Persecution, October 16, 1943 and the Deportation of the Jews of Rome

Deportation of the Jews of Rome

On September 25th, 1943, the chief of the police of the German occupation, Herbert Kappler, summoned the president of the Jewish community of Rome, Ugo Foà, and the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Dante Almansi, ordering them to come up with 110 pounds (50 kilograms of pure gold within 36 hours, no exception. If the community was unable to meet those demands, 200 members from the community were to be deported immediately.

Ugo Foà as Attorney General of the Rome Court of Appeals, 1935-1938, Jewish Museum of Rome (Portrait painter, Federico Spoltore)

On September 28, when it came to saving a Jewish life, a human life, every Roman Jew, together with non-Jewish Romans, desperately searched for, collected, and delivered the gold to the Germans. The following day, a German military unit went to the Community offices and seized the files with the list of all the contributors.

On October 8, the Germans raided the Community Library, as well as the Library of the Rabbinical College, and looted volumes of inestimable value. It is sad to learn that the majority of Roman Jews didn’t realize the risk they ran by remaining in the city. Even if they had been more aware they did not have the means of finding refuge elsewhere.

The first Italian round-up of Jews included the entire city of Rome, a raid that took place in the early morning hours of the 16th of October, 1943. Small teams of German police went to all the addresses of Jewish families, and a note in Italian was given to the head of the family with instructions for immediate deportation. The note indicated that the families had only 20 minutes to pack a suitcase, and abandon their houses, locking the doors behind them. Everyone then had to get into the military trucks which then gradually began to fill up.

The round-up of the Jews of Rome was concluded in the late morning. 1,022 persons, including one Catholic woman, Carolina Milani who had decided not to abandon the old Jewish woman for whom she was caring, were all arrested and taken to the Military College, where they would await their deportation. What is less known is that a high percentage of these persons was constituted only of women and children, due to the rumors in the preceding days of the possible arrests of adult males to be sent to work camps. It is for this reason, as many males had fled or were hiding, that the majority of the Jews of Rome who were seized and placed in Rome’s Military College, not far from the Vatican, were the elderly along with women and children.

L’oro di Roma, internationally released as Gold of Rome (1961 film by Carlo Lizzani)The film is based on actual events surrounding the Nazi’s raid of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto

The 1,022 Jews were imprisoned for two days. Then, on the morning of October 18, the victims were loaded onto trucks and taken to the Tiburtina station, and from there deported on a freight train to Poland –to the Complex of concentration camps, the work camps, and the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Of the Roman Jews taken away on October 16, only sixteen returned: fifteen men and only one woman. In the following months, in Rome, another 700-800 people were captured, mostly due to tipoffs by Italian collaborators.

The Jewish Museum of Rome

In the Jewish Museum of Rome, one woman survivor, Settimia Spizzichino, out of the 16 who survived shares her testimony in a video segment of:  “A Star on the Tiber“, narrating the history in both Italian and English located in Room six: From Emancipation to Today.

In addition, this room exhibits precious documentation, photographs. and objects narrating the sad period of the Jewish Community during the racial laws of 1938, followed by the deportation period with testimonies and video footage. 

The Jewish Museum of Rome is proud to provide Holocaust educational tours. This educational effort focuses on ensuring that participants are equipped with relevant knowledge, skills, and competencies. Special consideration is given in particular to the many non-Jewish grade school through high school children who visit. Learning first-hand with museum educators empowers these participants with an authentic educational experience and understanding of anti-Semitism during the Nazi occupation. The aim is for all visitors to learn to value the importance of human rights and to resist the stereotypes and most importantly misconceptions—which could lead to discrimination and violence against Jews or other diverse groups.

Jewish Quarter of Rome
Portico of Octavia (Jewish Quarter)

Brenda Lee Bohen

Brenda is a Latina and a proud Veteran of the United States Army Reserves. She holds dual citizenship in both the United States and Italy. She is a trained historic preservationist who tirelessly advocates the scholarship and history of the Jews of Rome. She has her certification in Jewish leadership and continues advanced studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. Brenda is also a licensed and accredited tour guide at the Jewish Museum of Rome and the Vatican Museums.

Read more blogs from Brenda: Jewish Rome, 3 Literary Treasures of The Jewish Museum of Rome


Jewish Museum of Rome

Room Six: From emancipation to today

The Italians of the Jewish Race: The anti-Semitic Laws of 1938 and the Jews of Rome (Palombi Editore, 2018)

Treasures Of The Jewish Museum Of Rome: Guide To The Museum And Its Collections, by Daniela Di Castro. Araldo De Luca Editore, Rome 2010; reprinted 2016