“I feel back at home”. So Martin Adler, 97, the US veteran who last week reunited with the Italian children he almost shot dead during WWII, commented on his visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome. It was a very touching comeback for him, who was among the protagonists of the Liberation of Italy from Nazi-fascism. In June 1944, he entered the majestic synagogue as a young soldier wearing the Star of David that accompanied him through the entire war. “All that is related to Judaism is essential to me”, he said to Pagine Ebraiche to whose readers he dedicated this video greeting.
The visit to the Synagogue in the newly liberated Rome left an indelible mark on him. “Martin took a small Bible from a table at the entrance, sat down on a bench and admired the beauty of that Temple”, writes Matteo Incerti in the book “I bambini del soldato Martin” (Soldier Martin’s children) recently published. “Then he began to pray and silently read some passages from the holy scriptures. Once out, returning to Campo dei Fiori, he saw a small newsstand. They sold postcards of Rome. He bought a couple. One of these portrayed the Jewish temple of the city. Excited, he took a pencil from his jacket. He sat under the statue of Giordano Bruno and began to write to the family”.
On that occasion, Adler explains to Hebrew Pages, “I prayed for the end of the war, for peace and love”. During his visit Adler donated the postcard he had sent from there and was welcomed by the President of the Jewish Community of Rome Ruth Dureghello, Councilor Massimo Finzi, and the director of the Jewish Museum Olga Melasecchi.
Martin Adler traveled back to Italy to reunite with the three siblings he saved during the Italian campaign in October 1944. As with a companion of the 339th Infantry Regiment he entered a house in Monterenzio, near Bologna, they heard sounds coming from a basket and were ready to shoot until the mother rushed in shouting ‘bambini, bambini!’ before they opened fire.
When he saw three small children, two girls and a boy, Adler’s heart melted and he asked the woman if he could take a photo with them. He always described his meeting with the children as “the happiest moment of the war, the only happier moment was when the war ended”.
After 76 years, he decided to try and track them down, although it was not an easy task, given that he did not know either their names or that of the town. In 2020, with his daughter Rachelle’s help, he shared the photo on social media. With the help of the Italian journalist Matteo Incerti, the mission was completed and in Italy the story went viral, as a spot of good news in the throes of the pandemic. In December, Adler finally was able to have a video-connect with Bruno, Mafalda, and Giuliana Naldi, who are now in their eighties. And last week they finally had the opportunity to meet.
(From top, Martin Adler visiting the Synagogue of Rome and the postcard sent to his family in the spring of ’44)