Italy is finally to recognise the Jewish uncle of a British man as one of the Ardeantine massacre victims after years of futile campaigning by the family was brought to an end by local detective work and a scientific breakthrough.
The 1944 shooting of 335 civilians, personally authorised by Hitler, was one of the most notorious events in Italy’s history.
In July, 76 years after his murder, the family of Heinz Erich Tuchmann, a 33-year-old German Jew, was finally given closure as his remains were identified thanks to a DNA sample from the British nephew he never knew, Jeremy Tuckman.
Around 70 of those killed in the Ardeantine caves, just outside Rome, were believed to be Jews.
Since 1944, the Italian authorities have worked hard to identify each of the victims. Only five remain unaccounted for; but now, thanks to the detective work of an Italian journalist, Michaela Mecocci, and the scient ific work of Italy’s Department of the Fallen Soldier, it has been confirmed that Heinz Tuchmann was among the dead.
Jeremy Tuckman, who lives in Surrey, is Heinz’s nephew, though they never met. Heinz was born in Dessau, Germany, in January 1911, to a wealthy Jewish family. His father, Otto, ran the Magdeburg branch of the successful family timber business, Tuchmann and Son. His mother, Gertrud, died two months after Heinz’s birth.
In 1921 Otto remarried a British-born woman, Amy Adler. Together they had three children — Friedrich, or Fred, Jolla and Lily. But Otto died suddenly in 1930, and Heinz moved to Yugoslavia to work with his cousin Alfred in a forestry business.
In 1938 Heinz found love: he married a “beautiful and charming” girl, Hilde Rosy Jacobson. But the couple were deported from Zagreb to Italy in 1941. Hilde Rosy died in Auschwitz in 1944.
Because she had British nationality Amy Tuchmann was able to leave Germany with all her children in 1939. Fred joined the RAF and later became a successful management consultant and a Conservative MEP. He also, now known as Fred Tuckman, became president of the Anglo-Jewish Association.
In the late 1940s Amy and her son Fred discovered that Heinz had been shot at the Ardeantine Caves, and Jeremy Tuckman says that they were “devastated” at the news.
Fred Tuckman was very aware of the circumstances of his step-brother’s death. Jeremy Tuckman said: “From a young age, my father always told me how his brother had been assassinated by the Nazis, and was deeply upset and frustrated that he could never get him formally recognised as a victim of the atrocity. He tried his whole life to get Heinz formally recognised as a victim, very sadly to no avail”.
Fred Tuckman died in July 2017, aged 95.
Last year, a family friend visited the mausoleum where the remains of the victims of the massacre are kept. She told the Tuckman family that there was improved DNA testing and new identifications of victims in recent years.
Jeremy Tuckman approached the Italian authorities. During lockdown he sent off DNA swabs to Rome and settled in for “a nervous wait.” On July 17 he received a call to confirm the DNA had given a positive result.
He told the JC: “I am in awe at the science that has given this outcome, over 76 years after my uncle’s death.
“When we discovered that he had finally been formally identified after all these years, my immediate reaction was how pleased my father would have been, and the peace it now gives to our family”.
In October the Tuckman family has been invited to a ceremony in Rome to honour Heinz Tuchmann and another recently identified victim, Marian Reicher, in the presence of the Italian president.
*The article was published in the Jewish Chronicle on July 31, 2020.