were killed in massacres of Jews, or of groups of other civilians among whom there happened to be Jews: on Lago Maggiore, (September 15-23, 1943); at the Fosse Ardeatine in Rome (March 24, 1944); at the home of Pardo Roques in Pisa (August 1, 1944); and 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 life in hiding. Some of them killed themselves in order to avoid arrest.
As happened to French and Dutch Jews, the main destination of the deportations from Italy was Auschwitz, where the systematic extermination of the Jews took place between December 1941 and January 1945. More than 6,000 people came to Auschwitz from Italy. Other transports were destined for Bergen Belsen, a special concentration camp intended for citizens of neutral countries or of countries not invaded by Nazi Germany. More than 400 people were deported to Bergen Belsen, most of them survived because they'd been kept for an intended prisoner exchange with German nationals held by the Allies. Other transports of Jews were sent to Ravensbrueck and Buchenwald because their deportation occurred after November 1944, when Auschwitz began to be dismantled. Other Jews were caught in SS searches for partisans and, having not been identified as Jews, were deported to concentration camps for political opponents.
The victims of the Shoah on the Italian peninsula were more than 7.000; and over 300 died in Italy before being deported. 12.5% of the total survived the extermination camps.