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San Donato and its "Interned Jews"

Updated: Aug 13, 2018

I just returned from San Donato where Pina, Aaron, Rebecca and I celebrated "La Festa" with both local family, and those from the U.S. As has been in the past it is almost a spiritual journey to be present in this immensely medieval village with its beginnings around AD 728. Pina, especially, along with siblings, Luciana and Romeo, were immersed in the culture and history absorbing all that the town and surrounding villages have to offer.

In the excerpt that I introduced about the Cardarellis in the 'home' section of this website I explain the very beginnings of what propelled the family to emigrate to the U.S. Most fascinating, and yet disturbing is the Nazi and Fascist presence during WWII that most surely contributed to their emigration. Let me elaborate a bit.

I was especially interested to learn of the "interned Jews" in San Donato, which was the fate of what the fascists called "foreign Jews," those either residing in Italy or moved prior to the genocidal preoccupation of the Germans around 1940.

Twenty-eight Jews were placed in rooms where a landlord collected a pittance from Mussolini's government to house them. Most were women and children as the men were sent to prison camps. Some men did find their way to the town, however. One was Dr. Mordko Tenenbaum who said that his wife had tuberculosis and he needed to treat her. He, in fact, tended to the town's medical needs in exchange for food. He, his wife Ursula, and their toddler Katya (who is now a professor at the University of Rome) did manager to escape with the help of local people.

Other Jews who had been sent to the town hid in the hills and relied upon the kindness and bravery of the townspeople to bring food and clothing done in secret of course, and at great risk to those providing aid. Pina's mother was one of them. She never really talked about the war, so I never knew much from her unfortunately. However, I spoke with a cousin of Pina's who said that her own mother helped to save two Jews. She recalls her mother saying that "these are two human beings that we need to help."

The town now has a QR Code that leads one to follow the steps of Oswald and Gertrude Adler prior to their deportation to Auschwitz. With some research one can find voluminous research of the plight of the "interned" in San Donato, including the familial connection of one of them to the writer Franz Kafka.

In a book called Paper Lives, by Anna Pizzuti, she reconstructs the lives of the twenty-eight interned Jews in San Donato through documents tracing their lives. She brings their lives (and deaths) to the stark reality that living during this horrific time in human history wrought.

There is a plague issued by the Italian government a few years ago that honored the people of San Donato for helping the 'interned' as best they could until they were deported to the death camp at Auschwitz. Of the twenty-eight, four survived. It is a haunting relief of barbed wire overlaid onto gray composite material. It is a stark impression of what this town saw and survived during the Nazi push to dominate Europe. I have included a picture in the gallery of the website.

Needless to say, my journey has led me to understand the motivation of those who emigrated from San Donato, a place that was inflicted with the depravity wrought by the dictates of the Nazis. There is no doubt in my mind that during these and subsequent years, the poverty and mental anguish pushed the Cardarellis to follow Mirella and Dominick to Utica so that the children would have opportunities that would likely never come in San Donato.

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