Monument to the Deported of Trieste Jewish Comunity
The Synagogue in Trieste defaced by Fascist militants, October 1941 – Trieste’s Jewish Community Archive.
In September 1938, during his visit in Trieste, Benito Mussolini proclaimed from the stand erected in front of City Hall that «world Jewry has been, during these sixteen years, despite our policies, an irreconcilable enemy of the Party». With these words the dictator, as a matter of fact, introduced the Italian racist antisemitic laws.
These were a true shock for the entirety of Italian Jewry, but they struck harder and more devastatingly in Trieste. The Triestine community was one of the largest in Italy, it never had to face dangerous outbreaks of antisemitism, and for decades the local Jews had been well integrated at all levels of local society. Many of them had shared – in some cases even led – the irredentist struggle, seeing Italy as a country that was at the vanguard of Jewish emancipation. A sizable share of Jewish, or of Jewish heritage, Italians and Triestines had supported (and were still supporting) Fascism.
After the autumn of 1938, however, anyone deemed a Jew was removed from schools and workplaces and step by step stripped of their rights, or even their Italian citizenship. The upper echelons of businesses such as RAS or Generali saw themselves practically reset. Only a few individuals were able to achieve the so-called “discrimination”, in theory awarded to anyone who earned merits serving Italy or Fascism.
The already tragic situation further worsened during the Second World War. The years between 1943 and 1945, in particular, were among the hardest and most dreadful for the entire Upper Adriatic. After the Italian collapse in September 1943 the entire region, now renamed Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland (Adriatic Coast Operational Zone), was in fact annexed to the Reich. This meant a further increase in political and racial persecution. The old San Sabba’s Rice Mill – now a concentration camp, the only one in Italy equipped with a crematorium – became its grim symbol. Some of the most ruthless operators of the “final solution”, veterans of Nazi atrocities in Poland’s ghettos and extermination camps, worked there. Thousands of women and men considered enemies of the Reich and its plans passed through – and often died – there: antifascists, partisans, Jews.
According to Nazi and Social Republic’s legislation – the latter being the puppet state propped by German arms and led by Mussolini – a person’s belonging to the “Jewish race” was not dependent on their religion, but on supposedly biological criteria. Anyone who had converted, or during Austrian rule had opted for the konfessionslos status (i.e. without religious affiliation) remained a Jew in the eyes of OZAK authorities, just as their children or descendents. All it took was a certain percentage of “Jewish blood” running through their veins.
Anyone who could afford it looked for refuge in Switzerland or went underground, but for many – especially for the less well-off – similar opportunities were non-existent. The Germans, helped by local collaborationists, Repubblica Sociale’s soldiers and officials such as the infamous “Collotti gang”, and a steady stream of reports and tip offs, were able to arrest about 1200 Jews. These were later sent to the Lager and, with very few exceptions, their death.
The monument remembers part of these victims. The names of 687 members of Trieste’s Jewish Community that did not come back from deportation are inscribed on two simple but imposing columns, testament to the suffering endured by a community that, even if it survived, found itself radically altered in its structure and characteristics.