Sonntag, Mai 01, 2005


The synagogue, the most impressive Jewish monument in the city, occupies almost the entire block. Inaugurated in 1912, it is a so-called "cathedral synagogue," an opulent monument to the pride, power and prosperity of Triestine Jews at that time. A number of leading international architects submitted designs for the building, but the Jewish community awarded the commission to a local architect, Ruggiero Berlam, and his son Arduino. Drawing heavily on ancient Babylonian and Middle Eastern motifs, the Berlams designed a massive, almost fortresslike structure that seats 1,400 people.

For centuries, Jews were deeply entwined in the social, cultural and commercial fabric of the city.
A small Jewish community existed here in medieval times, and after 1719, when Trieste was declared a free port, Jewish development paralleled the rapid expansion of the city as a whole. In the 19th century, after the Hapsburg rulers lifted restrictions on Jews and eventually granted them full emancipation, Jews became pioneers in the realms of banking, commerce, and insurance that drove the city's spectacular growth. They held prominent political positions, established important firms and founded or were leading figures in insurance companies such as Assicurazioni Generali, RAS and Lloyd Adriatico. Several local Jewish families were even raised to the Hapsburg nobility. Importantly, too, the Trieste Jewish community produced towering cultural figures such as the writer Italo Svevo and poet Umberto Saba -- both of whom today are commemorated with busts in the city's Public gardens.

Svevo, the author of The Conscience of Zeno , studied English with James Joyce, the great Irish writer who made Trieste his home for a number of years. His background reflected the cosmopolitan, shifting identity so typical of Trieste. Svevo's real name was Ettore Schmitz. He was born into a Jewish family in 1861 and worked most of his life as a clerk. His mother was Italian and his father Austrian, and he himself converted to Catholicism. His works, too, reflect a deep interest in emerging fields of psychoanalysis and self-examination.
About 6,000 Jews lived in Trieste on the eve of World War II, and the community suffered bitterly at the hands of the Nazis and Italian fascists. The Germans in fact established the only Nazi extermination camp in Italy at the Risiera, an old rice warehouse in San Sabba, just outside the city, which today serves as a Holocaust museum and memorial.

Today, about 700 Jews live in Trieste, and only hints and traces of the community's former grandeur remain. Still, a walk through the city can provide tantalizing glimpses of a rich and fascinating past...


Blogger Jim said...

Too bad such vulgarity can happen in such recent history. One thinks of actions like that ocurring in the Dark Ages, not the 20th century.

4:31 nachm.  

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