Donate

The Jews Who Lived under “Free Imprisonment” in Fascist Italy

July 17 2017

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

Read more at Tablet

More about: Fascism, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Italy, World War II

Israel’s Success Has Surprised Everyone

April 20 2018

On the eve of Israel’s decision to declare statehood, 70 years ago, the CIA estimated that a Jewish state couldn’t hold off its Arab enemies for more than two years, while the famed Haganah commander Yigael Yadin told David Ben-Gurion that their chances of victory were fifty-fifty. Daniel Gordis describes just how wildly the country has managed to outpace expectations:

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. . . .

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power, but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. . . . Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like Fauda, while others (like Homeland and The A-Word) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious—and deeply proud—of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli literature, Israeli society