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from issue no. 10 - 2010

The Jews hidden in Via di Santa Chiara

Never published in Italy, here are the names of the fifty Jews hidden in the French Seminary during the Nazi-Fascist occupation of Rome. They re-emerged from the archive of the Seminary in 2003

by Pina Baglioni

The lists of Jewish refugees hidden in the French Seminary in Via di Santa Chiara during the Second World War

The lists of Jewish refugees hidden in the French Seminary in Via di Santa Chiara during the Second World War

“The seminarians are few in number... one hundred and ten are in the war. The academic year, begun with twenty students, was to number during the year forty-six seminarians, of whom fourteen French, fourteen Italians, five Maltese, three Irish and two Yugoslavs, two Maronites, two Swiss, one Dutchman, one Englishman, one from North America, one Mauritian. With them, ten priests, six scholastics of the Holy Spirit... Without ceasing to be the French Seminary, we have become a true Catholic seminary”. So on 15 October 1939 noted the anonymous chronicler of the Journal de Communauté 1930-1943, the house diary of the Pontifical French Seminary. At the time, therefore, the outbreak of war had emptied the house in Via di Santa Chiara, headed then by Father François Monnier who, thanks only to the presence of the foreign seminarians, had not been forced “to shut up shop”. After 1 November 1940 some Neapolitans fleeing the bombing of their city arrived.
Tough years followed, during which the community of Via di Santa Chiara sought, however, to live in an atmosphere of normality: the audiences with the Pope, the Eucharistic celebrations in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, little festivities for some seminarian ordained priest.
After the fall of the Fascist regime and the signing of the armistice on 8 September 1943, Rome prepared for what were to be nine months of Nazi-Fascist occupation. “We are reduced to the bare minimum... We have refused a dozen requests from Italians who wanted to come in here... No one can come from France because the Germans are still north of Florence”, we read in the Journal de Communauté, 1943-1957. A rather contradictory entry. Why ever was a seminary, reduced to “bare minimum”, unable to take in Italian seminarians? The explanation was found only in 2003 when the then rector Father Yves-Marie Fradet was making a survey of the seminary’s archives. He found a Note confidentielle marked “C 14-2 1939-45 Wars”. The note reads: “It is only now permitted to write that the seminary, in eight months, hid a hundred ‘outlaws’. Since October we have always had between thirty and forty... A Belgian captain sent here from Switzerland, then Italian soldiers and captains who refused to fight alongside the Germans, numerous Jews (about fifty in all)”.
Evidently, the explanation of this strange refusal of the Italians by the Seminary was that they were hiding “outlaws”.
That the Seminary had hidden fifty Jews during the nine months of Nazi-Fascist occupation of Rome is well-known to historians thanks to the fundamental volume by Renzo De Felice Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo [A history of the Italian Jews under Fascism], published in 1961 by Einaudi. But when browsing through all the documents preserved in the archives of the Seminary Father Yves-Marie Fradet found in his hands the lists of the names of those fifty Jews, set on simple sheets of squared notepaper, and the former rector of the French Seminary published them for the first time in the commemorative volume 150 ans au cœur de Rome. Le Séminaire Français, 1853-2003 (edited by Philippe Levillain, Philippe Boutry and Yves-Marie Fradet, Editions Karthala, Paris 2004).
The list of names of the Jewish refugees in the French Seminary has never been published in Italy. Before leaving Italy and returning to being a missionary in Africa, Father Yves-Marie Fradet, the last rector belonging to the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, gave permission to 30Days to publish the names.
Going back to the pages of the Journal de Communauté one reads: “Before Christmas we were informed that there would be a search: the house was hurriedly evacuated. Thank God we had no bad luck... On 4 June 1944 we have again approximately forty refugees, including twenty-five Jews, an American captain, a lieutenant of the French airforce... six young Frenchmen, two Poles and a few Italians, with the Abbot Battmann, an Alsatian deserter”.
It is not known if those twenty-five Jews lodging in the Seminary on 4 June 1944 formed part of the fifty mentioned previously. In any case, the anonymous writer thus concludes: “Mary, yet again, has been ‘Tutela Domus’”.

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