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Cuneo, Italy

CUNEO, city in northern Italy. The oldest Jewish community in the territory of the House of Savoy emerged in Savigliano, not far from Cuneo, at the beginning of the 15th century. It is estimated that by the middle of the 16th century, about 400 Jews lived under the dukes of Savoy. A turning point came in 1570, when Pope Pius V expelled the Jews from Avignon, where a flourishing community, called the "Pope's Jews," had long existed in proximity to the pontifical court. Emanuele Filiberto welcomed many refugees to the region of Cuneo, perhaps with the objective of filling the demographic gap that had developed in preceding decades following persecutions of the Protestants. A period of uninterrupted stability began in a large area between Cuneo and Monferrato; local administrations profited by the financial support of small but flourishing Jewish communities. Migrations from Provence continued for several decades. In 1630 the Jews of Cuneo were permitted to participate in artisan crafts and trade without the burden of taxes higher than those levied on non-Jews. The situation became much more critical in the 18th century as a result of the rigid attitude of Vittorio Amedeo II and his son Carlo Emanuele III. This was the period of the severe application of the Regie costituzioni (1723), forced conversions, and the imposition of the ghetto, an institution that arrived two centuries later than in the rest of the peninsula. The ghetto in present-day Mondovì, for example, dates from September 1724. Surviving documents reveal oppressive schemes in other cities under Savoyard authority, including attempts to organize anti-Jewish manifestations and conflicts during Carnival. By the end of the 18th century, the Jews had been progressively isolated, removed from any contact with the surrounding society. This condition continued in the following century right up to the Albertine Statuto (1848), the document that decreed the emancipation of religious minorities (Jews and Valdesians). The census of Napoleon I indicates that 215 Jews resided in Cuneo in 1806, a number that increased to 301 by 1816. These statistics indicate a community that in the 19th century witnessed the birth of several important representatives of Italian Jewish culture, including Lelio Della Torre. A significant transformation occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, following the industrialization of the Italian state created in 1861 and the consequent urbanization that attracted a considerable portion of the Jewish community to Turin. The census of Mussolini in 1938 established for Cuneo the figure of 182 Jews, but included Jews residing in Saluzzo, Mondovì, Fossano, Busca, Moretta, and Cherasco. The Jewish community lost its juridical autonomy after 1945 and is today part of the Jewish community of Turin.

Holocaust Period

Eight kilometers from Cuneo, at the point of confluence of the valley of the Gesso and the valley of the Stura, the two principal valleys of the Maritime Alps in Italy, the Germans established a concentration camp in the commune of Borgo San Dalmazzo a few days after their occupation of the area on September 12, 1943. They selected an old military barracks a few meters from the railroad station on the Nice-Cuneo line. In the 19th century the building had housed a spinning mill. Nothing remains today of the construction that hosted 349 "foreign" Jews, refugees from Central and Eastern Europe arrested by the Germans in the Province of Cuneo on or after September 18. They were from a group of about 1,000 Jewish refugees in enforced residence in St. Martin Vesubie, France, who had followed Italian soldiers retreating from formerly Italian-occupied France after the Italian armistice with the Allies was announced on September 8. They had struggled across the Alps through the passes of the Finestre, at 2,575 meters above sea level, and Ciriegia, at 2,551 meters, expecting to find the Allies in the Cuneo area rather than the Germans.

Also in the camp at Borgo San Dalmazzo in the autumn of 1943 were some Italian Jews arrested in Cuneo, but they were freed before a circular from Minister of the Interior Buffarini Guidi demanding their arrests went into effect. The "first camp" of Borgo San Dalmazzo functioned until November 21, 1943, when the 349 "foreigners" were taken from the barracks to the station where a freight train awaited them. Passing through Cuneo, Savona, and Nice, they were transferred to Drancy, outside Paris. The majority continued on to Auschwitz in convoy 64 on December 12, 1943. Only 10 are known to have survived. Most of the others from the original group survived, however, by hiding in the surrounding mountains or by moving south to Florence or Rome. They were aided by hundreds of local Italians in a rescue effort often coordinated by Don Raimondo Viale (1907–1987), who after the war was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations.

The camp at Borgo San Dalmazzo was reopened a few days after the departure of the Jewish refugees, so that one speaks of a "second camp" between December 4, 1943, and February 15, 1944. The reopening was ordered by the police in Cuneo on December 9 in response to a decree on December 2. This time all Jews were eligible for arrest, without distinction. Most affected were the weak, the elderly, those living alone, all those who had not been able to hide. Jews from Cuneo who had escaped deportation from the "first camp" had gone into hiding, usually in the mountains. Those of Mondovì were warned in time. The fate of the Jews of Saluzzo, where Jews taking refuge from Turin were added to the few regular residents of the area, was different and more tragic. A total of 26 Jews from Saluzzo were deported, mostly women, registered in a list dated January 31, 1944. Phonogram number 01083 of the local police, dated February 15, 1944, ordered their transfer to Fossoli, from where they were ultimately deported to Auschwitz. Then on April 25, 1945, the day Cuneo was liberated, the Germans seized six "foreign" Jews from the local prison and shot them under the arches of the bridge leading into the city.

Sources:R. Segre, The Jews of Piedmont, 3 vols. (1986–90); idem, "Gli ebrei piemontesi nell'età dell'assolutismo," in: Italia Judaica. Gli ebrei dalla segregazione alla prima emancipazione (1989), 67–80; M. Luzzati, "Banchi e insediamenti ebraici nell'Italia centro-settentrionale fra tardo Medioevo e inizi dell'età moderna," in: C. Vivanti (ed.), Gli ebrei in Italia, Annali della Storia d'Italia, vol. 11, I, 208–10; P. Bianchi-Andrea Merlotti, Cuneo in età moderna (2003), 103–13, 301–14; A. Cavaglion, "Nella notte straniera. Gli ebrei di St Martin Vésubie e il campo di concentramento di Borgo S. Dalmazzo," in: Cuneo: L'Arciere (1981, 2004); A. Muncinelli, Gli ebrei nella provincia di Cuneo (1994); A. Cavaglion, "Borgo S. Dalmazzo," in: W. Laqueur, Dizionario dell'Olocausto (It. ed., 2004), 99–102.

[Alberto Cavaglion (2nd ed.)]

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