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As I walked down Via Rossini onto the North-East corner of Piazza Ducale in Pesaro I noticed several strange collages embedded in the pavement stones. I don’t recall them being there last year but then like many other people I might just have obliviously walked over them. A close inspection revealed that they were historical documents commemorating a piece of Pesaro’s 20th century history: the enactment of the Manifesto of Race in July 1938.
Prior to that date there had been nothing particularly antisemitic in the founding principles of the Fascist movement, in fact there had been a significant number of Jewish fascists from the very beginning. Of the estimated 47,000 Italian Jews roughly 10 percent supported Mussolini. Many of them also held important positions in the party organization, as well as in local and national government, from education to the military (including admirals and generals).
Ettore Ovazza, a Jew from Genova, had served both as a minister in the government and as founder of La Nostra Bandiera, a Jewish Fascist newspaper. Ferdinanda Momigliano, a Jew from Milan, wrote the ultimate Italian wartime cookbooks: Living Well in Difficult Times and Eating Italian were in the house of every patriotic housewife. Margherita Sarfatti, Mussolini’s mistress for 27 years, was Jewish and a major influence in his rise to power.
All saw their lives changed with the passing of the new Race Laws. Though the laws applied to any Non-Aryan they were particularly harsh with Jewish-Italians. They were now prohibited from holding public office, military rank, teaching or banking and mixed marriages were declared invalid. In 1943, in an now divided Italy, under the Italian Socialist Republic measures became harsher. Jewish owned property was confiscated and whole sale roundups done in cities throughout the North. Many were shipped off to death camps, others like Sarfatti had already escaped. Some like Ovazza and his family were caught escaping and murdered by the SS. Still others like Momigliano went into hiding; she would have been caught on at least one occasion but a quick thinking greengrocer warned her of the trap.
A large and influential Jewish community had been founded in Pesaro in 1555 by Maranos fleeing the Inquisition in the Papal States. However by 1901 it had dwindled to a community of 93 and it is difficult to find out how many there would have been when the new laws were enacted. There could not have been many however their fate has been commemorated in this rather odd but in some ways touching tribute. I’m glad I took the time to look down!
28 agosto – Sant’Agostino d’Ippona