Overview

Before World War II, Italy had a population of about 50,000 Jews, of whom approximately 8,000 were killed in the Holocaust.  According the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, approximately 28,000 Jews live in the country today.  Italian Jews, including those who had converted to Catholicism, experienced two periods of persecution.  The first began in 1938 with the adoption of the racial laws under Benito Mussolini.  In 1938, Royal Decree 1728 banned marriage between Jewish and non-Jewish Italians; prohibited Jewish books; excluded Jews from public office and other professional positions, including in banks, insurance companies, and schools; and introduced limits on Jewish businesses and property ownership.  In March 1939, the government established the Agency for Real Estate Management and Liquidation, responsible for administering confiscated “exceeding assets,” the term it gave to assets the dictatorship determined Jews were not allowed to have.

The second period of persecution started in 1943, when Italian and Nazi German authorities began arresting Jews, seizing their assets, and deporting many to concentration camps north of the Alps.  In January 1944, after the king removed Mussolini from power, the Badoglio government adopted two decrees abolishing the racial laws for the central and southern Italian regions liberated by the Allied powers.  In the Nazi-occupied northern regions, however, restrictions on Jews became stricter under Mussolini’s puppet state, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica di Salò), until its final defeat by the Allies in April 1945.

The Italian government is committed to the Terezin Declaration and to complying with its goals and objectives.  The Union of Italian Jewish Communities reported that in general most confiscated assets were returned to their owners or next of kin, except in cases when the latter could not be identified.  However, governmental institutions have not followed up on the Anselmi Commission’s recommendations to try to identify survivors or their heirs entitled to unclaimed property.  (In December 1998, the Italian government created the Anselmi Commission, a technical body whose mandate was to investigate the confiscation and restitution of Jewish assets during the Holocaust.  The Commission found evidence of at least 7,847 local and national government decrees expropriating Jewish assets during the Fascist era and analyzed 7,187 of them.)  The decrees affected approximately 8,000 individuals and 230 companies.

Assets seized by provincial authorities have not been quantified or returned.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, Heirless Property

After World War II, the government approved norms to return seized assets to Jewish victims of persecution or to their heirs.  On May 11, 1947, the government adopted the Decree of the Temporary Head of State 364, which established inheritance norms for victims of racial crimes.

Private Property

The country’s Agency for Real Estate Management and Liquidation (EGELI) had reported in 1939 that properties it seized were worth more than 55 million lira (approximately $53 million in current value).  After the war, EGELI was tasked with cataloguing and returning seized property.  Property owners criticized the process because legislation (DLLGT 393/1946) required them to pay EGELI for administrative expenses the agency incurred during the war in order to receive their assets.  The value of assets confiscated by provincial authorities, pursuant to a November 1943 police order, has not been quantified.

By the end of 1944, the Italian government had confiscated bank accounts worth 75 million lira (approximately $6.9 million), government bonds worth more than 36 million lira ($3.4 million), shares worth almost 731 million lira ($69 million), land worth 855 million lira ($80 million), and 198 million lira ($12.4 million) worth of buildings, according to a March 1945 Ministry of Finance report.

Gold and other valuables taken from Jewish families before the 1943 Nazi deportations from the Rome ghetto have not been found.  The Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) has begun working with the Bank of Italy to identify the contents of a number of sacks stored there containing unclaimed miscellaneous coins, assets, and financial instruments (bonds, insurance policies, etc.) recovered in Rome at the end of the war.  UCEI understands that the Italian government assembled a commission in early 2019, led by the Ministry of Economy, to examine the items and to provide historians with material shedding light on the economic conditions faced by Jewish families living in Rome during the war.  The commission’s goal is to make a catalogue of the items in storage, assign a current value to each item, and attempt to identify the owner(s).

The Anselmi Commission released its final report and recommendations in April 2002.  The report’s findings show, in general, that assets were returned to deported survivors who submitted claims, but those survivors or heirs who did not submit claims were not proactively traced and compensated.  The Commission recommended that Italian authorities investigate unclaimed assets in order to identify survivors and heirs who may not have filed claims, and highlighted in particular the need to investigate the unclaimed assets stored in the Italian investment bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, which provides financing services for public-sector investments in Italy.  Government institutions have not, in most cases, followed up on these recommendations.  Furthermore, UCEI was aware of several anecdotal cases where Jews sold their assets at below market value during the Holocaust due to dire and life-threatening circumstances.  Post-war trauma and fear caused many Holocaust survivors and heirs not to pursue compensation for many years.

The Italian legal principle of acquisitive prescription, by which citizens rightfully own certain immovable assets not claimed within twenty years, limits the scope of possible restitution at this point.

Communal Real Property

During World War II, Nazis and Italian Fascists confiscated a number of libraries, archives, and other cultural assets belonging to Jewish communities in the country.  Most of the libraries and archives were returned after the war.  Law DLG 736/1948 extended provisions to the Jewish community that first were provided only to the Catholic community for the repair and reconstruction of buildings of worship and premises of public charities.

Heirless Real Property

Italy adopted heirless property legislation in 1947 (Law DLCPS 364/1947).  In the 1950s, however, the government decided to use unclaimed, heirless property still under its possession as a “refund” for the unpaid EGELI administrative expenses, without official forfeiture on the rightful owners’ behalf or consulting the Jewish community.  In 1997, the government passed Law 233/1997 providing that any formerly Jewish-owned asset still held by the state not traceable to a rightful owner would be transferred to UCEI for distribution to relevant communities.

Movable Property: Nazi-confiscated and Looted Art

Italy has not instituted specific laws regulating the restitution of movable property, but rather has treated such claims in the same manner as immovable property.  UCEI confirmed that it was aware of no outstanding claims of the Jewish community in Italy concerning Nazi-confiscated or looted art.  The Ministry of Cultural Assets has established a committee, of which the UCEI president is a member, to identify looted art in Italy’s museums.  Previous government attempts to identify stolen art were hampered by the lack of systematic provenance studies and comprehensive catalogs of looted or confiscated art.

In January 1999, the Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Restitution of Artworks Seized During World War II concluded there were no artworks belonging to Jews in Italian museums or institutions, based solely on examination of the “Siviero archives.”  Rodolfo Siviero was director of the Ministry of Culture’s office dedicated to recovering the artworks and had created the archive while tracing and helping to return to Italy pieces that had been illegally exported between the 1930s and 1980s.  Experts acknowledge that Siviero’s efforts are not complete by modern provenance standards.  One expert reported some of the stolen artworks catalogued in a database kept by the Carabinieri (Italian gendarme police) were likely looted from Jewish families; the Ministry of Cultural Assets reportedly plans to work with the Carabinieri to identify which artworks had belonged to Jews.

Most of Italy’s activity in this area has been at the federal level, but much of the looting was done at the city and communal levels.  Recent research concerning the latter has improved, partly due to Italy’s participation in the EU-sponsored project “TransCultAA-Transfer of Cultural Objects in the Alpe Adria Region in the 20th Century.”

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

In 1943 and 1944, Nazi German and Fascist Italian officers burned or destroyed archives of many local Jewish communities, which made it all the more difficult to track cultural property and its ownership.  In Turin and Alessandria, both the archives and the libraries were vandalized or destroyed.  In Turin, parts of the confiscated Jewish library were returned after the war.

The Jewish community in Rome, which comprised almost half of the country’s Jewish population before the war, successfully hid many historical artifacts, but some items in the community’s archive were confiscated or destroyed.  In 1943, the Nazis seized the contents of two libraries located in Rome in the same building:  the library of Rome’s Jewish community (4,728 books, 28 incunabula, and 183 books printed in the 16th century) and the library of the Italian Rabbinical College, a collection originally from Florence but later transferred to Rome (comprising 6,580 books and 1,760 booklets).  The libraries contained prayer books, documents, prints, and manuscripts from all periods of Jewish history in Italy.  The rabbinical library’s collection was recovered in Germany after the war, but the majority of the contents of the Rome community library disappeared.  In 2003, the Italian government established a committee of inquiry.  It was unable to determine the fate of most of the contents, although it identified some manuscripts held in the collections of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati as having come from the Rome libraries.  UCEI representatives noted that there was little hope of recovering the books, as they did not contain permanent markings identifying them as part of the libraries and were most likely dispersed worldwide.  The UCEI representatives also stated that the majority of movable property taken during the Holocaust era was believed to have been taken at the local level, without administrative orders from national fascist authorities, and therefore was difficult to trace systematically.

Access to Archival Documents

In general, public archives are fully accessible, although some researchers reported to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that they had experienced occasional obstacles accessing Holocaust-era records at some state archives.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports good and consistent cooperation with Italian governmental archives.

Banks such as Intesa San Paolo and Monte dei Paschi di Siena have reorganized and preserved some of the EGELI archives, but researchers note the lack of digitalization, the redress of which would facilitate their work and asset restitution.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

In 2000, parliament established International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, and each year, a series of ceremonies – including one presided over by the President of the Republic – commemorates the Holocaust.  In December 2017, a law established March 6 as Memorial Day for the Righteous of Humanity, commemorating those who “in whatever time and whatever place have done good by human lives, have fought for human rights during genocides and have defended the dignity of the human person.”  The Ministry of Education and the City of Rome organize two fully paid trips annually for high school students to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi concentration and death camps.  The government also holds an essay competition and other projects for high school students to cultivate Holocaust knowledge and remembrance.  Every spring, Italian authorities commemorate the March 24, 1944 Ardeatine massacre, in which Nazi German soldiers murdered 335 people, including 65 Jews, outside of Rome.

As part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the tradition of remembrance, the City of Milan allotted €500,000 ($550,825) for the construction of a Shoah Memorial.  The Ministry for Cultural Assets provided about €180,000 (about $198,297) to the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan, and the government provided €49 million (approximately $54 million) for the Museum of Italian Jews in Ferrara.  Rome’s city government has allotted more than €13 million (approximately $14.3 million), plus the land, for the construction of a new site for the Shoah Rome Museum, although construction has been delayed.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

In 1955, parliament approved law number 96, extending benefits originally granted to victims of political persecution to victims of racial crimes and their heirs.  In 1980, Parliament passed Law 791 to provide a monthly stipend (equivalent to €500 or about $545) for Holocaust victims or their children.  Currently, 1,500 Jews are said to receive the stipend.  In 1998, the Court of Cassation ruled victims of “moral violence” (i.e., psychological trauma and extreme hardship) were eligible for the same benefits as victims of political persecution and racial crimes, and in 2003, the Court of Cassation specified that Jews expelled from schools under Fascism, as well as their spouses and children, were eligible for these benefits.  In 2015, the Prime Minister’s Office extended benefits to Jews who had been living in Libya under Italian occupation, many of whom were prohibited from attending public schools, dismissed from work, and subjected to forced labor and forced migration.  The Union of Italian Jewish Communities believes that interpretation of these laws has become more restrictive over the last five years, preventing new applicants from obtaining the benefits if they do not have documentation, eyewitness accounts, or were too young to attend school during the adoption of the 1938 racial laws.

U.S. Citizen Claims

U.S. citizens were not subject to any special requirements.  UCEI stated it is unaware of any outstanding Holocaust era restitution claims from U.S. citizens.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Italy
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