Milan is a city in Lombardy, N. Italy. The presence of Jews in Milan in the Late Roman period is attested by three Jewish inscriptions, two of which refer to the “father of the community.” In 388, Ambrose, bishop of Milan, expressed regret for failing to lead his congregation in burning down the synagogue which instead had been destroyed “by act of God.” It was soon rebuilt, but about 507 was sacked by the Christian mob, whose action was condemned by the Ostrogothic ruler Theodoric.
The community presumably continued in existence, though there is little evidence in succeeding centuries except for vague references to Jewish merchants and farmers in the tenth century. With the spread of Jewish communities through northern Italy in the 13th century that of Milan was also revived but, in 1320 the podestà issued a decree expelling the Jews.
In 1387, Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti granted privileges to the Jews in the whole of Lombardy; these were confirmed by Francesco Sforza and his successors. An important court Jew was Elia di Sabato da Fermo, who, in 1435, became the personal physician of the duke Filippo Maria Visconti. When in 1452 Pope Nicholas V approved the Jewish right of residence in the duchy, he specifically authorized the construction of a synagogue in Milan.
Pope Pius II demanded a levy of one-fifth on the possessions of the Jews to subsidize a Crusade (1459), but was opposed by Duke Francesco Sforza. In 1489, under Ludovico il Moro, the Jews were expelled from the entire Duchy. They were soon readmitted, except to Milan itself where a Jew could only stay for three days. Similar conditions continued under the last Sforza dukes and, after 1535, when the Duchy of Milan came under Spanish rule. In 1541, Emperor Charles V confirmed that Jews were allowed to live in various towns of the territory, but not in Milan. Thus, when the Jews were finally expelled in 1597, there were none in Milan itself.
Jews began to return to Milan at the beginning of the 19th century when Milan was the capital of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. An area for a Jewish cemetery was bought already before 1808. In 1820, around seven families lived in Milan; in 1840, there were already 200 Jews there.
Jews came to Milan from the neighboring Kingdom of Sardinia to study at the university, as the learning centers were open to Jews. In 1848, some Jews were active in the rebellion against Austrian rule. In 1859, Milan became a part of the new Italian kingdom and the Jews received full rights. In 1870, there were more than 700 Jews in the city.
The first synagogue was built in 1840 in Via Stampa. In 1892, the synagogue of Via Guastalla was erected, designed by the architect Luca Beltrami.
Because of the great commercial and industrial development around Milan which now followed, the city became a center of attraction for new immigrants. In 1920, 4,500 Jews resided in Milano. In the same year the Jewish school was founded.
[Attilio Milano /
Samuel Rocca (2nd ed.)]
Already after World War I, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe established themselves in Milan. However, only after Hitler assumed power did many refugees arrive from Central Europe; this flow continued illegally during the first years of war. In 1938 no fewer than 12,000 Jews were living in Milan. Between 1939 and 1941 around 5,000 Jews escaped to Palestine or the United States.
During the autumn of 1943, the Germans carried out an anti-Jewish raid in the course of which the community synagogue was completely destroyed, after it was damaged during a bombardment. Many Jews were captured and killed by the Germans in the towns and villages where they had taken refuge. In all, 896 Jews were deported between 1943 and 1945. The biggest massacre took place at Meina on the shores of the Lake Maggiore, where 16 Jews were murdered at the end of September 1943.
At the end of the war, 4,484 Jews were living in Milan and were joined temporarily by many refugees from camps in Lombardy. The soldiers of the Jewish Brigade with the help of such members of the community as Raffaele Cantoni, operated a refugee center at Via Unione 5. Most of the refugees continued on illegally to Palestine under the British Mandate.
A number of Jewish immigrants came to Italy after 1949 from Egypt and, to a lesser degree, from other Arab countries; 4% came from Israel. The Jewish population of Milan in 1965 numbered 8,488 persons out of a total of 1,670,000 inhabitants, with the Sephardi and Oriental element predominating.
In the 1950s and 1960s, assimilation was widespread, especially among the Italian element, with the proportion of mixed marriages fluctuating around 50%. Still Milan emerged in this period as one of the leading and most prosperous communities in Europe. The most dominant and important figure of this period was the philanthropist Sally Mayer, who was the president of the community from 1946 to his death in 1953. His son, Astorre Mayer, who for years presided over the Italian Zionist Federation and was honorary consul general of Israel, succeeded his father as president of the community.
After the Six-Day War (1967), some 3,000 Jews, who fled persecution in Egypt, and above all in Libya, sought refuge in Italy. In 1967, there were 8,700 Jews in Milan. Jews from Iran and Lebanon arrived in Milan in the 1970s.
[Sergio DellaPergola / Samuel Rocca (2nd ed.)]
On January 27, 1993, the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center (CDEC) inaugurated in Milan the largest Jewish videotheque in Europe with 700 titles including Holocaust documentaries found through research in East European archives. The CDEC archives and research facilities will be totally renovated thanks to donations by Eliot Malki, an Egyptian Jewish businessman who came to Milan in the 1970s. It included a modern conference center.
The synagogue on Via Guastalla was restored and celebrated its 100th anniversary. Jewish silver ceremonial objects stolen during World War II were returned to the synagogue by the Milan Fine Arts and History Department.
At the outset of the 21st century the community numbered around 6,500 Jews. The main school, sponsored by the community, is named after Sally Mayer. Besides the synagogue in Via Guastalla, which follows the Italian rite, there are seven other synagogues and houses of prayer of the Italian, Persian, Lebanese, and Ashkenazi communities, as well as a rest home for elderly people. The journal of the Jewish Community is Il Bollettino della Comunita’ di Milano.
Milano, Bibliotheca, index; Kaufmann, in: REJ, 20 (1890), 34–72; Ferorelli, in: Vessillo Israelitico, 63 (1925), 227–38, 337–39; A. Sarano, Sette anni di vita e di opere della communita’ israel-itica di Milano (1945–52) (1952). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: O. Meron, “The Decline of Jewish Banking in Milan and the Establishment of the S. Ambrogio Bank (1593) – Were the Two Interrelated?” in: Nuova Rivista Storica, 74 (1990), 369–85; idem, “Demographic and Spacial Aspects of Jewish Life in the Duchy of Milan during the Spanish Period,” in: WCJS, 10 (1993), 37–47; D. Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe I (1993); J.N. Pavoncello, “Le origini della comunità di Milano,” in: Israel (Feb. 22, 1968), 3; L. Picciotto-Fargion, Gli ebrei in provincia di Milano 1943/45 – Persecuzione e deportazione (1992); S., Simonsohn, History of the Jews in the Duchy of Milan I–IV (1982–86); A. Tedeschi Falco, Lombardia, Itinerari ebraici (1993), 55–71.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.