“Every year in the narrow alleys and streets of the Jewish Quarter in Rome, there is a ‘community walk’ commemorating the deportation of the Jews on October 16, 1943. The names of each deportee is read out, and there is an excruciating overwhelming silence when you hear the names of children reads The Editorial by Ariela Piattelli in the September/October 2023 issue of the Jewish Community of Rome’s Shalom Magazine.
“One of those names is that of my uncle, Amedeo Di Cori, who was just a teenage boy of 16. The feeling of grief is intense, even overwhelming, as I imagine my uncle crying out to his mother, my grandmother. I am a mother of a teenager…. and to have your son taken away from you – the pain is just unbearable,” explains Sara Terracina, a historian and local tour guide from the Jewish community of Rome.
Amedeo was only a teenager when he was arrested by the Nazis in 1943 in Rome and kept at the Regina Coeli prison in Trastevere for a few months. He was then taken to the camps at Auschwitz, and was eventually killed in Germany toward the end of the Second World War.
Terracina’s family story was first published on the now-closed HuffPost platform eleven years ago. She grew up never knowing that her mother had a teenage brother who died in the Holocaust, for her mother had never told her about her older brother until 2012.
Seeing her uncle for the first time in a photograph and reading the letters he sent to his mom during his few months at Regina Coeli prison has motivated Terracina to do personal research on the controversial Pope of the Holocaust, Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Paccelli, who was head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from March 2, 1939 until his death in October 1958.
“ This Religious man from the Vatican was very powerful before his election to the papacy,” explains Terracina.”He served as secretary of the Department of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, Papal Nuncio to Germany, and Cardinal Secretary of State, in which capacity he worked to conclude treaties with European and Latin American nations, including the Reichskonkordat with the German Reich.”
Terracina is often asked about the Pope’s actions regarding Nazi genocide against the Jews.
“I have read books, articles, and essays. I have watched countless documentaries and movies. I have also read a lot of new scholarship of those who defend the pontiff, and I get the impression they are desperate to look for any fact they can find or distort to support their position in defense of Pius XII. Everyone is entitled to her/his opinion and life goes on. However, it is Pope Pius XII’s SILENCE regarding Nazi genocide against the Jews that speaks volumes all on its own, regardless of what his defenders claim he did on their behalf.
“We have shared our history with the pharaohs, emperors, kings and popes, and yet, often today our history is less known to the average Jewish and non Jewish tourist from abroad.
“When discussing the experience of the Jews of Rome during the Nazi Occupation, it is important to learn about our Jewish life in Rome before the tragedy of the Holocaust, “ says Terracina.
History, Roman Jewish heritage, or both, are narrated throughout the Jewish Museum of Rome brilliantly. It is in Room Six, where Terracina traces the steps of army officers, local residents and prisoners, but also shares the stories of her parents, grandparents, and relatives from the period of the German occupation of the “eternal city”. She also encourages visitors to watch an extraordinary short documentary in the same room. It is not a long film. However, it serves a as an act of witness to the fateful occasion when the German commander Herbert Kappler summoned two prominent representatives of the Jewish community in Italy, Ugo Foà and Dante Almansi, ordering them to gather 50 kg of gold within 36 hours. If unable to meet those demands, 200 members of the community were to be deported.
Trastevere and the Jewish Quarter in Rome are places of personal and shared memories for the Roman Jews who have lived in the “eternal city” for over 2000 years.
Learning about Roman Jewish history as it extends even to the Holocaust, with members from the present community, embodies some of the most enriching learning experiences for any visitor.