Fascist Italy passed laws which segregated the Italian Jews in ways similar to Hitler’s Germany in 1938. Jews were removed from positions of civil service and from the halls of education throughout Mussolini’s Italy. Gradually, additional laws were enacted which seized Jewish property and business assets, imposed limitations on travel, and essentially confined Jews within their communities and homes in Italian cities. In Rome and other cities, Jewish ghettoes emerged. Prodded by Hitler, Mussolini ordered his secret police to keep records of the whereabouts of Jewish intelligentsia in Italy. The Italian public, for the most part, was sympathetic with the Jews.
Antisemitism, though it certainly existed in Italy, was never displayed with the rabid fervor which embraced its ally under the Nazis. Consequently, though laws existed to persecute the Jews, in practice they were indifferently enforced, even after World War II began. Once the war began and the Jews of Europe were deported to the east, Italian officials resisted. Italy and Sicily were relatively safe havens for Jews until the Allied invasion of the Sicily. In September, 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies, Germany occupied the country not under control of the Allies, and the Nazis brought the Holocaust to Italian Jews. Here is how some were saved from the Nazis.
1. The hospital on the island in the Tiber River
Tiber Island is situated in a bend of the Tiber River, in the center of the ancient city of Rome. In the tenth century the Basilica of Saint Bartholomew was built on the island, and nearby a hospice was created to provide sanctuary for the sick and poor of Rome. Begging on the streets of the city of Rome was at the time illegal, and beggars were dispatched to the island, where they were sheltered by the church. In the 16th century members of the Brothers of St. John of God arrived on Tiber Island, establishing a facility to provide health care for the poor and infirm. The hospital became known as Fatebenefratelli (do well, brothers).
The Hospital on the island remained throughout the complicated history of Italy and Rome, growing in the services offered to patients, and in physical size. Flooding of the Tiber was not uncommon, and to protect the hospital from the river overflowing it high walls were erected surrounding the main building. Bridges from the island on which it stood connected it to both sides of the river. The island became, for citizens of Rome, a symbol of healing. In ancient times a temple to the Greek god of healing, Aesculapius, stood on the island. At the beginning of the 20th century, the hospital near the site of the temple was operated by the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John, as it had been for centuries.