The Jewish communities

The Jewish communities of Fiume and Abbazia from 1915 to 1945 and the events that led to their total dispersal after WWII

Seventy years after the Jewish communities of Fiume and Abbazia dispersed it has not been easy to recompose the family groups that lived in the main city and in the smaller towns of the Carnaro province. Through extensive research carried out both in Italy and abroad, I have succeeded in collecting a fairly substantial documentation and a number of testimonies on the actual composition of the Jewish population that lived in the territory of the Quarnero gulf between the two World Wars; and more specifically from 1915, when the Hapsburgs still ruled, to 1945 when the whole region was assigned to Marshal Tito’s Yugoslav Republic. For the local population, and the Jewish component in particular, this period brought about a number of changes associated with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, D’Annunzio’s epic adventure, the annexation to Italy, the promulgation of the shameful racial laws and then, after the fall of Fascism, occupation of the territory by the Nazis and the deportations to extermination camps. Lastly, after the end of World War II, came the total transformation of the regional system that led to the definitive dispersal of the survivors. I am not a historian, nor do I mean to re-write the history of Jewish settlement in that area from its origins to current times, but I feel the need to highlight some aspects of the events that involved the Jews of Fiume over the centuries so as to give scholars of this subject a clear picture of the situation.

There is little information about the first Jewish settlements in Fiume, but gravestones found in the old Jewish graveyard, once in via Belvedere, indicated that already in the 15th and 16th centuries Jews of Spanish origin, coming mainly from the Dalmatian cities of Split and Ragusa, had moved to Fiume to trade. In spite of their limited number, they established a “Zudecca” or “Zuèca” in Calle del Tempio, with a small synagogue where they could eat and spend time according to their religious precepts. The existence of a Jewish community in Fiume over the centuries is proven by the presence of a Torah scroll given to the community by a trader from Ragusa, Jzhak Pardo, in 1789.

The regulations for the Jewish community of Fiume, written in an unattractive Latin bureaucratic-notarial style along the lines of Trieste’s regulations written in Italian ten years earlier, date back to 1781. A great deal of information from the 17th century was destroyed when the house of Nathan Kohen, former president of the community, was burnt down. Only three civil registers were saved because they were in the keeping of the registrar of the time, Rabbi Salomone Raffaele Mondolfo Halevi. These three registers contained annotations of births, marriages and deaths starting from 25 June 1824 and indicated that, at the start of the 19th century, there were Levantine Jewish families living in Fiume, such as the Piazzas, Valenzins, Kohens, Pardos, Jesurums, Jacchias, Benporaths, Mondolfos, etc. In the years 1835-1850, Jews from Austria as well as Italy had moved there and therefore there were also Reizners, Wilheims, Eisners, Rosenbergers, Russis, Nigris, Mortaras, Herings, Kelners, Pincherles, Treves, etc. to be found in Fiume.

From 1850 onwards, a number of Hungarian Jews moved to Fiume, including the Maylaender family from Koermend, the Poppers from Papa and the Kornitzers from Balassagyarmat.

The number of the community’s members changed continuously, but generally it ranged between 50 and 60. Suddenly, in 1870, their number dropped and in 1880 there were only 20 families left and, of the old Fiume families, only the Mondolfos and the Luzzattos. From 1880 onwards, there was instead a considerable rise in the number of community members and in 1882 a new spiritual and cultural leader was appointed, Maestro Adolfo Gerloczi. In 1895, Fiume’s Jewish community counted 260 contributors and, overall, roughly 1600 people, almost exclusively of Hungarian origin. Of the older Fiume families, only the Mondolfos and Macchioros remained.

The form of worship that In ancient times had been Spanish (Sephardic) suddenly became Ashkenazic. The Spanish synagogue used to be in an old building of the “Cittavecchia (Old Town)” in Calle del Tempio 6 and belonged to the community that had received it as a gift in 1832 from Mose Halevi. There had previously been a small synagogue in Calle del Pozzo, 247.

The community’s official language was the language of the city, Italian.

On feast days, services were held in Hebrew with sermons in Hungarian and Italian. In 1885 Rabbi M° Adolfo Gerloczi established, together with Antal Mattersdorfer and Giuseppe Treusch, the Confraternita di Misericordia “Chevra Kadischà”, with Mr Giuseppe Hartmann as president and Mr Dezsoe Kemény as vice president. The confraternity bought a plot of land for a new graveyard given that the old one in Via Belvedere since 1869 had exhausted its capacity.

At the time, Arminio Neuberger de Hliniki was President of the Community, the lawyer Mr Enrico Sachs was first vice president and Mr Emilio Ehrlich second vice president. A commission was also established to handle administrative and financial issues associated with the construction of a new temple for the “new” Ashkenazic worship that, as had already happened in Hungary and in the other countries of Central Europe (Austria, Bohemia and Moravia, etc.), was spreading along with, at the end of the 18th century, the Enlightenment movement. This last school of thought aimed at obtaining the same rights for Jews as for other citizens as well as bringing about changes within the Jewish community which was beginning to feel the influence of modern European culture. In Slovakia, most of the cultured circles within the Jewish communities did not intend to abandon Yiddish culture.

In the 1840s, the movement called the Enlightenment absorbed some elements of the Hungarian national ideology and was somewhat successful in spreading religious reforms that intellectuals tended to introduce also into the Hebrew religion. This, however, clashed with the at times violent opposition of orthodox groups that maintained traditional Jewish
customs in religious and social life. The main centres of opposition were to be found in the territories of Slovakia as well as in Galicia and Bessarabia. Given that most of the Fiume Jews were of Hungarian origin, while smaller groups came from Slovakian and Bessarabian towns, two separate groups were established in Fiume: one, the largest, that adopted the new form of worship and the other following Orthodox Judaism.

The new temple, which architect Lipot Baumhorn designed for the community, was an imposing construction in Moorish style built in Via del Pomerio, 23-25. On the ground floor there were pews with seats reserved for each member registered in the Community while, on three sides at an elevated level, there was the women’s gallery. In total, the temple had 500 seats for men and 500 for women. The building also housed the Community’s Secretariat and a Presidency Hall where Council sessions were held. The births, marriages and deaths registers were kept in the secretariat and were totally destroyed when, on 30 January 1944, the synagogue was burnt down by the Nazi SS, who also prevented the Fire Brigade from trying to put out the fire.

The group of Orthodox Jews from upper Hungary, Galicia and Bessarabia used the modern temple in Via Galvani built between the two World Wars, designed by engineers G. Farkas AND V. Angyal, which miraculously survived, possibly because it was protected by a surrounding wall that concealed it from the Nazi police (Gestapo), in spite of the fact that they had their headquarters nearby. The holy Ark that contains the scrolls of the Torah, 8 metres tall in white and black marble and richly sculpted, was made in Conegliano and was initially to be installed in Trieste, but was then taken to Ancona and lastly to Fiume. This temple is currently used by the small Jewish community of Rijeka.

The Jews of Abbazia began to settle there at a time when the area was being undergoing a transformation, from a small coastal town into – after 1892 – an elegant holiday and health resort. They used to meet at the Breiner Pension where food was prepared according to kasherut rules. In 1922 they asked to be officially recognised by the autonomous Jewish community and inaugurated their headquarters in a building they owned (Villa Zora). In 1940, the Villa was taken over and damaged by the Fascists who used it as the headquarters of GIL (“Gioventù Italiana del Littorio” previously “Opera Nazionale Balilla”).

Going back in time a few decades, it is important to remember that Fiume was annexed to Italy as late as March 16th, 1924. With the rise of Nazism in the ‘30s there was a considerable inflow of Jews who, having fled Germany and its neighbouring countries, were emigrating overseas. Many of them stopped temporarily in Fiume and surrounding areas and were registered as residents, but most of them continued on their journeys towards other destinations.

With the promulgation of the 1938 racial laws, a decree also came into force revoking Italian citizenship for all Jews who had not acquired it before 1919. This was the case of the Fiume Jews who, having of course become Italian only after 1924 when the city was annexed to Italy, automatically became stateless persons. In the face of this absurd situation, the definition “pertinence” was devised for everyone who had been born in Fiume and this made it possible to avoid the revocation of citizenship, although very few people effectively benefited from this measure.

Under the racial laws, the Jews in Fiume naturally suffered the fate of all Italian Jews. They were expelled from all of the Kingdom’s schools and were not allowed to enrol in universities. Those employed by the state and by state-controlled and municipal bodies were fired without notice; officers in the Armed Forces were publicly demoted and expelled as if guilty of high treason, even if they were decorated officers .Furthermore, after Italy entered the war on June 10th 1940, in the night-time roundup between June 18th and 19th ordered by the prefect Temistocle Testa, roughly 400 Jewish males over the age of 18 were arrested and imprisoned because considered enemies: a primary school in the Torretta suburb was requisitioned for the purpose and these unfortunate men were held there, about 30 to 40 per classroom, in primitive conditions.

Some of those arrested were released after 8 – 15 days, all others were interned in different towns in central and southern Italy. In connection with this, a number of people were helped by Deputy Police Commissioner Giovanni Palatucci and, in some cases, were able to save themselves from deportation to Nazi extermination camps.

The position of Jews who still remained in the city continued to be difficult until the following spring when Italy declared war on Yugoslavia. Given that the Fiume area was within a theatre of operations, the authorities evacuated the civilian population, moving men, women, the old as well as children and the sick, to hotels along the Adriatic coast and appropriate facilities in the Veneto region. The Jews who were resident in the city were summoned to police headquarters where they were given expulsion orders and ordered to present themselves at the station that evening carrying one suitcase each, in order to be transferred to an unknown destination. They were put into sealed carriages and the train left at midnight travelling towards Trieste and, from there, under military escort, it continued towards Portogruaro-Treviso-Mestre. After a short stop during which, unexpectedly, a number of red cross nurses offered this strange group of travellers some refreshments, coffee with milk and sandwiches, the train resumed its journey towards Padua, Vicenza and Verona, where it stopped at the Porta Vescovo station on a siding, prompting nightmarish fears amongst the people who were being transferred. Luckily their fears proved groundless. After a short while, in fact, a group of people led by the Rabbi of Verona, Mr Friedenthal, arrived and distributed food and other basic necessities to the displaced from Fiume. The journey was to continue by bus and local trains towards different villages in the Verona area where, according to the government’s plans, these people were to find some kind of accommodation until the military operations against Yugoslavia had been completed. After about a month, the Prefect of Verona ordered them to return to wherever they had come from.

In the second half of 1941 and in 1942, the situation in Fiume and the surrounding area experienced the ebb and flow of war and the industrial area was bombed. With the fall of Fascism on July 25th 1943, some of the Fiume Jews interned in central and southern Italy hoped they might be allowed to return to their homes, free at last, but their hopes were short lived because a soon after the September 8th Armistice, the Nazis occupied the entire Venezia Giulia region that was absorbed into the so-called “Adriatisches Kuestenland”, under the jurisdiction of Gauleiter Friedrich Reiner (Austrian) who chose Trieste as his headquarters. The notorious SS Gruppenfuehrer Odilo Globocnik (who was born in Trieste in 1904 and moved to Austria in 1918), a Nazi from the start, previously Gauleiter of Vienna after the Anschluss and a protégé of Himmler (who promoted him straight from Lieutenant to General) also moved to Trieste with a specific mandate to hunt down the Jews and have them deported to extermination camps. For this purpose, in October 1943, he set up Einheit “R” (about 100 men, mostly Ukrainians) that was already active under his orders in the Treblinka extermination camp. Its headquarters were in the Risiera di S. Sabba.

As many as 317 Fiume Jews were deported, mostly to Auschwitz, and only 42 returned (so the victims numbered 275). Another 53 were deported from Abbazia and Volosca, and only 4 of them ever returned. A further twelve people must be added to the 370 who were deported as they were killed in the massacres in S. Pietro, Contrada Ari (Chieti), Forlì airport and near Fiume. The total number of Holocaust victims in the Carnaro Province, was therefore 336, roughly 15% of the residents.

After World War II, unlike Jews belonging to other communities in Italy, the Fiume Jews who had survived the tragedy were unable to return to their homes because the entire Carnaro area had, in the meantime, been occupied by Marshal Tito’s troops and been de facto annexed to Yugoslavia. Some of them tried to return to the area in an attempt to recover some of their belongings, but disappeared and were never heard of again. All the others followed the fate of refugees from Fiume, Istria and Dalmatia who, facing considerable sacrifices, settled in different Italian towns or emigrated to other countries in Europe or the Americas, to Palestine/Israel, Australia or elsewhere.

I feel it is appropriate, at this point, to mention some of the members of the Fiume and Abbazia Jewish Communities who distinguished themselves, thanks to their professional skills and the position they achieved in political and civilian life. Firstly, I would like to mention Life Senator Leo Valiani (formerly Waiczen), one of the fathers of the Italian Republic; a number of industrial leaders among whom Commendatore Alessandro Szemere, director general ROMSA, Mr Felice Epstein, technical director of the same refinery, Mr Francesco Benedikt, technical director of the plant and his son Mr Tiberio Benedikt, a physician who emigrated to the United States and was a member of the team that build the Hiroshima atomic bomb, Mr Pietro Blayer, president for a number of years of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, as well as Miklos Vasarhelyi, an executive in the Soros Foundation in Budapest and for a few years Honorary President of the Società di Studi Fiumani. There were also the many doctors, bank directors, lawyers and traders, or legionnaires who took part in D’Annunzio’s audacious enterprise or those who fought in campaigns in East Africa and Spain, and others still who fought alongside the partisans in the fight for liberation or enlisted in the American 5th Army or the British 8th Army. Others still became important in sport like Stefano Mangold, Davis Cup tennis champion, or were humble craftsmen and labourers who always worked with dignity and honesty and became appreciated in the towns where they settled.

Lastly, I wish to mention some recent publications on the subject such as:

1) Teo Ducci: Un tallèt ad Auschwitz, (A tallèt in Auschwitz) Ed. Giuntina
2) Luigi Fleischmann: un ragazzo ebreo nelle retrovie (A boy in the rear)– Ed. Giuntina, Ed. Giuntina
3) Eugenio Lipschitz: Una storia ebraica (A Jewish tale), Ed. Giuntina (fuori commercio)
4) Rosemarie Benedikt Wildi: Le mie piccole memorie 1939-1945, (My little memoir 1939 -1945) Ed. Primalpe
5) Titti Marrone: Meglio non sapere, (It’s best not to know) Ed. Laterza
6) Daniela Padoan: Come una rana d’inverno (conversazioni con tre donne sopravvissute ad Auschwitz, tra cui Goti Herskovitz Bauer) (Like a frog in winter – conversations with three women who survived Auschwitz, among whom Goti Herskovitz Bauer), Ed. Tascabili Bompiani
7) Hanna Kugler Weiss: Racconta! Fiume – Birkenau – Israele, (Tell the story! Fiume – Birkenau – Israele) Ed. Giuntina
8) Arminio Wachsberger: L’interprete, (The Interpreter) Ed. Proedi
9) Gabrio Gabriele: La breve stagione di Teodora Anita Grandi Langfelder, (The short season of Teodora Anita Grandi Langfelder) Ed. Albatros
10) Silvia Cuttin: Ci sarebbe bastato (It would have been enough) – Ed. Epika

All these publications present interesting testimonies of the years of Nazi-Fascist persecutions, in addition to the works on this topic by Teodoro Morgani:

“Ebrei di Fiume e di Abbazia (1441-1945)” (The Jews of Fiume and Abbazia), Ed. Carucci
“Quaranta anni dopo”, (Forty years later) Ed: Carucci

I also wish to mention two publications by the Società di Studi Fiumani:

“Il tributo fiumano all’Olocausto” (Fiume’s tribute to the Holocaust) with a text by Mr Amleto Ballarini

“Le Comunità ebraiche della Provincia italiana del Carnaro – Fiume e Abbazia (1924-1945) (The Jewish Communities of the Italian Carnaro Province)” by Prof. Silvia Bon

I hope I have not made too many mistakes and apologise to readers for any I may have made. I will be very grateful to anyone who might wish to point them out to me so that I may correct them and cover any possible gaps caused by the difficulty encountered in finding original sources of information.

Over the following pages, the personal data of the members of different family groups are listed in alphabetical order and according to the addresses of their actual place of residence according the documents in my possession.

Data for the different families has been grouped together according to the following criteria: a first list refers to people who belonged to the Jewish Community in Fiume. The acronym (ort.) indicates families that belonged to the Orthodox branch. The names of people who were not of the Jewish religion are in italics. These are followed by lists of people registered in the Abbazia Community and resident in the Carnaro province.

Lastly and separately, there is a list of the names of families in which some members were of Jewish origin but that did not belong to the Community.

In the appendix, there are the lists of the graves in the Jewish graveyards of Fiume and Abbazia.

I wish to express special thanks to all those who urged me to carry out this work so that a concrete testimony of the Jewish Communities of Fiume and Abbazia might remain, and who supported me with advice and documentation.

First and foremost, two extermination camp survivors, Luigi Sagi (who died prematurely in 1999) and Goti Herskovits Bauer, recently awarded by Italian President Presidente Ciampi the title of Cavaliere di Gran Croce della Repubblica Italiana (Knight of Grand Cross of the Italian Republic), and a few friends among whom William A. Barta and Edith Sors Bula, Magda Lipschitz Heimler, Mr Michele Sarfatti of the Milan CDEC, Mr Amleto Ballarini, president of the Società di Studi Fiumani, Mr Marino Micich of the Archivio Museo Storico di Fiume in Rome, Prof. Silva Bon of the University of Trieste, and Prof. Sanija Dukich Simper from Abbazia.