At the request of a friend, Michael Frank set out to discover the fate of a Polish Jew named Fanny Rudorfer, who had spent much of World War II living under the pseudonym Franca Ricci in a tiny Italian village, where she shared her secret with the mother of Frank’s friend. Frank eventually learned how Rudorfer came to be in remote Pievebovigliana:
During the earlier Mussolini years, young, mostly East European Jews were permitted—in fact, encouraged—to come to Italy to pursue studies they were forbidden to pursue in their own countries. The government reduced university fees for these foreign students by half, granted scholarships, and streamlined bureaucracy. . . .
Many of these foreign Jews were students. Others came to Italy with the simple wish to establish new lives in a new and apparently welcoming country. And still others belonged to the population of refugees who began arriving in 1933 from Germany and elsewhere, many of whom intended to use Italy only as a point of transition on a longer journey . . . to the Americas, Palestine, and other safe homes.
But with the passage of the racial laws in 1938 and Italy’s entrance into the war in 1940, the situation of these foreign Jews became increasingly problematic. About 9,000 Jews managed to leave before March 12, 1939 (the deadline set by the racial laws), but that left behind about 4,000 Jews who had no means, or place, to go. They faced two possible choices—only they weren’t choices so much as directives. Some (typically men) were placed in the internment camps that . . . more closely resembled prisons for political prisoners [than Nazi concentration camps]. (Forty-eight camps for Jews alone would eventually be established throughout the country).
Others were relocated to small towns where they lived under confino libero, which can be translated as either “house arrest” or “free imprisonment,” a revealing oxymoron. These Jews were domiciled in about 220 towns in every region of Italy except Sardinia and Sicily. Under confino libero, families were often separated. Forbidden (as they were from 1938 on) from holding full-time jobs, they lived off very small, often intermittent per diems and by selling off their possessions and doing odd jobs. Each family member was required to check in daily with the police or the local mayor. And, most troubling of all, for months, then years, on end, none of these people knew what would happen to them