Directly across the river from Trastevere is the old Jewish Ghetto of Rome. The ghetto was built in 1555 to keep the Roman Jewish population separate from the rest of society. At the time, this 4 block area housed approximately 1,000 people but in time the Jewish population within the ghetto walls grow to 4,000. The ghetto had 3 gates that were locked at night to keep the Jews in. Outside each gate the Romans built a church in order to encourage the Jews to convert to Christianity. In 1870 during the unification of Italy the new Italian government ended the oppression and the walls of the ghetto were torn down.
Less then 100 years later the oppression and persecution began again in earnest. Largo Square is in the Jewish Ghetto. On the wall within the square is a plaque that reads “Largo – 16 Ottobre 1943″ This is the day that the Nazis demanded that the community pay over 100 lbs of gold within 24 hours or the Jews that lived in the ghetto would be taken to the concentration camps. Both Jews and non-Jews came together and met the demand. The Nazis took the gold but they also took 2,100 Jews away. At the end of the war only 7 survivors returned.
On the day that we visited the ghetto I was touched by some freshly spray painted writing that was on the side of the Jewish Day School. One of the Holocaust survivors had passed away the previous day.
It reads as follows: “Farewell Hero. We will not forget you.” The number preceding this inscription was his Auschwitz number tattoo.
Today this little four block neighbourhood, while still called the Jewish Ghetto is home to both Jews and non-Jews alike.