Last week, Judith Itzhak, a 72-year-old physiotherapist from Tel Aviv, went back to the Ferramonti concentration camp in southern Italy, which she entered as a new-born in 1940.
Ms Itzhak had been invited to make the visit by Rabbi Barbara Aiello of the Serrastretta Synagogue in Calabria, who has made it her mission to explore the Jewish presence in the region.
Returning to the camp was a deeply emotional experience for Ms Itzhak. “I felt it was important to share what I remember about Ferramonti,” said Ms Itzhak at the camp.
Ms Itzhak’s parents, Philipp and Muschi Kanner, had fled Poland for Palestine in 1940 but got stranded in Tripoli and from they were taken to Italy.
Liane-Judith was born in the hospital of Naples prison, where the refugees had been taken before being transferred to the Ferramonti camp, near Tarsia in Italy’s “toe”.
Ferramonti was the largest of Italy’s 15 camps. Families had their own tiny units while singles were housed in large dorms. Other buildings served as hospital, kitchen, school and shul. Food was scarce and of poor quality but no-one starved.The inmates had full autonomy and were able to establish a thriving cultural and religious life.
The camp’s commander and guards were all Fascist party members but lacked their German counterparts’ cruelty. “At one point I developed an allergy,” said Ms Itzhak, “and the doctor said carrots would be good for me so the camp’s commander took my dad on his motorbike to scour the countryside for carrots!”
In spring 1943, the Germans demanded that all the Ferramonti Jews be handed over. It never happened because the camp’s priest, Padre Callisto, travelled to Rome and persuaded the Vatican and the King’s officials to intervene on behalf of the Jews.