In March 1919, Benito Mussolini founded a movement called “Fasci di combattimento”, which became the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) in November 1921. On 28 October 1922 he organised the “March on Rome”, following which King Vittorio Emanuele III of Savoy invited him to form a new government. Mussolini transformed the government into a dictatorship and then into a totalitarian state. After Italy left the League of Nations in 1937, the “Rome-Berlin Axis”, proclaimed in 1936, developed into a closer military alliance, the “Pact of Steel”, in 1939. Having pursued an expansionist foreign policy in the Mediterranean and in Africa throughout the 1920s and the 1930s, the Kingdom of Italy entered the war alongside Germany on 10 June 1940. Its assault on Greece in October 1940 and the military struggles in the Balkans and in North Africa triggered German interventions. In turn, Italy joined Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. On 10 July 1943 the Allies, who had already occupied the Italian colonies in Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya), landed in Sicily. Two weeks later, on 25 July, the king and the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo toppled Mussolini, who was arrested. In early September, the new Italian leadership signed a separate peace agreement with the Allies. At this point, Italy's empire still encompassed the Dodecanese Islands (centred on Rhodes, today part of Greece), and extended to Greater Albania, Montenegro, and parts of Dalmatia (today part of Croatia) and Slovenia. However, the Allies were already in the process of invading southern Italy. This caused Germany to step in and occupy the remaining parts of Italy the Allies had not yet conquered. German forces also took over the Italian zones of occupation in Yugoslavia, Greece, and France. Parts of northern Italy were de facto annexed by the German Reich, designated as the Operationszonen Alpenvorland and Adriatisches Küstenland. While the king and his government fled south, Mussolini was freed from prison by SS paratroopers and was allowed to set up the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI) in Salò, northern Italy. The war front advanced very slowly: Rome was liberated in June 1944, Milan and the North in April 1945, when German forces withdrew from Italy altogether.
In 1938, Italy had a total population of approximately 42 million people (not including the colonies). Its Jewish community, one of the oldest and most integrated in Europe, numbered about 47,000 people. Unlike the Nazi party, the PNF did not include anti-Judaism in its Statute until 1938, and there were Jews who joined the PNF. Notwithstanding this fact, Mussolini veered towards public and generalised anti-Jewish action halfway through the 1930s. In the autumn of 1938, this translated into the implementation of harsh anti-Jewish legislation based on biological racism resembling the German Nuremberg Laws. Many adults were coerced into forced labour (1942) and foreign Jews saw almost all their residence permits cancelled (1938); those who stayed on were later (1940) interned in the camp at Ferramonti and in other smaller camps. Still, between 1938 and 1943 there was no systematic state violence against Jews and they were not deported. Apart from some limited exceptions, Italian authorities in the occupied territories did not grant any requests by the Croatian Ustasha or the Germans to hand over Jews. When the Germans occupied Italy in 1943, the situation of the Jews in the central and northern half part of Italy worsened drastically. Jews were arrested by both the German and Italian police and gathered in provincial camps that were situated in various buildings or in town jails; from there they were transferred to the national internment camp, first at Fossoli, then at Bolzano. Here, the German police organised their deportation. The vast majority of deportees was sent to Auschwitz. The Jews of Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland were arrested directly by the Germans and interned in the Risiera di San Sabba in Trieste, from where they were deported directly to Auschwitz. Over 300 Jews died in massacres in various places and of the approximately 7,500 deported Jews, a little over 800 survived. Some thousand Jews took part in the Resistance. The remaining 30,000 or more lived in hiding, were able to reach Switzerland or the already liberated South. Overall, about 7,000 Jews from Italy perished during the Holocaust.
Archives represent a significant portion of Italian cultural heritage. According to current legislation (Dec. Leg. 22 gennaio 2004 n. 42, “Codice dei beni culturali e del paesaggio”, https://www.beniculturali.it/mibac/export/MiBAC/sito-MiBAC/Contenuti/Norme-e-Pareri/Evidenza/visualizza_asset.html_1095508472.html), the General Direction of the Archives (Direzione generale degli Archivi – DGA) is in charge of coordinating the activities for the protection, conservation and enhancement of the national archival heritage. The DGA works under the Italian Ministry of the Cultural and Environmental Heritage (Ministero dei Beni Culturali e Ambientali - MIBAC). The DGA leads and supervises an extended network of public institutions, which includes:
- the Italian Central Institute for the Archives (Istituto centrale per gli Archivi – ICAR) which promotes and supports the enhancement of the archival heritage through thematic projects and ICT development;
- the Central State Archives (Archivio Centrale dello Stato - ACS) in Rome, which preserve documentation created by the central political and administrative bodies of the State, including the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, ministries, judicial and advisory bodies;
- 19 Regional Archival Superintendencies (Soprintendenze Archivistiche);
- 101 State Archives (Archivi di Stato - AS), located in each of the Italian Provinces and in some major centres. AS are in charge of preserving, among other, the historical documentation created by both territorial and local administration bodies (see the full list of the current central, territorial and local administration bodies at https://www.istat.it/it/files//2016/09/LISTA_S13_-ANALITICA-OTTOBRE_2018.pdf);
- local City Archives (Archivi Comunali) that hold documents created by municipal administrations
Private institutions formally recognised by the regional Archival Superintendencies as “highly historically relevant” are also under the protection of the DGA (see Dec. Leg. 22 gennaio 2004 n. 42, arts. 10, 13). The Ministry for the Foreign Affairs, the General Staffs of Army, Defence, Navy and Airforce, the Presidency of the Republic, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate hold and manage their historical documentation in their own archives and are thus not supervised by the DGA.
EHRI Research (Summary)
EHRI has so far identified over 90 archival institutions which hold Holocaust-relevant resources in Italy. These institutions can be roughly divided into public institutions such as the City Archives (Archivi Comunali), the State Archives (Archivi di Stato), the Central State Archive (Archivio Centrale dello Stato), the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Archivio del Ministero degli Affari Esteri), and the Archives of the Army General Staff (Archivio Storico dell’Esercito). The Archives of the Army General Staff allows limited access only. Furthermore, there are private archives such as the Parish and Diocesan Archives (Archivi Parrocchiali e Diocesani, which belong to the Catholic Church) and the Archives of the Jewish Communities (Archivi delle Comunità Ebraiche) of which the Rome, Florence and Venice branches hold particularly significant Holocaust-related collections. The Institutes for the History of the Resistance Movement network (Istituti per la storia della Resistenza), which has a central seat in Milan and a leading institute in Turin, holds records on the period 1943-1945 and focuses on documenting anti-fascist activity. The leading archive for documents concerning anti-Jewish persecutions in Italy is the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center (CDEC, Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea) in Milan. The Center has produced the most detailed database documenting the fate of the Italian Jews during the Holocaust period, which is now also available online (see below). The National Museum of Italian Jewry and the Shoah (Museo Nazionale dell’Ebraismo Italiano e della Shoah, MEIS) in Ferrara and the Museum of the Shoah (Museo della Shoah) in Rome, are currently under construction and, for this reason, have not yet been the object of EHRI’s survey work.
Outside of Italy, EHRI found that the State Archives in Rijeka, Croatia, have four collections pertaining to the Holocaust period. Especially important, however, are the vast holdings on Italy, which EHRI was able to identify at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
EHRI Research (Extensive)
A. EHRI approach to Italy: Pre-existing research, archival guides, expert support
Lacking a pre-existing specific, thematic guide about Holocaust documentation in Italy, the EHRI approach to Italy was based on two pillars. The first focused on the collections held by the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center (CDEC). The bulk of research on the Holocaust in Italy has been carried out by the scholars of this institution, which began collecting documents in the 1960s and now holds a large number of copy collections from many of the Italian State Archives. These fragments have been used as a directory for deeper investigation in their originating institutions. The second pillar focused on research concerning the persecution of the Jews in Italy.
General guides to the Italian archival heritage are available on both paper and in digital format. See, for example, the General Guide to the State Archives (Guida generale degli Archivi di Stato, a cura di Claudio Pavone, Piero D’Angiolini, Roma, 1966-1969), which is also available online through a dedicated platform where information can be easily searched: http://www.guidageneralearchivistato.beniculturali.it/
As for the diocesan archives, a useful paper guide has been published as a special issue of the Journal Rassegna degli Archivi di Stato in 1998. See, Guida degli Archivi diocesan d’Italia, a cura di V. Monachino, E. Boaga, L. Osbat, S. Palese, Roma, Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali. Ufficio centrale per i Beni Archivistici, 1998.
There is also a collection of interviews with Italian Holocaust survivors that can be accessed at the Central State Archives or through the online portal “Ti racconto la storia: voci dalla Shoah. Le interviste italiane dello USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education”: http://www.shoah.acs.beniculturali.it/
EHRI has found the web portal of the Archival Superintendencies, Sistema Informativo Unificato per le Soprintendenze Archivistiche (SIUSA) particularly useful for navigating the archives of local Jewish communities: http://siusa.archivi.beniculturali.it/. In particular, it is worth mentioning that there is a thematic section devoted to the collections held by Jewish Communities of the Emilia Romagna Region:
On the SIUSA web portal, there is also a useful “Guide to Archives of the Resistance” (Guida agli Archivi della Resistenza): http://siusa.archivi.beniculturali.it/cgi-bin/pagina.pl?TipoPag=strumcorr&Chiave=27763. As for the numerous collections of the Institutes for the History of the Resistance, their collections can be browsed through an integrated web portal at: http://www.reteparri.it/patrimonio/
Apart from SIUSA, other databases and web-portals that have been useful in the identification of Holocaust-relevant archival institutions and collections include Sistema Archivistico Nazionale – http://san.beniculturali.it – as well as Sistema Informativo degli Archivi di Stato (SIAS): http://sias.archivi.beniculturali.it/cgi-bin/pagina.pl?RicVM=archivi
B. Characteristics of the Italian archival system and specific challenges
As a systematic cataloguing of Holocaust-related material scattered throughout Italian archival institutions has not yet been done at a national nor local level, a good knowledge of the history of the Italian administrative bodies together with authoritative historiographical works can help in the task of the identification of Holocaust related material. High and medium level archival descriptions – in some cases also full inventories – of the documentation held by the wide network of public and private institutions in Italy are available online thanks to an integrated and continuously updated web portal, the National Archival System (Sistema Archivistico Nazionale - SAN). It works as a national access point to information on archival resources . However, these descriptions are often insufficient to identify the collections within which Holocaust-related documentation is present. For example, the Central State Archives in Rome hold a large amount of documentation about all aspects of persecution of the Jews, but this is only partially reported in both the online and paper finding aids. The same goes for the State Archives, where scholars can definitely find useful documentation in the “Questura” and “Prefettura” fonds, even though the finding aids do not always mention the presence of this kind of material.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that there have been a number of initiatives and projects aimed to make material and documentation about the Holocaust accessible to a wider audience in recent years. For example, the State Archives of Venice are currently digitising documents related to the persecution of the Jews in Venice; the State Archives of Trieste are working on a project aiming to describe and index their Holocaust related documentation (especially those related to the Coroneo prison, which are very important for the identification of the victims arrested and/or deported from Trieste; and the Municipal (or City) Archives of Milan are currently reordering their collection on the full 1938 Racial census (more than 3,500 papers, which refer to every Jewish family residing in Milan) and are planning to write descriptions for this documentation.
While both the Central State Archives and regional State Archives hold documentation that enables research on the administrative machinery behind the persecution of the Jews, researchers can find material documenting the impact of this persecution from the victims’ perspectives at Jewish institutions and archives. This is the case of the Foundation “Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center” (Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea - CDEC), whose collections and databases are primarily focused on the personal documents and testimonies of Holocaust victims and partisan Jews. The historical Archives of the Union of the Italian Jewish Community (Unione delle Comunità ebraiche Italiane - UCEI) provides documentation about the reactions of the top Jewish political and administrative management to the Fascist regime, racial laws and persecution, as well post-war policies and activities for rebuilding the Italian Jewish communities after the Holocaust. It also holds relevant documentation about the relationships established with the State administrative bodies. This kind of documentation can be found at the historical archives of almost every Italian Jewish community archive, especially those of the major urban centres - Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence, Venice and Trieste. For these major centres, the principal Jewish institutions and archives are the CDEC Foundation; the Historical Archives of the Jewish Community of Rome; the Carlo and Vera Wagner Museum in Trieste; the Library Archive Renato Maestro in Venice; the Benvenuto and Umberto Terracini Archives in Turin; and the Historical Archives of the Jewish Community of Florence.
The National Museum of Italian Jewry and the Shoah (Museo Nazionale dell’Ebraismo Italiano e della Shoah, MEIS) in Ferrara as well as the Museum of the Shoah (Museo della Shoah) in Rome are currently under construction and they are still collecting material and documents, while the Memoriale della Shoah in Milan does not collect documents.
Apart from these two macro-categories of archival institutions, there is a third, more varied group of private institutions that can provide documentation and information about the Holocaust in Italy. Notably, there is a network of 64 Institutes for the History of the Resistance Movement (Rete degli Istituti per la storia della Resistenza e dell’età contemporanea) spread all over Italy and coordinated by the Istituto Nazionale Ferruccio Parri in Milan (former Istituto Nazionale per la Storia del Movimento di Liberazione in Italia); the Archive of the Fondazione Memoria della Deportazione holds material and documentation about antifascist deportees; there is a great number of Catholic Parish and Diocesan archives; the Istituto Luce Cinecittà – the main institute for audio-visual materials dating from the 1920s to the 1960s– has a rich collection; and the historical Archives of the former Banca Commerciale Italiana – now Intesa San Paolo Bank Group – (archival branches in Milan, Turin, Rome, Bologna) holds a copious amount of documentation related to the confiscation (and restitution) of Jewish assets. Finally, for an overview of Jewish commercial and industrial activities in Italy, the historical archives of local Chambers of Commerce – one of which is located in each province – may be helpful.
C. EHRI Identification and description of results
C.I. In Italy
As a result of the identification process in Italy, EHRI has been able to provide descriptions for over 90 institutions. In particular, EHRI began with the identification of collections at the Central State Archives (ACS), local State Archives (AS), and the CDEC Foundation.
In general terms, the ACS collections hold documentation concerning the measures taken by the Fascist administration against the Jews while the material held by the local State Archives documents the practical implementation of such measures at the local level. At the Central State Archives, EHRI carried out identification work on the following six collections:
- Ministero degli Interni (Ministry of Interior)
- Ministero delle Finanze (Financial Ministry)
- Ministero della Cultura Popolare (Ministry of Popular Culture)
- Archivi fascisti (Fascist Archives)
- EGELI – Ente Gestione e Liquidazione Immobiliare (Corporation Real Estate Management and Liquidation Body)
- Ministero per l’assistenza post-bellica (Ministry for Post-War Assistance)
Describing these collections provides an extensive and multifaceted overview of the material created by ministries and administrative bodies during the Fascist years and after the war. However, given the extent of these collections, the survey and the identification of Holocaust-related material at the ACS is far from complete.
Regarding the local State Archives, the fonds “Questura” and “Prefettura” of each of the nearly 30 local State Archives which have collection descriptions have been found particularly relevant in documenting the various phases and measures taken by the Fascist regime against the Jews in Italy – Italian and foreigners – from 1938 to 1945.
The combination of documentation from the Central State Archives and local State Archives paints a rather detailed picture of how the administrative machine worked at both central and local levels. On the other hand, the documentation imported into the EHRI portal from Jewish institutions and archives – including the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities, several local Jewish Communities and the CDEC Foundation – provides perspectives of those persecuted by the Fascist regime and their reactions to such measures.
The CDEC Foundation’s collecting policies have focused on obtaining documentation linked to the persecution of the Jews and Jewish participation in the Resistance. Consequently, the Foundation’s materials focus on individuals and their testimonies about their psychological and physical suffering. From this perspective, the paper collections “Vicissitudini dei singoli”, “CRDE – Comitato Ricerche Deportati Ebrei” and “Massimo Adolfo Vitale” are particularly interesting, as is its photographic collection (“Collezione Fotografie Vittime della Shoah”), and its collection of audio and video interviews (“Testimonianze sulla Shoah”), which the CDEC has been recording since the early 1980s. In addition to the collections cited above, the documents created by the CDEC Foundation on the occasion of the trial (1964-1973) against Friedrich Boßhammer – the Nazi officer responsible for the mass deportation of Jews from Italy – also deserve a special mention. On that occasion, CDEC was in charge of collecting both direct survivor testimonies as well as documentation from several local State Archives in order to assist in the prosecution of Boßhammer. Most of this documentation is now gathered both in the collections “Processo Bosshammer” and “Collezione Archivi Italiani e stranieri”.
Apart from these main lines of inquiry, EHRI has also provided top and medium level descriptions from the Archives of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI). The UCEI’s collections give a wide overview of the activities of the Italian Jewish leadership from the 1930s until the end of the war and the years afterward. These collections are particularly relevant from the point of view of the relationship between the Union and the Fascist government. Furthermore, it provides a rich corpus of documents regarding the measures of assistance towards Jewish refugees since the early 1930s.
C.II. In other countries
Outside of Italy, material relevant to the Holocaust in Italy can be found in a number of institutions, including the German Bundesarchiv, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, and Yad Vashem in Israel.