Friday, January 26, 2007

International Holocaust Day: Partially Economically Revived Southern And Eastern European Ancient Jewish Ghettos Greet Rash of Property Speculators

"As a boy, in October 1943, Pacifico Disegni watched from his window as two German trucks hauled people from the ghetto in Rome, a city where Jews have lived for 2,000 years.

Last year, in blessedly more peaceful times, a rich visitor from Boston took in the view from that same window. A magnificent front-row view of the Theater of Marcellus, first planned by Julius Caesar, somehow salves the sting of history.

Mr. Disegni, now 78, said the man produced a blank check and offered to buy the apartment on the spot.

“He said, ‘You write how many millions you want,’ ” Mr. Disegni said.

Mr. Disegni, who is Jewish, refused. But these bookend events at his window cast light on a paradox in the city with the oldest Jewish population in Europe. High real estate prices, not violence or bias, are driving the last Jews from their homes in the old ghetto, which is slowly transforming itself into a trendy enclave for the rich and famous.

Experts say only 200 or 300 Jews remain, in a neighborhood that numbered perhaps 9,000 after the deportation of 2,000 or more during World War II.

But there is a second paradox. Even as the number of Jews living in the ghetto drops to near nothing, Jewish life is thriving.

Rome’s Jewish school recently moved to the ghetto from a neighboring area. Jewish shops, including the first kosher fast-food restaurants, are popular. Visits to the museum at the grand synagogue have doubled in two years.

“Even if Jews no longer live in the area, they come to open their shops,” said Daniela Di Castro, director of the Jewish Museum of Rome. “So there is always Jewish life around, to work, to go to the synagogue, to buy from the kosher market, bring their children to school.

“You always have a reason to come here if you are Jew.”

It is a dynamic of complex layers, defying media alarmism about the loss of Jewish character in central Rome, but not quite assuring that character’s ultimate survival.

On the other hand, this is Italy, where history moves at its own unpredictable pace. For now, few locals can imagine the ghetto as having a soul that is anything other than Jewish.

“It would be impossible to erase it,” said Luciano Calò, 45, a Jew who owns Bartaruga, a bar next to one of Rome’s most sublime fountains, featuring four boys playing with turtles, a whimsy Bernini added 83 years after the fountain was finished.

“History was born here,” Mr. Calò added. “And the tourists come here because of that history in the walls of these buildings. You feel the desperation of the people who lived here.”

Jews are documented in Rome as early as the second century B.C., first as respected guests from the empire’s far reaches, later as slaves who helped build the Colosseum, finished in A.D. 80.

In 1516 the Jews of Venice were the first in Europe to be segregated — and there the word “ghetto” was born, from the local dialect for the slag heaps in the area where Jews were forced to live.

In 1555 a papal bull established a ghetto in Rome, laid out near the Tiber, amid the nubby, desiccated ruins, and locked at night. That entity was not abolished until Italy’s unification in 1870, but Jews continued to live there, often in deep poverty, in buildings with inadequate heat and plumbing.

Those conditions drove many Jews to leave the ghetto after World War II, settling in more modern apartments in Monteverde or near Viale Marconi, to the south. Many moved to Israel.

As the years went on, the rich began buying up homes all around central Rome, including in the ghetto. Prices and quality went up — and then up much more when Italy converted to the euro in 2002.

A real estate operator, Daniela Di Maulo, said apartments in the ghetto now cost as much as $1,000 a square foot.

“It’s only for tourists, for people on the magazine covers,” she said.

Speculation exploded, and the choicest properties were often those of the district’s remaining Jews, many of them elderly. One is Roberto Calò, 75, who said he had fended off at least 10 offers for millions of euros." ...

Ivan Fisher "Renewal, in Real Estate and in Culture, for Ancient People" New York Times January 26, 2007


Lwów/L'viv [Ukraine] Jewish Ghetto from Wikipedia.

Once holding over 120,000 Jews, killings and deportations to death camps reduced the L'viv ghetto population to less than 200 by the end of the war.

Kraków [Poland] Jewish Ghetto from Wikipedia.

Before the war, Kraków was an influential cultural center for the 60,000-80,000 Jews that resided in the separated Kraków - Kazimierz Ghetto.

Minsk [Belarus] Jewish Ghetto from

By 22 June 1941 and the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Jewish population of Minsk has been estimated to have risen to 90,000 [from 54,000 in 1926 Census]. The increase was largely as a consequence of the arrival of those fleeing eastwards following the German occupation of Poland beginning September 1, 1939.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Lviv, Ukraine, Future European Union, in 1905. [Known officially as Lemberg, Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1917; and subsequently Lwów, Poland, until 1939].

Reproduced courtesy of the Ukrainian Philatelic and Numismatic Society.

Photo credit: []. With thanks.


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