TWO THOUSAND AND TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF HISTORY
The history of the Italian Jews began in Rome in 168 BC, long before the diaspora of 70 AD, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, when thousands of prisoners, who were added to groups already present in the city, arrived in Rome. Over the years they also formed groups across the peninsula, in Bologna, Ferrara, Trieste, Turin and in smaller towns. In the seventh century the Jews left the Franco-Lombard Kingdom of the north to seek refuge in the south, where they created culturally vibrant centres, particularly in Sicily first under the Arabs and then under the Normans. At the beginning of the fourteenth century there were about 40 thousand Jews in the peninsula out of a population of 8 million inhabitants. In 1348 an epidemic of plague spread throughout Europe, and it decimated the population of the continent. The Jews, accused of spreading it, were expelled from many nations, and thousands of them fled to Italy, converging in Lombardy, Trentino, Piedmont, Veneto, and Emilia. In the middle of the fifteenth century Italy was divided into small states, partly in the papal orbit and partly in the imperial one, that followed different attitudes towards the Jews.The Renaissance openness allowed these Jewish groups to become more and more numerous in some courts, like those of the Estensi in Ferrara and the Medici in Florence. The expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, which began in 1492, when Queen Isabella and the Inquisition began to persecute them in the event of failed conversion to Catholicism, favoured the arrival of refugees in our country. In those same years the Kingdom of Naples, passed under the dominion of the Spaniards, forced the Sicilian, the Calabrian, and the Neapolitan Jews to leave the south: after fifteen centuries, about 40 thousand Jews left Sicily. The sixteenth century, however, marked the beginning of many restrictions for the Italian Jewish population, including the closing of the ghettos, set in 1555 by Pope Paul IV with the bull Cum nimis absurdum (but for example in Venice, under the Serenissima, the first Ghetto in the world was established in 1516, and from that very context the word "ghetto" originated). Segregation lasted for over three centuries. Only with the French Revolution and the passage of the Napoleonic armies in the Italian Peninsula the Jews gained equal rights with the other citizens. However, they again lost their rights with the Restoration that, after the Congress of Vienna of 1814-1815, restored discrimination and segregation. From the mid-nineteenth century Jews took part in the uprisings of the Risorgimento. In 1848 King Carlo Alberto recognized to the Piedmontese Jews equal rights with all other subjects. The capture of Rome in 1870 with the end of the temporal power of the Church brought the abolition of the ghetto, freedom and equality for all. The urbanization process that affected Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century led to many Jews leaving the small towns and the countryside to live in big cities, where they dedicated themselves to the rising industry, the learned professions and public life. In the trenches of World War I (1914-1918) many Jews fought as proud Italian patriots. The advent of Fascism radically changed the lives of Jews. Persecution and discrimination began in 1938, when Mussolini made his Manifesto of the Race public. Since September of the same year a series of increasingly restrictive laws by decree followed one another. A part of the Italian Jewish community, about five thousand people, escaped from Italy, but many remained, living in persecution, violence, humiliation and restrictions, with, among other things, the expulsion from schools and the loss of work in every profession. In June 1940 Italy entered the war alongside Germany. The anti-Semitic wave became effective with raids and lootings in Jewish communities, and in the synagogues there was a real Jew hunt between 1943 and 1945, when 8,500 Jews were arrested and deported to the death camps. Only a few hundred would return. In northern Italy many Jews participated in the Resistance, climbing mountains and collaborating with the partisan groups. After April 25 of the 1945, the process of rebuilding began also for the Jews.The relationships between Italians Jews and the Catholic Church changed. Pope John XXIII, in the Nostra Aetate attestation, in the Second Vatican Council of 1965, rehabilitated the Jewish people from the charge of deicide. On April 13 1986 Pope John Paul II paid a visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, as a sign of reconciliation with the "elder brothers". Today Italian Jews who are enrolled in the communities are about 30 thousand. Almost half of them reside in Rome and in Milan. Others live in medium-sized communities (between five hundred and one thousand people), such as Turin, Florence, Trieste, Livorno, Venice, Genoa, or in small or very small (with a few hundred or dozens of people), such as Ancona, Bologna, Naples.