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'Il bambino del tram'
16th October 1943: After extracting a ransom from the Jews of Rome the SS round them up anyway - but a seven year old boy has a narrow escape
At the end of September 1943 the Nazis had demanded 50 kilos of gold from the Jews of Rome. If they didn’t get it they would take 200 Jews hostage instead. A collection began of jewellery, watches, coins, and many objects of sentimental value, mostly from the Jews themselves but with contributions from Italian Catholics. The 50 kilos of gold were handed over to the SS.
It was a typical Nazi lie. They didn’t take 200 Jews - just over a fortnight later they began a ‘razzia’ - a roundup of all the Jews. They sent 1,024 men, women and children to Auschwitz - where most were immediately murdered in the gas chamber. Only 16 would survive the war.
… she convinced him I wasn’t Jewish and that she didn’t know me. She saved me. That was the last time I saw her.
Early in the morning of the 16th October, German police began beating on the doors of the Jewish Quarter in Rome.
It was the last time that seven-year-old Emanuele Di Porto1 would see his mother. She saved his life by denying any knowledge of him. Left alone, he was saved by ‘ordinary’ Italians who defied the German occupiers:
The afternoon before the 16th of October, my mother took all six of us children to the cinema, then we had dinner and went to sleep. My father got up at 3 in the morning, as he always did, to go to Termini train station where he sold his postcards.
At 5 in the morning, my mother heard some commotion in the streets, we lived right in the heart of the ghetto, and saw German soldiers rounding up people to take them away. She thought they were taking only men so she ran to the train station and warned my dad to stay away from the ghetto. They agreed she would come back home to get us children and meet in Testaccio, a safer area, where my mother’s sister lived.
Unfortunately, on her way back, as she was steps away from home, she was taken by the Germans and loaded on a truck. I saw it all from our window, so I ran downstairs and started screaming for her, she told me to go away in Judeo-Roman dialect but I couldn’t leave her.
One of the soldiers grabbed me and put me on the truck with her. I don’t know how, but she convinced him I wasn’t Jewish and that she didn’t know me. She saved me. That was the last time I saw her. The last words I heard from her.
“I’m a Jew and the Germans are looking for me”
And what did you do then?
I kept on walking and saw other trucks loading Jews, I was terrified. I arrived to Piazza Monte Savello and got on a Tram. I was 12 years old. The ticket collector saw me and I instinctively said: “I’m a Jew and the Germans are looking for me” he told me to stay next to him, he shared his lunch with me and when his shift was over, he told his colleague to take care of me.
I stayed on that cable bus for 2 days, until a friend of my father’s saw me and said my dad thought I was taken away by the Germans, I had to hurry up and join him in Borgo Pio in my cousin’s house. There, I found my father, my brothers and sisters.
My father cried when he saw me. After two days we moved back to our house in the ghetto and stayed there. My dad became depressed and couldn’t work. My older brother had some health issues, so I became the provider of the house.
I always say that I never was a child and I will never be old.