Strife Among Jewish Leaders in Rome Forces Government to Postpone Community Elections

Acting on the recommendation of Col. Charles Poletti, head of the Allied Military Government in the Rome area, the Italian Government has again decided to postpone elections to the board of the local Jewish community, it was announced here today.

The action was taken as a result of the conflict between two groups of Jewish leaders in Rome, each of which is accusing the other of having Fascist tendencies under Mussolini’s regime. In view of the fact that the controversy has aroused excitement among the followers of both groups, both Col. Poletti and the Italian Government felt that elections to the Jewish Community board were inadvisable at the present time.

The status of the Rome Jewish Community is hard to explain to Americans. It was fixed by the concordat concluded between the Italian Government and the Vatican in 1933 and is based upon customs of many decades. Under the concordat, Jews are responsible for raising their own funds for their own charitable and religious organizations. The same principle also applies to Italian Protestants. Thus, the president of the Jewish Community has almost official authority over the Jews of Italy and is practically a government official.

The leaders of the two Jewish groups in Rome are both prominent lawyers. One, Hugo Foa, was the president of the Jewish Community Council, prior to the liberation of Rome by the Allies. Following its policy of replacing leaders of all groups with new men, the Allied Military Government ousted Foa and appointed Silvio Ottolenghi to head the Jewish Community Council and renamed the Council the “Jewish Commissariate.”

Since then Foa has been demanding new elections. He has been directing an attack against Chief Rabbi Israel Zolli of Rome arguing that the rabbi should have stayed with his congregation during the German occupation instead of hiding . Rabbi Zolli had a price of 300,000 lire on his head. His life was undoubtedly saved by the fact that Catholic friends hid him.

Foa is also directing his attack against Ottolenghi, pointing out that the latter, together with other Rome Jews, in 1938, signed a statement condemning international Zionism. Ottolenghi’s friends explain that this statement was a necessary step in view of anti-Semitic propaganda which was, at that time, being conducted throughout Italy by Fascist officials.

On the other hand, Ottolenghi’s supporters, including Chief Rabbi Zolli, point to Foa’s Fascist record. Foa joined the Fascist Party in 1932. He is president of the association Nostro Azzurro, a non-political organization or war veterans. His Jewish opponents say that only those truly persona grata with the Fascists could head a national organization, even a non-political one. But Foa is attacked primarily, because of the fact that the lists of all Rome’s 11,000 Jews fell into the hands of the Germans, thus enabling the Gestapo to swiftly hunt down many Jews and seize them. It was Foa’s duty, his opponents argue, to destroy this list.

NEXT STORY