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When the Lombards threatened to take over the whole peninsula in the 750’s, Pope Stephen II (or III) appealed for aid to the Frankish ruler Pippin III (the Short). He ‘restored’ the lands of central Italy to the Roman see, ignoring the claim of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire to sovereignty. This Donation of Pippin (754) provided the basis for the Papal claim to temporal power.  The Papacy was enlarged when it acquired the Duchy of Benevento in 1077.  Popes Innocent III and Julius II expanded the Papal domain. In 1870 Rome was taken by Italian forces and became the capital of Italy. In 1929 the Lateran Treaty established an independent city-state called the Vatican City located within Rome.



Wikipedia estimates that Jews made up 6% or more of the population of Sicily in 1492 (see Sicily) who went to Calabria, which had had a Jewish community since the 4th century. They were expelled from Calabria in 1524, and the Kingdom of Naples in 1540, as they fell under the Spanish Edict of Expulsion.

There was a gradual movement throughout the 16th century of Jews in Italy from south to north. Conditions worsened in Rome after 1556 and Venice in the 1580’s. Many Jews from Venice and the surrounding area migrated to Poland and Lithuania.[2][3][4][5]

When Jews were exiled en masse from Spain in 1492 many took refuge in Italy, where they were given protection by King Ferdinand I of Naples. Don Isaac Abravanel even received a position at the Neapolitan court, which he retained under the succeeding king, Alfonso II. The Spanish Jews were well received in Ferrara by the Duke, Ercole d'Este I, and in Tuscany through the mediation of Jehiel of Pisa and his sons. But at Rome and Genoa they experienced the problems hunger, plague, and poverty bring with them and accepted baptism to escape starvation. Sometimes the immigrants exceeded the domiciled Jews and gave the determining vote in matters of communal interest and the direction of studies. From Alexander VI to Clement VII the popes were indulgent toward the Jews, having more urgent matters to occupy them. The popes and many influential Cardinals openly violated one of the most severe enactments of the Council of Basel of prohibiting Christians from employing Jewish physicians and even gave them positions at the papal court. The Jewish communities of Naples and Rome received the greatest number of accessions; but many Jews passed on from these cities to Ancona, Venice, Calabria, and thence to Padua. Venice who assigned the Jews to a special quarter (ghetto).

During this time the only known boycott of an Italian port (Ancona) was made, following the torture and burning of Jews, through the effort of Dona Gracia Mendes who was one of the most remarkable women in Jewish history.

(Main article: History of the Jews in Naples)

The ultra-Catholic party tried with all the means at its disposal to introduce the Inquisition into the Neapolitan realm, then under Spanish rule. Charles V, upon his return from his victories in Africa, was on the point of exiling the Jews from Naples, but deferred doing so owing to the influence of Benvenida, wife of Samuel Abravanel. A few years later, however (1533), such a decree was proclaimed, but  Samuel Abravanel and others were able through their influence to avert for several years the execution of the edict. Many Jews repaired to the Ottoman Empire, some to Ancona, and still others to Ferrara, where they were received graciously by Duke Ercole II.

After the death of Pope Paul III (1534–1549), who had showed favor to the Jews, a period of strife, of persecutions, and of despondency set in. A few years later the Jews were exiled from Genoa, among the refugees being Joseph Hakohen, physician to the doge Andrea Doria and eminent historian. The Marranos, driven from Spain and Portugal, were allowed by Duke Ercole to enter his dominions and to profess Judaism freely and openly. Thus, Samuel Usque, also a historian, who had fled from the Inquisition in Portugal, settled in Ferrara; and Abraham Usque founded a large printing establishment there. A third Usque, Solomon, merchant of Venice and Ancona and poet of some note, translated the sonnets of Petrarch into excellent Spanish verse. His return to Judaism caused much rejoicing among the Italian Jews but was counterbalanced by the deep grief with the conversion to Christianity of two grandsons of Elijah Levita, Leone Romano and Vittorio Eliano. One became a canon of the Church; the other, a Jesuit. They heavily criticized the Talmud to Pope Julius III and the Inquisition.  As a consequence the Pope ordered its destruction. the printing one of his predecessors, Leo X, had given his sanction. On the Jewish New Year's Day (9 September), 1553, all the copies of the Talmud in the principal cities of Italy, in the printing establishments of Venice, and even in the distant island of Candia (Crete), were burned. In 1555, Pope Marcellus II wished to exile the Jews of Rome on a ritual murder accusation. He was restrained from the execution of the scheme by Cardinal Alexander Farnese who succeeded in bringing to light the true culprit.

PAUL IV     

Marcellus' successor, Paul IV, confirmed all the bulls against the Jews issued up to that time and added other more oppressive measures, which contained a variety of prohibitions designed to condemn Jews to abject misery, depriving them of the means of sustenance, and denying them the exercise of all professions. The papal bull Cum nimis absurdum of 1555 created the Roman ghetto and required the wearing of yellow badges. The Jews were also forced to labor at the restoration of the walls of Rome without any compensation.

Also, on one occasion the Pope had secretly given orders to one of his nephews to burn the Jewish quarter during the night. However, Alexander Farnese, hearing of the infamous proposal, succeeded in frustrating it.

Many Jews abandoned Rome and Ancona and went to Ferrara and Pesaro. Here the Duke of Urbino welcomed them graciously in the hope of directing the extensive commerce of the Levant to the new port of Pesaro, which was, at that time, exclusively in the hands of the Jews of Ancona. Among the many who were forced to leave Rome was the illustrious marrano, Amato Lusitano, a distinguished physician, who had often attended Pope Julius III. He had even been invited to become physician to the King of Poland, but had declined the offer in order to remain in Italy. He fled from the Inquisition to Pesaro, where he openly professed Judaism.


Paul IV was followed by the tolerant Pope Pius IV who was succeeded by Pius V who restored all the anti-Jewish bulls of his predecessors—not only in his own immediate domains, but throughout the Christian world. In Lombardy the expulsion of the Jews was threatened, and, although this extreme measure was not put into execution, they were tyrannized in countless ways. At Cremona and at Lodi their books were confiscated. In Genoa, from which city the Jews were at this time expelled, an exception was made in favor of Joseph Hakohen. In his Emek Habachah he narrates the history of these persecutions. He had no desire to take advantage of the sad privilege accorded to him, and went to Casale Monferrato, where he was graciously received even by the Christians. In this same year the Pope directed his persecutions against the Jews of Bologna, who formed a rich community well worth despoiling. Many of the wealthiest Jews were imprisoned and placed under torture in order to force them to make false confessions. When Rabbi Ishmael Ḥanina was being racked, he declared that should the pains of torture elicit from him any words that might be construed as casting reflection on Judaism, they would be false and null. It was forbidden to the Jews to absent themselves from the city; but many succeeded in escaping by bribing the watchmen at the gates of the ghetto and of the city. The fugitives, together with their wives and children, repaired to the neighboring city of Ferrara. Then Pius V. decided to banish the Jews from all his dominions, and, despite the enormous loss which was likely to result from this measure, and the remonstrances of influential and well-meaning Cardinals,the Jews (in all about 1,000 families) were actually expelled from all the Papal States excepting Rome and Ancona. A few became Christians. The majority found refuge in other parts of Italy, e.g. Leghorn and Pitigliano.

(Main article: History of the Jews in Venice)

A great sensation was caused in Italy by the choice of a prominent Jew, Solomon of Udine, as Turkish ambassador to Venice who was selected to negotiate within that republic during July 1574. There was a pending decree of expulsion of the Jews by the leaders of several kingdoms within Italy, thereby making the Venetian Senate concerned if whether there would be difficulties collaborating with Solomon of Udine. However, through the influence of the Venetian diplomats themselves, and particularly of the Patrician, Marcantonio Barbaro of the noble Barbaro family, who esteemed Udine highly, Solomon was received with great honors at the Doge's Palace. In virtue of this, Udine received an exalted position within the Republic of Venice and was able to render great service to his coreligionists. Through his influence Jacob Soranzo, an agent of the Venetian Republic at Constantinople, came to Venice. Solomon was influential in having the decree of expulsion revoked within Italian kingdoms, and he furthermore obtained a promise from Venetian patricians that Jews would have a secure home within the Republic of Venice. Udine was eventually honored for his services and returned to Constantinople, leaving his son Nathan in Venice to be educated. Nathan was one of the first Jewish students to have studied at the University of Padua, under the inclusive admission policy established by Marcantonio Barbaro. The success of Udine inspired many Jews in Turkey, particularly in Constantinople, where they had attained great prosperity.


The position of the Jews of Italy at this time was pitiable; Pope Paul IV and Pius V reduced them to the utmost humiliation and had materially diminished their numbers. In southern Italy there were almost none left; in each of the important communities of Rome, Venice, and Mantua there were about 2,000 Jews; while in all Lombardy there were hardly 1,000. Gregory XIII was not less fanatical than his predecessors; he noticed that, despite papal prohibition, Christians employed Jewish physicians; he therefore strictly prohibited the Jews from attending Christian patients, and threatened with the most severe punishment alike Christians who should have recourse to Hebrew practitioners, and Jewish physicians who should respond to the calls of Christians. Furthermore, the slightest assistance given to the Marranos of Portugal and Spain, in violation of the canonical laws, was sufficient to deliver the guilty one into the power of the Inquisition, which did not hesitate to condemn the accused to death. Gregory also induced the Inquisition to consign to the flames a large number of copies of the Talmud and of other Hebrew books. Special sermons, designed to convert the Jews, were instituted; and at these at least one-third of the Jewish community, men, women, and youths above the age of twelve, was forced to be present. The sermons were usually delivered by baptized Jews who had become friars or priests; and not infrequently the Jews, without any chance of protest, were forced to listen to such sermons in their own synagogues. These cruelties forced many Jews to leave Rome, and thus their number was still further diminished.


This was a system of tribunals developed by the Holy See during the second half of the 16th century, responsible for prosecuting individuals accused of a wide array of crimes related to heresy, including sorcery, immorality, blasphemy, Judaizing and witchcraft, as well for censorship of printed literature. The tribunals covered most of the Italian peninsula as well as Malta and also existed in isolated pockets of papal jurisdiction in other parts of Europe, including Avignon, in France. The Congregation of the Holy Office, one of the original 15 congregations of the Roman Curia created by Pope Sixtus V in 1588, presided over the activity of the local tribunals. While the Roman Inquisition was originally designed to combat the spread of Protestantism in Italy, the institution outlived its original purpose, and the system of tribunals lasted until the mid 18th century, when the Italian states began to suppress the local inquisitions, effectively eliminating the power of the church to prosecute heretical crimes.

The pope appointed one cardinal to preside over the meetings. There were usually ten other cardinals who were members of the Congregation, as well as a prelate and two assistants all chosen from the Dominican Order. The Holy Office also had an international group of consultants, experienced scholars of theology and canon law, who advised it on specific questions. In 1616 these consultants gave their assessment of the propositions that the Sun is immobile and at the center of the universe and that the Earth moves around it, judging both to be "foolish and absurd in philosophy," and the first to be "formally heretical" and the second "at least erroneous in faith" in theology. This assessment led to Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium to be placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, until revised and Galileo Galilei to be admonished about his heliocentrism. It was this same body in 1633 that tried Galileo, condemned him for a "grave suspicion of heresy", and banned all his works.

Among the subjects of this Inquisition were Francesco Patrizi, Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella, Girolamo Cardano, Cesare Cremonini, and Galileo Galilei. Of these, only Bruno was executed; Galileo died under house arrest, and Campanella was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. The miller Domenico Scandella was also put to the stake on the orders of Pope Clement VIII in 1599 for his belief that God was created from chaos.


Under the following Pope, Sixtus V (1585–1590), the condition of the Jews was somewhat improved. He repealed many of the regulations established by his predecessors, permitted Jews to reside in all parts of his realm, and gave Jewish physicians freedom to practice their profession. David de Pomis, an eminent physician, profited by this privilege and published a work in Latin, entitled De Medico Hebraeo, dedicated to Duke Francis of Urbino, in which he proved to the Jews their obligation to consider the Christians as brothers, to assist them, and to attend them. The Jews of Mantua, Milan, and Ferrara, taking advantage of the favorable disposition of the Pope, sent to him an ambassador, Bezaleel Massarano, with a present of 2,000 scudi, to obtain from him permission to reprint the Talmud and other Jewish books, promising at the same time to expurgate all passages considered offensive to Christianity. Their demand was granted, partly through the support given by Lopez, a marrano, who administered the papal finances and who was in great favor with the pontiff. Scarcely had the reprinting of the Talmud been begun, and the conditions of its printing been arranged by the commission, when Sixtus died. His successor, Gregory XIV, was as well disposed to the Jews as Sixtus had been; but during his short pontificate he was almost always ill. Clement VIII (1592–1605), who succeeded him, renewed the anti-Jewish bulls of Paul IV and Pius V, and exiled the Jews from all his territories with the exception of Rome, Ancona, and Avignon; but, in order not to lose the commerce with the East, he gave certain privileges to the Turkish Jews. The exiles repaired to Tuscany, where they were favorably received by Duke Ferdinand dei Medici, who assigned to them the city of Pisa for residence, and by Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, at whose court Joseph da Fano, a Jew, was a favorite. They were again permitted to read the Talmud and other Hebrew books, provided that they were printed according to the rules of censorship approved by Sixtus V. From Italy, where these expurgated books were printed by thousands, they were sent to the Jews of other various countries.


It was strange that under Philip II. the Jews exiled from all parts of Spain were tolerated in the duchy of Milan, then under Spanish rule. Such an inconsistency of policy was designed to work ill for the interests of the Jews. To avert this misfortune an eloquent ambassador, Samuel Coen, was sent to the king at Alessandria; but he was unsuccessful in his mission. The king, persuaded by his confessor, expelled the Jews from Milanese territory in the spring of 1597. The exiles, numbering about 1,000, were received at Mantua, Modena, Reggio, Verona, and Padua. The princes of the house of Este had always accorded favor and protection to the Jews, and were much beloved by them. Eleonora, a princess of this house, had inspired two Jewish poets; and when she was ill public prayers were said in the synagogues for her restoration to health. But misfortune overtook the Jews of Ferrara as well; for when Alfonso I., the last of the Este family, died, the principality of Ferrara was incorporated in the dominions of the Church under Clement VIII., who decreed the banishment of the Jews. Aldobrandini, a relative of the Pope, took possession of Ferrara in the pontiff's name. Seeing that all the commerce was in the hands of the Jews, he complied with their request for an exemption of five years from the decree, although this was much against the Pope's wish.

The Mantuan Jews suffered seriously at the time of the Thirty Years' war. The Jews exiled from the papal dominions had repeatedly found refuge in Mantua, where the dukes of Gonzaga had accorded protection to them, as they had done to the Jews already resident there. The next to the last duke, although a Cardinal, favored them sufficiently to enact a statute for the maintenance of order in the ghetto. After the death of the last of this house the right of succession was contested at the time of the Thirty Years' war, and the city was besieged by the German soldiery of Wallenstein. After a valiant defense, in which the Jews labored at the walls until the approach of the Sabbath, the city fell into the power of the besiegers, and for three days was at the mercy of fire and sword. The commander-in-chief, Altringer, forbade the soldiers to sack the ghetto, thereby hoping to secure the spoils for himself. The Jews were ordered to leave the city, taking with them only their personal clothing and three gold ducats per capita. There were retained enough Jews to act as guides to the places where their coreligionists were supposed to have hidden their treasures. Through three Jewish zealots these circumstances came to the knowledge of the emperor, who ordered the governor, Collalto, to issue a decree permitting the Jews to return and promising them the restoration of their goods. Only about 800, however, returned, the others having died.

The victories in Europe of the Turks, who brought their armies up to the very walls of Vienna (1683), helped even in Italy to incite the Christian population against the Jews, who remained friendly to the Turks. In Padua, in 1683, the Jews were in great danger because of the agitation fomented against them by the cloth-weavers. A violent tumult broke out; the lives of the Jews were seriously menaced; and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the governor of the city succeeded in rescuing them, in obedience to a rigorous order from Venice. For several days thereafter the ghetto had to be especially guarded.

(See also: Napoleon and the Jews)

Among the first schools to adopt the Reform projects of Hartwig Wessely were those of Trieste, Venice, and Ferrara. Under the influence of the liberal religious policy of Napoleon I, the Jews of Italy, like those of France, were emancipated. The supreme power of the popes was broken: they had no longer time to give to framing anti-Jewish enactments, and they no longer directed canonical laws against the Jews.

To the Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon at Paris (1807), Italy sent four deputies: Abraham Vita da Cologna; Isaac Benzion Segre, rabbi of Vercelli; Graziadio Neppi, physician and rabbi of Cento; and Jacob Israel Karmi, rabbi of Reggio. Of the four rabbis assigned to the committee which was to draw up the answers to the twelve questions proposed to the Assembly of Notables, two, Cologna and Segre, were Italians, and were elected respectively first and second vice-presidents of the Sanhedrin. But the liberty acquired by the Jews under Napoleon was of short duration; it disappeared with his downfall.

Pope Pius VII, on regaining possession of his realms, reinstalled the Inquisition; he deprived the Jews of every liberty and confined them again in ghettos. Such became to a greater or less extent their condition in all the states into which Italy was then divided; at Rome they were again forced to listen to proselytizing sermons.

In the year 1829, consequent upon an edict of the Emperor Francis I, there was opened in Padua, with the cooperation of Venice, of Verona, and of Mantua, the first Italian rabbinical college, in which Lelio della Torre and Samuel David Luzzatto taught. Luzzatto was a man of great intellect; he wrote in pure Hebrew upon philosophy, history, literature, criticism, and grammar. Many distinguished rabbis came from the rabbinical college of Padua. Zelman, Moses Tedeschi, and Castiglioni followed at Trieste the purposes and the principles of Luzzatto's school. At the same time, Elijah Benamozegh, a man of great knowledge and the author of several works, distinguished himself in the old rabbinical school at Leghorn.


The return to medieval servitude after the Italian restoration did not last long; and the Revolution of 1848, which convulsed all Europe, brought great advantages to the Jews. Although this was followed by restoration of the Papal States only four months later, in early 1849, yet the persecutions and the violence of past times had to a large extent disappeared.The last case of someone being apprehended by the Inquisition was that of a Jewish boy called Edgardo Mortara on August 27, 1851 (see Inquisition)

In 1859 most of the papal states were annexed into the united Kingdom of Italy under King Victor Emanuel II. Except in and near Rome, where oppression lasted until the end of the papal dominion (20 September 1870), the Jews obtained full emancipation. In behalf of their country the Jews with great ardor sacrificed life and property in the memorable campaigns of 1859, 1866, and 1870. Of the many who deserve mention in this connection may be singled out Isaac Pesaro Maurogonato. He was minister of finance to the Venetian republic during the war of 1848 against Austria, and his grateful country erected to him a memorial in bronze. There was also erected in the palace of the doges a marble bust of Samuel Romanin, a celebrated Jewish historian of Venice. Florence, too, has commemorated a modern Jewish poet, Solomon Fiorentino, by placing a marble tablet upon the house in which he was born. The secretary and faithful friend of Count Cavour was the Piedmontese Isaac Artom; while L'Olper, later rabbi of Turin, and also the friend and counselor of Mazzini, was one of the most courageous advocates of Italian independence. The names of the Jewish soldiers who died in the cause of Italian liberty were placed along with those of their Christian fellow soldiers on the monuments erected in their honour.


Italian prime minister Luigi Luzzatti, who took office in 1910, was one of the world's first Jewish heads of government (not converted to Christianity). Another Jew, Ernesto Nathan served as mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1913.

Pope John Paul II gave access to some formerly secret Vatican archives to scholars, one of whom, David Kertzer, used information thus obtained in his book The Popes Against the Jews. He said that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the popes and many Catholic bishops and Catholic publications consistently made a distinction between "good anti-Semitism" and "bad anti-Semitism". The "bad" kind directed hatred against Jews merely because of their descent. That was considered un-Christian, in part because the church held that its message was for all of humankind equally, and any person of any ancestry could become a Christian. The "good" kind denounced alleged Jewish plots to gain control of the world by controlling newspapers, banks, schools, etc., or otherwise attributed various evils to Jews. He details many examples in which Catholic publications denounced such alleged plots.  When criticized for inciting hatred of Jews, he would remind people that the Catholic Church condemned the "bad" kind of anti-Semitism.


Under fascism anti-Semitism was associated with such politicians and writers Paolo Orano, Roberto Farinacci, Telesio Interlandi and Giovanni Preziosi although, initially at least, Jews took part to set up and were permitted to join the National Fascist Party and a handful, notably Aldo Finzi, gained a high profile until the 1938 racial laws.

On 28 July 1938, Pope Pius XI made a speech at Propaganda Fide college, expressing the view that mankind is a single, large, universal human race (...) [with] no room for special races, and the Alliance Israélite Universelle thanked him for that speech.[6]

While some Roman Catholic prelates tried to find compromises with fascism, several others spoke out against racism.[6] The Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Schuster, who had supported Amici Israel,[7] condemned racism as heresy and an international danger (...) not lesser than bolshevism in his 13 November 1938 homily at Milan Cathedral.[8]

Pius XI issued many criticisms of Jews for many years, but shortly before his death in early 1939, was horrified by anti-Jewish violence then escalating in Nazi Germany. After the overthrow of fascism in 1943, Pope Pius XII asked the new Italian government to repeal those sections of Italy's race laws that held marriages between persons reared Catholic and formerly Jewish converts to Catholicism as invalid. But, according to Kertzer's book, he did not object to other provisions of the race laws.

After Italy entered the war in 1940 Jewish refugees living in Italy were interned in Campagna concentration camp. In 1942 the Italian military commander in Croatia refused to hand over Jews in his zone to the Nazis. In January 1943 the Italians refused to cooperate with the Nazis in rounding up the Jews living in the occupied zone of France under their control and in March prevented the Nazis from deporting Jews in their zone. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop complained to Benito Mussolini that "Italian military circles... lack a proper understanding of the Jewish question."

The deporations of Italian Jews to Nazi death camps began after September 1943 when Italy capitulated and German troops invaded Italy from the North. When they got to the Campagna concentration camp, all inmates had fled to the mountains with the help of the local inhabitants. Rev. Aldo Brunacci of Assisi, under the direction of his bishop, Giuseppe Nicolini, saved all the Jews who sought refuge in Assisi. In October 1943 Nazis raided the Jewish ghetto in Rome. In November 1943 Jews of Genoa and Florence were deported to Auschwitz. Jews of Friuli were deported to Auschwitz via Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp. It is estimated that 7,500 Italian Jews became victims of the Holocaust.

From Quarz

In the fall of 1943, German soldiers in Italy began rounding up Italian Jews and deporting them—10,000 people were sent to concentration camps during the nearly two-year Nazi occupation. Most never returned. But in Rome, a group of doctors saved at least 20 Jews from a similar fate, by diagnosing them with Syndrome K, a deadly, disfiguring, and contagiosissima disease.

The 450-year-old Fatebenefratelli Hospital is nestled on a tiny island in the middle of Rome’s Tiber River, just across from the Jewish Ghetto. When Nazis raided the area on Oct. 16, 1943, a handful of Jews fled to the Catholic hospital, where they were quickly given case files reading “Syndrome K.”

The disease did not exist in any medical textbook or physician’s chart. In fact, it didn’t exist at all. It was a codename invented by doctor and anti-fascist activist Adriano Ossicini, to help distinguish between real patients and healthy hideaways. (Political dissidents and a revolutionary underground radio station were also sheltered there from Italy’s Fascist regime.)

The fake illness was vividly imagined: Rooms holding “Syndrome K” sufferers were designated as dangerously infectious—dissuading Nazi inspectors from entering—and Jewish children were instructed to cough, in imitation of tuberculosis, when soldiers passed through the hospital.

“The Nazis thought it was cancer or tuberculosis, and they fled like rabbits,” Vittorio Sacerdoti, a Jewish doctor working at the hospital under a false name, told the BBC in 2004. Another doctor orchestrating the life-saving lie was surgeon Giovani Borromeo, later recognized by Israeli Holocaust remembrance organization Yad Vashem as “righteous among nations.”

On June 21, Fatebenefratelli was honored as a “House of Life,” by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, a US organization dedicated to honoring heroic acts during the Holocaust. For the occasion, 96-year-old Ossicini granted an interview to Italian newspaper La Stampa (video in Italian) about the invention of the disease:

“Syndrome K was put on patient papers to indicate that the sick person wasn’t sick at all, but Jewish. We created those papers for Jewish people as if they were ordinary patients, and in the moment when we had to say what disease they suffered? It was Syndrome K, meaning ‘I am admitting a Jew,’ as if he or she were ill, but they were all healthy.

The idea to call it Syndrome K, like Kesserling or Kappler, was mine.”

Albert Kesserling was the German commander overseeing Rome’s occupation. SS chief Herbert Kappler had been installed as city police chief, and would later mastermind the Ardeatine massacre, a mass killing of Italian Jews and political prisoners in 1944.

“The lesson of my experience was that we have to act not for the sake of self-interest, but for principles,” said Ossicini. “Anything else is a shame.”

Accounts of how many Italian Jews were saved by Fatebenefratelli Hospital vary from dozens to hundreds, but survivor testimonies gathered by Yad Vashem confirm that at least a few more lives were saved after Oct. 16. Several families with small children sheltered there through the winter, until German forces swept through the hospital again in May 1944. One attendant at the Wallenberg ceremony, 83-year-old Luciana Tedesco, was safely hidden in the hospital as a small child during the last raid.

Italy’s Jewish community is one of oldest in Europe, and Syndrome K is one of many WWII-era anecdotes of ordinary Italians taking extraordinary action to save the lives of fellow citizens, made even more striking against the historical backdrop of Italy’s own anti-Semitic laws. Nearly 9,000 Roman Jews, of a community of 10,000, ultimately managed to evade arrest, a feat sadly dwarfed by the Third Reich’s genocidal mania in the last years of the war.

History of the Jews,  Paul Johnson, p563

Yet there was continuity too and even growth. Italian Jewry survived the Nazi era with remarkable tenacity. The 29,000 left at the end of the German occupation rose slowly in the post-war period to 32,000; but this was due to emigrants reaching Italy from the north and east. A study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1965 showed that the Italian community, like many others in the advanced communities, had a vulnerable demographic profile. The birth rate for Italian Jews was only 11.4 per 1,000 compared to 18.3 for the population as a whole. Fertility and marriage rates were also much lower; only the mortality rate and the average age (forty-one against thirty three) were higher.76 In Rome, the core of the Jewish community still lived in what, until 1880, had been the old ghetto area in Transrevere where Jews had eked out a precarious existence, as rag-pickers and pedlars, since the time of the old kings of Rome. Here, rich lived virtually next door to the very poorest, as they always had done. The thirty chief families, the Scuola Tempio, could trace their ancestry back to the time of the Emperor Titus 1,900 years ago, when they had been brought to Rome in chains after the destruction of the Temple. The Roman Jews had lived in the shadow of the majestic church that had in turn exploited, persecuted and protected them, They had sought both to defy and to blend with it, so that their principal synagogue, in the Lungotevere Cenci, just outside the old ghetto gates, was a spectacular exercise in Italian church baroque.  There, in April 1986, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to attend a synagogue service, taking turns with the Chief Rabbi of Rome to lead the psalms. He told the Jewish congregation: ‘You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a way you are our elder brothers.’ The intention was good, the stress on ‘elder’ a little too apposite.

Europeam Jewish Congress   Click on this link for more information

There are approximately 28,400 Jews in Italy today. They are concentrated in Rome (13,000) and Milan (8,000), with smaller communities situated in Turin (900), Florence (1,000), Venice (600) and Leghorn (Livorno, 600). Other Jewish communities numbering a few hundred members in each city can be found in Bologna, Genoa, Triste, with even smaller enclaves in Ancona, Naples Padua, Pisa, Modena, Siena, Parma, Verona and other areas

The continual presence of a Jewish community in Rome for more than two millennia has produced a distinctive tradition of prayer known as ’Nusach Italki’ (Italian version), which is comparable to yet different from standard Sephardi or Ashkenazi versions. A number of synagogues in Rome, including the Great Synagogue, conduct their services following this tradition. The customs and religious rituals of the Italian Jews are viewed as a ’bridge’ between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions, with similarities to both, yet closer still to the customs of the native Greek Jews, the Romaniots. It is often claimed that the Italian prayer book contains the last remnants of the Judean-Galilean Jewish tradition, while both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi versions reflect the Babylonian tradition.


Scholars Reconsidering Italy’s Treatment of Jews in the Nazi Era  NY Times, By Paul  Vitello, Nov. 4, 2010

Timeline of Italian Jewish history

Did Modern Jews Originate in Italy?

Forgotten Jews of Southern Italy

The Jews of Italy

The Italian Holocaust: The Story of an Assimilated Jewish Community   The American Council for Judaism

How Italy protected Jews from the Holocaust   Chicago Tribune October 10,  2014



Italy was unified in 1861. Before this (see map) it was split into separate states. Central Italy was the Papal States headed by the Pope who had a dual political function as the Head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Papal States (now only the Vatican in Rome). The treatment of Jews varied with the Pope and state where they lived. (Click here for the ‘Neofiti of Sicily’  (from Neophyte ‘a new convert’)    The Roman inquisition was created in the 16th century against those accused of heresy, sorcery, immorality, blasphemy, Judaizing, witchcraft and printed censorship.

In 1555 the only Jewish boycott of an Italian port (Ancona) occurred following the torture and burning of Jews there through the effort of Dona Gracia Mendes who was one of the most remarkable women in Jewish history.

This Inquisition lasted until the mid-18th century.  Under Napoleon I the Jews of Italy, like those of France, were emancipated. The supreme power of the Popes was broken.

With the defeat of Napoleon, Pope Pius VII regained possession and reinstalled the Inquisition, depriving the Jews of their liberty and put them back into ghettos. The Revolution of 1848 in Europe brought great advantages to the Jews.

In 1859 most Papal States became part of the United Kingdom of Italy under King Victor Emanuel II.  The Jews obtained full emancipation except in and near Rome, where oppression lasted until the end of the Papal rule on 20 September 1870.

The last inquisition arrest was a Jewish boy called Edgardo Mortara on August 27, 1851 (see Inquisition).  

After Italy entered the war in 1940 Jews were interned in Campagna concentration camp. In January 1943 the Italians refused to cooperate with the Nazis in rounding up the Jews living in the occupied zone of France under their control and in March prevented the Nazis from deporting Jews in their zone.

The deportations of Italian Jews to Nazi death camps began after September 1943 when Italy capitulated and German troops invaded Italy from the North. When they got to the Campagna concentration camp, all inmates had fled to the mountains with the help of the local inhabitants. It is estimated that 7,500 Italian Jews became victims of the Holocaust.  

Today, there are about 45,000 Jews in Italy.



Refugees from Spain

Expulsion from Naples

Paul IV

Expulsion from Papal States

Approval within the Republic of Venice

Persecutions and Confiscations

Roman Inquisition

Varied Fortunes

In the Ducal Dominions

Reaction after Napoleon

Nineteenth century

Twentieth Century


Fascist Era
Syndrome K

Post WW2



Unification of Italy 1870
2012 (7.11)

Fascist Italy and the Jews:
Myth versus Reality (part 1)
Dr. Iael Nidam-Orvieto, Yad Vashem
2010 (21.15)

Fascist Italy and the Jews:
Myth versus Reality (part 2)
Dr. Iael Nidam-Orvieto, Yad Vashem
2010 (19.22)

The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy JBS  UConn-Stamford
2015 (52.37)

Beyond National Mythology
CasaItaliana NYU 2013 (1.59.05)

Testimony of Righteous Among the Nations Ida Brunelli-Lenti from Italy
Yad Vashem, 2011, 8.41