Three Memoirs of Fiume
From the library and archive of Centro Primo Levi, we will read excerpts from the memoirs of Jewish women who grew up in Fiume and became victims of Fascist persecution.
From the library and archive of Centro Primo Levi, we will read excerpts from the memoirs of Jewish women who grew up in Fiume and became victims of Fascist persecution. Each had a different story. Dominique Kirchner Reill (University of Miami), Andra and Tatiana Bucci, Nora Tausz Ronai, Marsha Fink. Moderated by Natalia Indrimi.
Cathy Lager was taken by an aunt to the United States along with as many family youngsters as they could pay for. Cathy had trained since childhood to become a pianist and a dancer and found a safe haven in a sewing factory in the Bronx. Nora Tausz Ronai, witnessed her father’s arrest in 1940. He was freed thanks to the intervention of a powerful friend, and the claim that the family had converted to Catholicism. After struggling with many impediments and blackmails, the Tausz family managed to get tickets and visas to reach Brasil. After abandoning her studies and her passion for music, Nora found an embracing society and went on to become an architect and a swimming champion. For Andra and Tatiana Bucci, their father’s Catholic religion was not considered sufficient to protect them when, six and four year old, were denounced and deported with their mother. Against all odds, they survived and were reunited with their parents.
Fiume (today, Rijeka, Croatia) was one a theater to the birth of fascism, the rise of nationalism, and the fall of empires after World War I. In 1919 the multicultural former Habsburg city was occupied by the paramilitary forces of the extremist poet-soldier Gabriele D’Annunzio, who sought to annex the territory to Italy. Many local Italians supported the effort, nurtured by a long-lasting nationalistic tale. Although Fiume population remained tied to the free port status it had enjoyed under Habsburg sovereignty, the Jewish community dwindled significantly after these events. The 1920 “Christmas attack” by the Italian troops left a profound mark on the city, but it was not until 1922 that the Italian Fascist would lead a full-fledged coup d’état.
In 1924 Mussolini annexed Fiume. Thousands of Fiumani who identified as Croatians, Slovene, Hungarians, etc. became victims of legislative, political, and physical persecution. It was here that the first Fascist laboratory of ethnic cleansing took form. The Racial Laws of 1938 stripped of Italian citizenship all Jews who had acquired it after 1919. As Fiume became Italian in 1924, the entire Jewish community became stateless overnight and subject to immediate expulsion. The Laws were applied as efficiently as they were in the rest of Italy but with unmatched violence.
Many departed. Others managed to buy time foraging a predatory police department emboldened by its special status in a military zone. In 1940, when entering the war, the government ordered the immediate arrest of all foreign Jews who had remained in the country. Fiume’s Jewish men were arrested swiftly and en mass, including the elders and the sick, to be deported to various concentration camps in the peninsula. The women remained prey to a brutal system which they managed as they could until most of them were also arrested and interned. In 1943 the Germans occupied the region, maintaining the Italian civil administration in place. About 80% of approximately 400 Jews who had remained in the city were deported with the pervasive collaboration of civilians and the Italian authorities.