In the state of Israel the city of La Spezia is known as the “Sion Gateway”, remembered with emotion and affection, named with respect in the memory handed down generation to generation.
Yesterday, DoinItaly met Orli Bach, granddaughter of the legendary commander Arazi, who in 1946 courageously led the Mission Exodus. It was a crucial undercover operation that allowed many Jewish refugees who survived the Nazi camps from all over Europe to flee from La Spezia to Israel. In those days, La Spezia and its inhabitants were protagonists of an important passage in history.
Yet, only some in La Spezia know the fascinating story told with passion in the city by the Gruppo Samuel, a local Jewish association. The group is engaged in witnessing this story, likely to go forgotten. For example, a shipyard under construction at the Pagliari Pier threatens to hide forever the plaque commemorating the departure of the Fede and Fenice ships.
The needs of the port contrast those of memory in a history-repeating process we strive to stop. It might sometimes be different.
COMMANDER YEHUDA ARAZI, KNOWN WITH SEVERAL PSEUDONYMS AND UNDER DISGUISE, LED AN INTERNATIONAL CASE IN MAY 1946. LA SPEZIA PORT WAS THE FOCAL POINT OF IT, AS HERE, THE BOATS FEDE AND FENICE WERE PREPARING TO TRANSHIP 1,014 REFUGEES.
In that phase, Great Britain, the occupying force, regulated the controlled flow of 75,000 Jews in five years to Palestine, a number that proved to be inadequate in the post-war period. Europe, as a whole, rejected Jews returning from extermination camps. These people from many different countries suffered a strong sense of alienation, which increased the desire to get to the promised land. Arazi directed the migratory flow towards the Italian ports, particularly the La Spezia area, where the Jewish community gathered for weeks on the docks. Here they received the solidarity of the La Spezia people, who also supported the resilience of the refugees carried out with a prolonged hunger strike. Then the visit of the British Labor Party Harold Lasky brought the attention of the international media to town. Lasky tried to leverage the need not to starve men, women, and children who had already suffered unspeakable suffering. He started an intense negotiation with Arazi. Finally, the London authorities allowed the two boats that sailed from the Pirelli Pier in Pagliari at 10 am on May 8, 1946.
IN MAY 2006, DURING THE CELEBRATION OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF FEDE AND FENICE DEPARTURE AT THE MOLO PAGLIARI A NOW ALMOST INVISIBLE PLAQUE WAS PLACED.
At the Pagliari Pier, in May 2006, there was an emotional celebration with music, and flowers were thrown into the water like 70 years earlier. Since then, a plaque commemorates the Sion Gate, but today it can’t be reached because of a cargo ship pier construction just where Exodus ships have left.
True, the city’s economic development requires that new operational and commercial structures be built, but is there still space for the memory of an event that was so important for the history of so many?
The association Samuel, with the priest Gianni Botto, a lover of the tradition of the Old Testament and owner of the most important private collection of Jewish objects, including a very precious Torah of the eighteenth century, is today the bearer of this message.