For more than fifty years, Giacomo Debenedetti’s October 16, 1943 has been considered one of the best and most accurate accounts of the shockingly brief and efficient roundup of more than one thousand Roman Jews from the oldest Jewish community in Europe for the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
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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. 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: (STET)
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.
The Holocaust in Rome: 1943-1944 | REPUBLK – 10/23/2012.
There was no “brighter side to the story” — what if only “1,259” (and “1,970.20” is not an approximation) persons had included your family, friends, associates?
The perhaps inherent youth factor implicit in Daniel T. Murphy’s Masters thesis (1993) may fit with how the Jews of Rome on October 16, 1943 were rounded up by lists developed in accord with Italian racial laws enforced under the fascist government preceding the interim government of Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio, who in his flight from imminent German army occupation would leave the same intact — “Badoglio’s bureaucrats refused to destroy their many lists of Jewish names and addresses” says historian Susan Zuccotti as quoted by translator Estelle Gilson, translator of Debenedetti’s book — for their Nazi successors.
Enriching the experience of reading Giacomo Debenedetti’s gem in Holocaust lore are Estelle Gilson’s introduction plus an end-note, “The Fate of the Roman Jewish Libraries”, and an historic preface by Alberto Moravia.
Contrary to general opinion, Jews are not distrustful by nature. Or to put it more clearly, they are distrustful in the same degree that they are perceptive about small matters, but credulous and disastrously ingenuous when it comes to large ones. In regard to the Germans, they were ingenuous, almost ostentatiously so. There are several possible reasons for this. Convinced by centuries of experience that it is their fate to be treated like dogs, Jews have a desperate need for human sympathy; and to solicit it, they offer it. To trust people, to rely on them, to believe in their promises, is precisely such a proof of sympathy. Will they behave this way with the Germans? Yes, unfortunately. With the Germans there would also come into play the classic Jewish attitude toward authority. Even before the first fall of Jerusalem, authority has exercised absolute, arbitrary, and inscrutable power of life and death over Jews. This has operated in such a way that both in their conscious and unconscious minds authority has assumed the form of an exclusive, jealous, and omnipresent God. To distrust His promises, whether good or bad, is to fall into sin for which sooner or later one will have to pay, even if that sin remains unexpressed, and is only an intention, or a mumbled complaint. And finally, the fundamental idea of Judaism is justice. The mission of the Jews was to bring this idea to Eastern civilization. Renan makes this expressly the theme of his interpretation of the entire history of Israel, including the great eschatological statements, including the Messianic wait, and the promise that on that Day of the Lord, tomorrow or who knows when, He will light His dawn at the height of the millennia precisely to bring back the reign of justice upon this earth.
For these reasons, Rome’s Jews had a certain kind of faith in the Germans . . . .
So sad, so tragic, so horrifying a story as Debenedetti tells continues today in the anti-Semitic / anti-Zionist rants and machinations of political movements as diverse as Arab Baathism and resurgent eastern European nationalism.
Enlarged in scope, the same immense black cloud descends on the Christian west, on the Christian communities of the middle east under assault today by the forces funded along the Muslims Brotherhood and Wahhabi fronts with their black flags flying where once stood crosses, and on Muslim communities worldwide as a red death explodes in unpredictable but numerous roadside and suicide bombings, assassinations, and countless beheading.
Before the onslaughts of al-Qaeda and Company, who is not a Jew?
This blogger, having read this extraordinary book, October 16, 1943 / Eight Jews, is to return to the news of similar persecutions taking place right now worldwide.
Additional and Related Reference
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