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.