Italian Police Launch Drive on Jewish Street Vendors

The Italian police are rounding up Jewish street vendors and voiding their licenses in what is considered to be one of the most important economic sanctions yet imposed by the Italian Government since it instituted its racial policy just two years ago.

Approximately 1,200 heads-of-family, or more than ten per cent of the entire Italian Jewish population, are affected by the drive. Rome Jews are particularly hard hit, since there are more than 800 of the vendors, representing some 30 per cent of the capital’s Jewish population, earning their living at this occupation.

The police action does not stem from any specific anti-Jewish decree, but is an administrative measure resulting from the police power over street vendors’ licenses. It is noteworthy that even the licenses of Jews exempt from the racial laws in recognition of meritorious service to Italy in wartime, are also being cancelled.

The street vendors for the most part are pushcart peddlers selling dry goods, second-hand merchandise and miscellaneous articles. Many, however, are well-known to tourists in Rome as hawkers of postcards, maps, cameos and other souvenirs of Rome.

The profession of street vendor has long been looked upon in Italy as a very respectable means of livelihood. This is especially true in Rome, where they formed the internationally famous “Campo di Fiori,” or rag market, which the police broke up a year ago much to the sorrow of the Rome populace.

Among Roman Jews, the profession of street vendor dates back to the days of their imprisonment in the ghetto, which terminated only some three-quarters of a century ago. During that period, virtually every other means of livelihood was barred to them. When they were completely liberated with the unification of Italy in 1870, the Jews consequently found it difficult to rehabilitate themselves in other professions.

The tragedy of this latest drive on Italian Jews is that it almost completely impoverishes the lowest class. Unlike the majority of those eliminated from the free professions, these have no reserve funds to fall back upon.

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