ANNIVERSARIES A Census That the Summer Did Not Stop

By Daniela Gross

Every year the month of August, otherwise synonymous with vacation time and fun, recalls the sad event that saw the beginning of the racial persecutions of Italian Jewry. In those days, in 1938, the Fascist dictatorship imposed a mandatory census on Italian Jews . For that purpose alone all the necessary bureaucrats – prefects, municipal employees, members of the Fascist party, and police officers were called back to service. As the historian Mario Avagliano wrote some days ago on Pagine Ebraiche, since the beginning the whole operation had a character of absolute urgency and secrecy (the telegrams exchanged between the officials replaced the word Jew with the code number 24535).

The census’s goal was to reflect the situation of the Italian Jews in the night on August 22. That complicated machine was ready to start in only some weeks (the dictator Mussolini settled this procedure at the end of July) and during August hundreds of city officials knocked the doors of the Italian Jews, in some cases also in the vacation houses. In that period, in Italy traditionally devoted to holidays, many people were unattainable but the census didn’t stop. “That activity – wrote Mario Avagliano – was performed with care. The officials did their best to contribute to the census, often checking even the racial status of unknowing citizens with unusual or exotic surnames in order to inquire if by any chance they were Jewish”. There were also private citizens who collaborated reporting to the authorities the status of neighbors, friends or coworkers.

Despite the complexity of that operation, the widest commitment of research and social control operated by the Fascism after raids against the anti-Fascist in the Twenties, the data were collected and handed in within the stated times. The Jews in Italy (with at least one Jewish parent) turned out to be 58,412 and 46.656 of them were considered as “effective Jews”. Among them there were 9,415 Jews from abroad, mostly people escaping from the Nazi persecution in the Central Europe. The Italian Jews were the 1 per thousand of the Italian population and the most populated Communities turned out to be Rome, Milan and Trieste.

The census was only the first step of the subsequent terrible persecution of the Italian Jewry: “Italy was ready for the racial laws. Better, for the racist laws”, writes Avagliano. Some months later, on November, the dictator Mussolini in fact announced the racial laws that excluded the Italian Jews from the civil life expelling them from the schools, the university, the public employment, the banks or the insurances. Soon, the persecution of the rights was joined by the persecution of lives destined to hit dramatically the Italian Jewry.