Anti-Jewish Persecution in Tuscany

Text by Marta Baiardi from the insert “The Holocaust Remembrance Day 2002-2009” edited by the Regione Toscana in the special 25 April 2009 issue of the Florentine daily «La Nazione»

When the Italian armistice with the Allies was announced on 8 September 1943, the event marked the beginning of the war’s most dramatic and harrowing phase for the civil population. For Jews it was even worse. Under the Germans and the RSI [Italian Social Republic] they experienced the most brutal and merciless period of their ancient history in the country: the “persecution against lives”, i.e. the systematic rounding up of each and every one for deportation and extermination, women, old people and children included. At first it was the Germans who assailed Jews with slaughters, raids and deportations. The most massive of these operations was carried out in Rome, in the early hours of a rainy, gloomy day, on 16 October 1943, when over a thousand Roman Jews were captured and sent to Auschwitz: only about fifteen of them would return. The German mobile unit that had operated in Rome then swooped on Tuscany on 5 and 6 November 1943, hitting Florence, Siena and Montecatini at the same time, arresting and deporting hundreds of victims. After that, convents were raided in Florence. Many of those persecuted had found refuge there with the help of a Jewish-Christian rescue committee. The most horrible of these episodes took place at Santa Maria del Carmine, the Carmelite convent that sheltered many Jewish women with small children. In the night of 26 November Nazi-Fascists burst into the convent and for four long days the imprisoned women, before being deported to Auschwitz (where all of them died), were subjected to all sorts of abuse by the Fascist militia who were guarding them, having rushed to assist the Germans.

By mid-November 1943, however, the collaborationist regime of the RSI was ready to launch its own persecution of Jews, who were promptly declared “enemy aliens” to be arrested and deported. “Entire families” were to be taken into custody, as the Questore [police commissioner] of Florence specified in a circular sent to police forces in December 1943. From that moment on in Tuscany, as well as elsewhere, the hunting of Jews was led by Prefetti [the authority representing the central government at provincial level] and Questori. Germans retained the task of transporting the victims to the concentration camps. This meant that there were two parallel police forces working side-by-side against the defenceless Jews, who after having been deprived of all their rights were now reduced to the status of prey.

All recent in-depth studies prove beyond doubt that exterminationist anti-Semitism was one of the pillars of the RSI, not a secondary aspect, however much republican Fascists tried after the war to conceal this fact, all too readily absolving themselves and blaming the Italian Shoah entirely on the Nazis. The truth is that men and authorities of the RSI very often carried out the persecution with great determination and just as great efficiency. Anti-Semitism by RSI institutions was particularly vicious in Tuscany and was not limited to Florence and the Jewish Affairs Office of the local Prefettura [the Prefetto’s office]. In Grosseto, for instance, the Prefetto zealously anticipated at a local level – on his own initiative – the persecutory policy of the central government.

Persecution in Tuscany had two epicentres: Florence, where a high number of Jews, both local people and refugees, had gathered, and the provinces of Lucca and Pistoia. In the latter there were many Jews who had been evacuated from the coastal area, but also many foreign Jews, who since 1940 had been interned in the “campi del duce”, i.e. the internment camps set up by the Fascist regime when Italy joined the war. Here arrests were mostly carried out by local Carabinieri.

The hunt for Jews in Tuscany resulted in the deportation of hundreds of men women and children. A crucial role in achieving this result was played by the many who informed on Jews and actively collaborated in the hunt. And yet, the majority of Jews were saved. A few managed to reach the South already liberated by the Allies. Others fled to Switzerland. But most of them stayed and lived in hiding, resorting to all kinds of survival strategies. If the proportion of those saved was high, in Tuscany as in the rest of Italy, this was no doubt due to the short duration of persecution, to the scarcity of troops deployed by the Germans, sometimes to mere chance. Even more often, however, it was the result of the efforts of men and women, whether in groups or as individuals, all greatly different from each other but united in the firm belief that the murderous design of Nazi-Fascists should be resisted.

Jews Deported from Tuscany (divided by Province)

Arezzo 64
Florence 311
Grosseto 38
Leghorn 33
Lucca 112
Pisa 16
Pistoia 84
Siena 17
Total 675

Anti-Jewish Persecution in Florence

Text by Marta Baiardi from the insert “The Holocaust Remembrance Day 2002-2009” edited by the Regione Toscana in the special 25 April 2009 issue of the Florentine daily «La Nazione»

In Florence, the “persecution against the lives” of Jews lasted eleven months, starting from the morning of 11 September 1943 when the Germans occupied the town. The manhunt they unleashed led to the deportation of hundreds of people. We know the identity of 311 of them. Only fifteen came back: eight women and seven men. Of the twenty-seven children who were deported none survived. The youngest was Fiorella Calò. She was the child of poor pedlars, who had been evacuated to the hamlet of Il Ferrone and were captured there. Fiorella Calò had been born on 1 September 1943: on 24 January 1944, when she was “arrested” by Italians with hr entire family, she was therefore barely four months old.

Of many others, particularly foreign Jews, all trace has been lost, and it will be next to impossible ever to piece together a full list of them.

So far for the victims. But who were the persecutors?

In Florence, as elsewhere, there were many perpetrators of the final solution. First of all the German occupiers, who immediately went into action. Then there was the Special Services Branch of the 92nd Legion of the GNR [Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, i.e. the National Republican Guard, which included former Carabinieri and members of the Fascist militia]. The Special Services Branch, better known as “Banda Carità” [“Carità Gang”, from the name of the man who headed it, Mario Carità], notorious for the war it waged against organised resistance, displayed at the same time a less widely known but nonetheless intense commitment to hunting Jews.

However, the most significant role in anti-Jewish persecution in Florence was undoubtedly played by the Ufficio Affari Ebraici [Jewish Affairs Office], a branch of the Prefettura [the authority representing the central government at provincial level]. Anti-Jewish persecution had considerable importance in Florence and the surrounding area, and during the eleven months they were in power RSI authorities were constant and zealous in their efforts in this field. From late December 1943 on, the Jewish Affairs Office was at no. 26 of the Via Cavour, one of the main streets in Florence, where the Regional Council of Tuscany has its seat today. The building belonged formerly to a Jewish lawyer, Bettino Errera, and had been requisitioned – only a tiny nameplate on the first-floor doorbell now reminds of its old owner. The Jewish Affairs Office in Florence had extensive powers and carried out large-scale operations: it plundered property and arrested people, in effect exerting a pervasive control over the territory. It managed to create a forceful synergy both with the “Carità Gang” and with the Questura [Police headquarters] in Florence. It was thus able to coordinate all activities aimed at persecution, combining the brutality of unscrupulous executioners, who were in charge of the dirty work, including torture, and the vast paperwork required for the various stages of persecution. The office drew up lists of Jews to be hunted down and reports on confiscations and arrests. It also ran its own small but deadly net of informers so as to gather information on people in hiding and on their property. It was this office, moreover, which kept accounts of the property seized and entertained contacts with banks and other institutions interested in the confiscated property – lining their own pockets in the process.

The Jewish Affairs Office was headed by Giovanni Martelloni, then aged thirty-eight, an adventurer, a veteran volunteer from the Albania campaign, a friend of Carità and Manganiello, the Chief of the Province [as the Prefetto was called under the Italian Social Republic]. Martelloni became a leading figure among Republican Fascists in Florence thanks mainly to his anti-Semitism, distinguishing himself both by his extremist speech and by his persecutory actions. After the war Martelloni and his “gang” were put on trial for their misappropriations, but the trial ended without any practical result: the main defendants, Martelloni among them, charged with illegal arrest, embezzlement and violence, were all granted an amnesty. Since he had always been absconding, Martelloni managed not to spend a single day in prison.