The province of Grosseto in southern Tuscany shows two extremes in the treatment of Italian and foreign Jews during the Holocaust. To the east of the province, the Jews of Pitigliano, a four hundred-year-old community, were hidden for almost a year by sympathetic farmers in barns and caves. None of those in hiding were arrested and all survived the Fascist hunt for Jews. In the west, near the provincial capital of Grosseto, almost a hundred Italian and foreign Jews were imprisoned in 1943–1944 in the bishop's seminary, which he had rented to the Fascists for that purpose. About half of them, though they had thought that the bishop would protect them, were deported with his knowledge by Fascists and Nazis to Auschwitz. Thus, the Holocaust reached into this provincial corner as it did into all parts of Italy still under Italian Fascist control. This book is based on new interviews and research in local and national archives.
Judith Roumani is founder and director of the Jewish Institute of Pitigliano.
List of Illustrations
List of Sources
List of Personalities
A Short Introduction
Chapter One: Pitigliano and Other Cities of Refuge for Jews in Southern Tuscany over the Centuries
Chapter Two: A Bolt from the Blue? Fascist Racial Laws of 1938 and their Effects in Southern Tuscany
Chapter Three: Town versus Country, Conformity versus Defiance: Contrasting Behaviors Involving Jews
Chapter Four: Hiding Like Animals, in Caves, Barns and Farms; and the Righteous Gentiles of Tuscany Who Risked their Lives Protecting Jews
Chapter Five: At the Mercy of the Church and the Fascists: The Obligingly Hospitable Bishop Galeazzi of Grosseto, and the Experience of Jews Who Turned Themselves In
Chapter Six: Foreign Jewish Refugees Who Fled to Tuscany: Early Experiences
Chapter Seven: Last Days at the Bishop’s Palace for Foreign and Italian Jews
Chapter Eight: Post War: The Search for a Return to Normal: For Jews, a Future of Virtual Judaism
About the Author
This fine gem of a study in local history by Judith Roumani is certain to be of great interest to a wide range of scholars in Italian and Jewish Studies, historians of World War II, and anthropologists. Anyone conducting research on the role of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy in the Holocaust will also find it of value, as will the general reading public.
Dr. Roumani is not only the director and founder of the Jewish Institute of Pitigliano, but she is also a member of a prominent Sephardic family. With her background, she brings to light with vivid expression the complex social condition of the region’s Jews through an examination of archival documents, published memoirs, and scholarly works from Italian sources not readily known to western researchers. So little is recognized of Italian Jewry that this segment, situated in the trauma of World War II, is worthy of wide attention.
‘Not very much happened in the province of Grosseto […] and yet everything happened in this corner of Italy.’ This is the tantalising micro-historical premise of Judith Roumani’s important new book, which navigates the stories of Southern Tuscany’s Jews with sensitivity and scholarly rigour. With subtlety and an almost literary eye for detail, gesture, emotion, Roumani recaptures the voices of a community somewhat neglected in the study of Italian Jewry. In the pages of this book, the ‘exceptional’ story of the Jews of the Maremma illuminates the ‘ordinary’ ambivalence of the Holocaust in Italy, defined by acts of courage and cowardice, discrimination and defiance.
Judith Roumani’s impressively researched and beautifully crafted microhistory of the Italian Province of Grosseto—a place and time where, as she says, “Not very much happened...and yet everything happened”—will be of great interest not only to scholars of the Holocaust but also to a broad reading public. Her attention to telling detail, her gift of recounting stories, and her focus on far-reaching issues marries scholarship with a sense of the human.
A rich micro-history of the Jews of Grosseto, in southern Tuscany, during the Holocaust, this book sheds light on the larger question of how the Holocaust was experienced in Italy. Based on a wide variety of sources, from oral histories, to archival documents, to published memoirs and scholarly works, it confronts many of the major unanswered questions of the degree and nature of Italian collaboration in the attempt to exterminate Italy’s Jews, including the complex role played by the Roman Catholic Church. Not least, the book offers a good example of the postwar efforts in Italy to whitewash this history and turn Fascist collaborators in the roundup of Jews into heroic resisters.
Jews in Southern Tuscany During the Holocaust: Ambiguous Refuge is a necessary, detailed overturning of the official narratives of Italian treatment of the Jewish population during the Holocaust. Roumani’s research is comprehensive and well documented, and the volume will not only make a significant contribution to scholarship in the humanities, but also provide corrective history that is essential.
History needs multiple sources, the historian reconstructs and interprets thanks to the encounter between sources, in order to create his or her theses. The specific nature and thus the value of Judith Roumani’s study stems from her patient and broad research into the sources. Documents drawn from archives and oral sources are the basis of courageous research into a very complex theme: the persecution of the Jews in southern Tuscany. The difficulty of this research is due to the disappearance of archival sources. The entire documentation about the Camp of Roccatederighi produced by the Grosseto Prefect’s office was destroyed or made to disappear when the Fascists of Grosseto fled. It has not been possible to trace the personal archive of Paolo Galeazzi, the bishop of Grosseto, one of the several protagonists of this series of events. The merit of Judith Roumani’s study lies in its enriching the field with new sources. The complexity of the story is defined by an appropriate term: ambiguous. It is difficult, after so much time has passed, to explain the behavior of individuals, in such a context as Italian responsibility during the Holocaust. This study also benefits from being put in a more general context: while examining the events in southern Tuscany, the author bases her research on the historiography that has contributed to defining interpretations of persecution, deportation, the relations between Italian and German racism and antisemitism.
We are looking forward to the publication of the Italian translation, but we are grateful for this promising initiative which brings an important piece of history to people’s attention in the United States, in a language that will allow for broader circulation. It is as important as any contribution to historical knowledge, but even more so today because of a return of racist and antisemitic impulses. This book will also help us Italians come to terms with a past that will not pass until we look deeply into it, without timidity, taking on the responsibility to not obscure the merits of those who have become ‘righteous gentiles’, but to recognize that these form part of a complicated mosaic. For this we are deeply grateful to Judith Roumani.
In this invaluable book on the history of Jews in Tuscany, Dr. Judith Roumani provides a real sweeping overview of a period little or hardly known. More than seventy years after those dramatic times, this book discloses how Italian Fascists and possible Nazi sympathizers betrayed the idea of ‘good Italian people` by advertently or inadvertently sending their former Jewish neighbors to the ovens of Auschwitz. It also unveils the ambiguous story of a bishop who, the legend claims, helped Jews by hiding them from the Fascists and Nazis, while this author gathers witnesses` accounts of his behavior, showing him more than willing to help Fascists to intern his own fellow Italians, because they were Jews, in his seminary, then refurbished as an internment/transit camp. The pages of this book are magnetic.
7/15/23, New Books in Jewish Studies podcast: Judith Roumani is interviewed about the book.