The Jewish Museum of Rome has been addressing the Holocaust through their on-going education exhibitions regarding the history of the Italian Jews during the Nazi occupation. This past October 16, 2023, commemorates the 80th anniversary when Jewish homes were still asleep, the Jews of Rome were taken by surprise when Nazi soldiers arrived and began to arrest women, men, and children.
The Nazi squads, led by SS-Captain Theodor Dannecker, prepared for a significant operation; it was the first major round-up of the Jews in Italy. However, it has been suggested by some scholars that Pope Pius XII intervened directly by threatening the commanding German general in Italy, Rainer Stahel, that he would speak out in protest. Stahel, however, knew Hitler would then have ordered the planned invasion of the Vatican, a planned potential military disaster for the German war effort. General Stahel telephoned Heinrich Himmler (a leading member of the Nazi Party of Germany) and convinced him that the arrest must end. Himmler then ordered the arrest of the Jews of Rome to end, owing to special circumstances, at noon. The arrest order was implemented to cease at 2:00 p.m.
On that Black Shabbat morning, around 1,250 Jews were arrested and taken to the Military College on Via della Lungara, where they awaited deportation. It has been documented that dozens of them were released because of their being baptized or married to Catholics. On the 18th of October, 1,022 women, children, and elderly were taken to the Tiburtina railway station and crammed into several freight trains with no food, water, or bathroom facilities.
It was five terrible days, marked by hunger, thirst gasping for air in crammed conditions. During the night of October 22nd, the train arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where it stopped. It has been strongly argued that Pope Pius XII said nothing about this heinous crime against humanity. He was silent. Of the 1,022 Jews arrested on the 16th of October 1943, only 16 survived: 15 men and one woman. The one-woman survivor gives her testimonial in the museums current documentary in Room 6.
From October 16, 2023, to February 18, 2024, the Capitoline Museums in the Palazzo dei Conservatori is hosting an educational exhibition The Drowned. Rome, October 16, 1943.
This educational exhibition, curated by Yael Calò and Lia Toaff and promoted by the Rome Capital, Department of Culture, Capitoline Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, and Jewish Community of Rome (Roma Capitale, Assessorato alla Cultura, Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali, Comunità Ebraica di Roma), commemorates and honors the daily lives of the Jews of Rome.
Their stories are told through a plethora of documents, paintings, drawings, article clippings, and objects of daily life, such as clothes, jewelry, rings, and family photos, including dishes and eating utensils.
In addition, a visit to the Jewish Museum of Rome or a guided tour with a museum educator can bring forth personal insights about being Jewish, especially during the present recurrence of antisemitism. Guided visits with museum educators and guides from the Jewish community help ensure that visitors from all around the globe resist stereotypes and biases—and, most importantly, those misconceptions that may possibly lead to discrimination and violence against Jews. Visitors are equipped with knowledge, skills, and competencies that may empower them to contribute to a culture of human rights, which is so needed in today's world.
On a recent visit to the exhibition, Andrea Stoler, PhD, a Conservative Jewish American woman who conducts tours in the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica from a historically Jewish perspective, shares her personal take away experience from this exhibition:
All of the items for me are meant to show the visitor the reality of what really happened, to provide concrete memories of past events, and to not forget the past. In addition, it shares firsthand experience of what people went through, their terror, and the disbelief of both victims and those who witnessed this horrific event. The only power against evil is knowledge—not the fake news we are getting used to, but actual facts and documents, things that relate to real people and lives. It is not just images, but real items, facts, to bring to life what happened to real people—with a difference. There is a story or looking at a whole situation that makes this exhibit interesting and relevant, especially for those who don’t even believe it really happened in the world.