What is the Shoah?
The Shoah is the murder of around six millions of Jews by Nazis and their collaborators all over Europe. Between the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Nazi Germany sought to murder every Jew who fell under its rule. Since the persecution of Jews in the modern era began with Hitler's rise to power in 1933, some historians suggest that date as the beginning of the Shoah. Jews were not the only victims of the Nazi regime, but they were the only group subjected to such a radical and total destruction.
Holocaust or Shoah?
The word Holocaust is believed to have been first used in the 20th century by Winston Churchill to indicate the Armenian genocide and subsequently to indicate the Nazi book burning actions of 1933. The term was adopted in the 1960s by the American Jewish world and finally ratified through the television series "Holocaust" in 1978 and the creation of the Holocaust Museum in Washington in 1993.
The word means "completely burnt" in Greek and indicates animal sacrifices. It probably originated in the early Greek-speaking Christian world with the meaning of "offering to god". Because of the implication that the Jews may have been "offered" for a reason, many, including Primo Levi, refused the use of this term. While "holocaust" may be a contested word, especially among secular Jews and in Israel, the notion of "sacrifice" has always existed among Yiddish speaking survivors who referred to the extermination with the word khurbn, which in Hebrew means "sacrificial offering".
After the founding of the State of Israel, Yad Vashem introduced the word Shoah that means catastrophe in Hebrew and, although biblical term inscribed in the traditional narrative of "destruction and reconstruction", is generally regarded as a secular definition of the persecution and extermination project.
How many Jews were murdered in Europe?
Unfortunately the exact figure of Jews killed in the Shoah is unknown. Specialized historical researches have determined the number of victims to be between 5 and 6 millions. The main sources for this complex calculation are based on the comparison between pre-war and post-war Jewish population censuses, on numerical reports about murders by "special troops" (Einsatztruppen) and on transport lists from the various countries.
The largest Jewish populations before the outbreak of World War II lived in Eastern Europe, chiefly Poland, Yugoslavia, Lithuania and Ukraine. In these areas, between 70% and 80% of Jews were exterminated. In the Axis countries and Vichy France the percentage of Jews who were deported was between 20% and 30% both because many Jews fled before the end of 1941 and because the Axis powers sought to export the killing operation to occupied countries.
Who are the Jews who were persecuted during the Shoah in Italy?
All Italian Jews who lived under the fascist and Nazi regimes were persecuted and had to hide or flee to survive: there were about 37,000 of them.
How did Jews survive the Shoah in Italy?
During the period of the Italian Social Republic, many Jews who were trying to hide received help from civilians, clergy, antifascists and civil servants who often risked their lives to extend assistance. At the same time, the Italian policewere releasing census data to the Germans and many civilians were denouncing Jewish families for a fee.
Between these two extremes were many civilians willing to rendercertain services to Jews in hiding or en route to freedom bypurchasing and selling goods, or by offering transportation and protection for remunerations that ranged from a reasonable exchange to the ruthless exploitation of people who had no choice.
A considerable percentage of this group made illegalcrossings over the Italian-Swiss border. Some were hidden by friends in convents orcity hospitals while others fled to the countryside and found refuge in stables and farmhouses. In many instances, Jewish individuals and families on the run not only had to find places to hide but needed to cover the costs of their precarious lodging, which meant the mobilization of non-Jews -including civilians and clergy - became key to their survival. They provided housing, food, information and money; and some municipal employees and antifascist networks also provided blank or false identity cards.
The main rescue and assistance operation in Italy- as well as the most extensive - was organized by the Jewish relief agency Delasem (Delegazione Assistenza Emigranti)funded by well-to-do Italian families and, in proportions that increased substantially from 1943, by the American Joint Distribution Committee.
Delasem had been created in 1939, with clearance from the Italian government, to assist and facilitate the transit and expulsion from Europe of German Jews forced to leave their country. The leaders of Delasem identified individualsoutside the Jewish community network, willing to support their operation, some of whom were to become key figureswhen, in 1943, the organization was forced to go underground and operate solely through non-Jews.
At that point the JDC funds, smuggled into Italy via Switzerland, were being distributed to the Jews in hiding, chiefly with the help of Father Francesco Repetto in Genoa, and the Capuchins Père Marie Benoit in Rome and Don Leto Casini in Florence. These clergymen had been called upon by Delasem, whose leaders, including Lelio Valobra, Raffaele Cantoni, Berl Grosser, Settimio Sorani, and Massimo Teglio, could no longeroperate officially; and Rabbi Riccardo Pacifici and Rabbi Umberto Cassuto, both of whom were denounced and deported to Auschwitz while working to save lives.
Is the Shoah in the Dodecanese Islands (Rhodes and Kos Islands) part of Italian Shoah?
The Dodecanese was in every respect Italian territory. It was run by a Governor whose decrees were, effectively, Italian law, and it was managed by the Italian administration. The courts, schools and dominant culture were Italian and even the toponymy of Rhodes had been adapted and modified to accommodate the new regime in 1939, with towns and villages bearing the names of Italian personalities of note. Many Dodecanese Jews had chosen Italian citizenship (the so-called small citizenship) after the Lausanne Treaty, in 1924. From a political standpoint, the Dodecanese became an Italian territory under German military occupation, on September 8, 1943. However, the civil administration remained in the hands of the Italians. Rhodes was the only territory beyond the South of Naples that became part of the Italian Social Republic. Consequently, the Dodecanese Shoah is properly considered part of the Italian Shoah. The deportees from that Jewish community must be considered in the same way as deportees from Italy, and the CDEC Foundation is currently carrying out specific research on them.
Were there massacres of Jews in Italy?
Several massacres carried out in Italy specifically targeted Jews. There were also massacres of Italian civilians that included Jews. The most important are:
Lago Maggiore, September 15-23 1943, October 9-11 1943: 54 Jews; Ferrara, November 14 1943: 4 Jews (out of 14 victims); San Pietro, Contrada Ari (Chieti), January 11 1944: 4 Jews; Fosse Ardeatine, Rome, March 24 1944: 76 Jews (out of 335 victims); Pardo Roques's home, Pisa, August 1 1944: 7 Jews (out of 12 victims); Forlì airfield, September 5, September 17, September 28 1944: 17 Jews (out of approximately 30 victims); Cuneo, April 26 1945: 5 Jews; Fiume, unknown date: 8 Jews.
Other Jews died in Italy, after having been arrested and before their deportation, from abuse, fright or by taking their own lives.