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September 1, 2015 / 17 Elul, 5775
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Rescuing A Vital Piece of 20th-Century Jewish History


Rosh Hashanah greetings from Sciesopoli, 1947.

Rosh Hashanah greetings from Sciesopoli, 1947.

Nothing is taught in the local schools and no memorial plaque is in place, despite the fact that one had been unveiled in 1984. The epic of the young Jews who resided between these walls has essentially been erased from public consciousness.

Selvino was an important place in the history of the Bricha, the underground effort that helped survivors escape post-World War II Europe, and Aliyah Bet. A significant number of displaced youngsters passed through Sciesopoli and Selvino. They were survivors of the European catastrophe, and only those still alive can tell the story.

In recent years the subject of the illegal immigration through Italy to Palestine between 1945-1948 has aroused the interest of some scholars and as well as Jews searching for their roots and information about their relatives’ activities after the war.

Today, Sciesopoli is a privately held property owned by a real estate company. Efforts have been made to sell it but the municipality has imposed an injunction, claiming the former retreat center has a “collective and social purpose” and insisting that if Sciesopoli is rebuilt it must either serve the public or bring in tourists. We fear this would put to rest the historic chapter of the rescue and rehabilitation of child survivors of the Holocaust.

There is a lot of work to be done in Selvino, such as adding the story of Sciesopoli to the local school curriculum, affixing a plaque at the site to commemorate the story of the surviving children and their counselors, installing adequate road signs directing people to the grounds.

These goals certainly are attainable, both from an economic and a bureaucratic perspective. However, time is crucial as the Children of Sciesopoli are in their twilight years and many are no longer with us.

The suggested sale and/or demolition of Sciesopoli, which was mentioned during our visit, shocked us. Given the immense significance of this institution, we feel strongly – and are supported on this by historians, social and psychological researchers, and human and social rights activists – that part of the premises should be dedicated to housing a museum of European rescue and Aliyah Bet, while the rest could be developed as a guest house, thus becoming a source of income that would contribute to the sustainability of the museum.

We are looking for support from the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the Italy-Israel Foundation for Culture and the Arts, the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Joint Distribution Committee, ORT – as well as anyone who finds this project important for present and future generations.

We would appreciate suggestions and constructive ideas. Please contact either mcavallarin@gmail.com or miriambisk@gmail.com.

About the Author: Dr. Marco Cavallarin is a Milano-based historian, researcher and filmmaker specializing in the history of illegal immigration to Mandatory Palestine and the Bricha movement. He was assisted in writing this article by Miriam Bisk.


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