The history of the Hebrew people covers a very long period, perhaps the longest among
the histories of all peoples. It began with Abraham, when he left his country
and family to go towards the Promised Land, but this search is not its
unique characteristic throughout the centuries, rather it is the fact that the Hebrews
successfully preserved their self-sufficiency while in contact with the great spiritual
movements as Christianity, Mohammedanism, the Aristotelic and Scholastic
philosophies, the science of the Middle Ages, Humanism, the Renaissance, the
Reform, and the French Revolution.
Hebrew Presence in Istria
The Hebrew presence in Istria
A glimpse of a story that should not be
Names, places, episodes re-emerge from the
by Graziella Semacchi Gliubich
The Hebrew history developed in parallel with the history of all the
Mediterranean world while preserving its own autonomy.
- XII and XIII Century
Omitting the complex episodes of the painful peregrinations of this people endowed
with an indomitable will to survive, as proven even in recent times, let's attempt to
reconstruct the aspects connected with its presence in Istria, as
evidenced by documents as far back as the XIV century.
The financial situation of the Istrian peninsula, in the XII and XIII
centuries, was not the best, and to provide for the needs of commerce and the
people, it was common to depend on the services of money-lenders originating from
other countries, primarily Tuscan merchants who had arrived as expelled
Ghibellins ("Ghibellini") after 1286. They, having become more and more
expensive, caused a general discontent (they were compelled to
return the "stromenti di mutuo" (lending permits) and accordingly
chased away. They were replaced by Jewish "feneratori" Tedeschi (from the
"Fenerare" then meant to lend money for a profit ("usura") at a
preestablished interest rate and not an extremely high interest rate, as it
happened later. Today's "Istituti di Credito e Monti di Pieta`" (Institutes of
Credit, and Pawn Shops) were then called "Banchi feneratizi".
Many Jewish people from the Diaspora, once they had arrived in Europe, practiced
this lending activity which was one of the few they were allowed to perform. For
instance, they were forbidden to practice "free professions," except as
physicians, they could not become soldiers, they were rarely allowed to become real state
owners, but they could lend money at "usura" (usury), a word which, in those
times, simply meant "at a normal interest rate." The Church would then forbid its members to "fenerare," according to the evangelical
exhortation not to extort interest, reinforced in various Church Councils with the "decretali" (decrees), and with numerous canonical
instructions. The Church would not forbid the Jews to "fenerare" as
they could not be saved.
To charge interest, in the Middle Ages was, more or less, equivalent to being
awarded the title to a public office. This fact improved the social position of
a Jew by guaranteeing some freedoms which otherwise would have been unavailable to him in
Istria - XVI Century
In the course of history there have been
several charismatic figures who have aroused the false hope in the
imminence of redemption. The earliest known reports of messianic
expectations in the Czech lands date from the first half of the 13th
century. Other sources confirm the influence of Asher Lemmlein
(Lämmlein), who preached about the Messiah in northern Italy and
Istria in 1502. He was a German who proclaimed himself a forerunner
of the Messiah. He announced that if the Jews would be penitent and
practice charity, that the Messiah would come within half a year,
and a pillar of cloud and of smoke would precede the Jews on their
return to Jerusalem.
Having gained many adherents in Italy, Lemmlein
traveled through Austria and Germany, receiving there both sympathy
and credence. Even Christians are said to have believed in his
Messianic prophecy. The chronicler Ganz relates that his grandfather
destroyed an oven destined for the baking of unleavened bread,
firmly believing that at the next Passover he would be with the
Messiah in Palestine. There were much fasting, much praying, and
much distribution of alms wherever Lemmlein passed, so that the year
of his propaganda was called the year of penitence. But he suddenly
disappeared; and the agitation came to an end.
Capodistria - XIII to XVII Century
It is almost certain that
Capodistria was the first Istrian city that made use of
the services provided by the "banchi feneratizi" run by the Jews.
Bound to Venice since 1279 and sharing both economic and cultural interests as
much as its costumes, the ancient "Giustinopoli" (Justinopolis) has transmitted
to our present times a manuscript written in 1391 which is believed to have been part of a
book commissioned by the Jews.
It contains extremely accurate details as the warranties, the rights
and the duties of the parties involved: the Jews, the community and the government. It can
be learned that the first "feneratori" officially recognized by this code
(Codice) were Davide Weimer and Salomone de Crucilac, who lived in
least since 1386, as it is known that in that year they functioned under
a formal notarized contract.
The "banco" (bank) of David Weimer continued through the management of
his sons Marco and Mandolino until 1434, when it was closed by the authority of
the "podesta`" Zanzotto Calbo, as prescribed by the
"Serenissima" (Most Serene = Venice) that was not well disposed towards the
small Hebraic community in Capodistria. The disagreements reemerged again due to Christian
intolerance, provoked by religious fanaticism, very common in the High Middle
Ages, and by the fact that the wealth accumulated by the bankers enhanced
the dislike of the populace. It should be noted that the Jewish bankers acted also as
Tax Collectors and "gabellieri" (custom-house officers or toll collectors).
A different atsmophere started to arise In
Capodistria not only around the
"feneratori" but also against people of the same faith (Jewish) who had
been granted a permit to work in the small city: Samuele de Magoncia, Abramo
Liberman, Moisč di Samuele e Samuele di Salomone, to whom, together with their
respective families, the "Doge" Francesco Foscari had also granted the right to
work according the prevaling customs in 1427.
Nothwithstanding the shutting down of the bank and his brother's death, Mandolino
stubbornly remained in Capodistria till 1443, when he was able to regain his rights,
unjustly abolished. This could probably be also attributed to the fact that his
father had been held in good esteem after loaning to the
"Commune" (Municipality) of Triest the ransom for the Triestin
ambassadors Antonio and Leonardo Blagovicchio held by Federico conte di Cilli
(Frederick Count of Cilli).
In the following years other Jews appeared, still regulated by the old
"Capitoli" (Chapters) to which new rules had been added recognizing
the right of the (Jewish) community to observe without obstacles the Law of the
Sabbath, the right to establish a Synagogue (located in Calegaria), not too far from
the street known as " Calle degli Ebrei (The Way of the Hebrews) and the right
to their own cemetery.
However the intolerance towards them kept on increasing until in 1463 the Doge
Cristoforo Mauro found himself forced to officially recommend to the Christian preachers
not to incite the populace against the Jews. Two years later the suspicious burning of the
synagogue, following abuses large and small, caused the life of the community, which
had become essential to the life of the city, to become ever more difficult. In
1479, there was only one "feneratore" living in
Capodistria. He was
soon forced to stop operating and was replaced anew by Tuscan merchants.
The Jews then reappeared in
Capodistria, but were often hindered by the animosity
of the inhabitants of Capodistria opposed to the establishment of another
"Sacro Monte" (Holy Pawn-shop) which was opened in 160.
Regardless, the Jews preserved the right stipulated by the of Contract
of 1608, renewed every ten years till 1613, when the Hebrew community finally
departed by leaving the city officially after almost two centuries of almost
Pirano - XV to XVII Century
Capodistria was not the only small city to maintain a relationship more or
less contractual with the Jewish communities that followed in time in various
locations of the Istrian peninsula. Marin Sanud il Giovane (Marin Sanud the Young),
Venetian diplomat, historian and "cronista" (chronicler) in his
"Itinerario per la terraferma veneziana dell'anno 1483" (Itinerary of the
Venetian mainland in 1483) - almost a unique source of Istrian news of the
period - writes about Pirano:"it is good and perfect to live here..."
but also confirms the existence of "...la Comunitą ą Zudei" (the
In that year the city had invoked the services of Mose` Sacerdote
(Moses Priest), but without allowing him to find a partner, even though he was not
able to satisfy all the needs of the Piranesi (the inhabitants of
following year the revised Capitoli (Chapters) allowed the Sacerdote brothers,
Moses and Giacob, and also Abramo and Aronne Stella, to open a bank under the direction of
the Jew Giuseppe.
They, together with their descendants ran the bank for almost a century and a
half, until the bank "col progresso del tempo restņ per l'impotenza de'
medesimi dismesso" (with the passage of time was dismissed due to the lack
of performance of the persons in question). The descendants of these and other
families continued to live in Pirano running other business, living in relative peace.
The rules of the "Capitoli" (Chapters) which bound the Jew to the
"Comune" (Municipality), with the consent of Venice, would anticipate all
the instances which would perturb the inclusion of the Jews, listing also their
duties towards the community. Among these: Giuseppe and friends - and their
descendants - were entitled to enjoy the same rights of the Piranesi citizens, they could
not be directed to work on the Sabbath and on their Holy days, the butchers had
to provide them with meat slaughtered according the Hebraic customs, (Kosher), the
Comune was obliged to assign them a parcel of land for a cemetery and to
provide surveillance so that they would not be molested in the Synagogues. Moreover
the males older than 13 had to wear the "O" (from GiudeO =
Jew) on their clothes, except when travelling throughout Istria or the
Venetian territories. Women were exempted from this rule. Another norm would compel
them to remain at home on Holy Friday so that they would not be molested by the
more fanatic and intolerant Christians. It is curiously noted that the money lenders
("feneratori") could not be held responsible for damages caused
by moths or mice to pawned merchandise.
The closing of the bank, which took place around 1630, put the "Piranesi"
businessman in a rather difficult situation, compelling them to petition the Captain of
Raspo, in February 1633, with a request for the reopening to be assigned to the
descendants of the first Jews who settled in
Pirano. But after many vacillations in
1634 the government chose to establish a "Monte di Pieta`" (pawn-shop). The
Christian priests and the Stellas delivered in turn a petition to be allowed at least to
practice the "Mercatura" (Commerce) and maintain the rights acquired with the
"Capitolo" of 1483.
The Council decided in their favor and renewed the permit in the following years, while
waiting for the definitive authorization of the Venetian Senate, which, we do not
know why, did not arrive until 1681.
These notes are the essential facts of the Jewish presence in
Pirano, even though
little is known about the actual size of the community which continued to exist
almost until today, totally integrated in the local reality. The last Hebrew
family we have heard about, is the Curzolo family that left the city in
1944 to find refuge from persecutions.
OTHER ISTRIAN COMMUNITIES:
Isola - Rovigno
The vicissitudes of the Jews, who were an important component of the
various Istrian locations, were affected by the historic events that
involved Venice at first and the
Hapsburgs.They were also influenced by
numerous migrations and massacres, but it can be reasonably assumed about the
communities established in Istria that the quality of life, notwithstanding the inevitable
daily problems, was good.
Isola - Trieste - Rovigno: XV - Century
It has been verified that David Mayer, lived in
Isola in 1478. He had business
relations also with other small cities. Comparino di Ganhousen lived and worked
in Pola in 1427, being the owner of a "banco feneratizio" [lending bank] in
partnership with some individuals named Samuele and Iona, they had strong commercial ties
with Salomone, "feneratore"[lender} of the city of
Trieste. Nothing is known
Tommasini, bishop of
Cittanova, narrates in his "Commentari storico
geografici della provincia dell'Istria" [Historic and geographic Commentaries of the
Istrian Province] as in 1467 a Jewish family still existed in
Rovigno, composed by
the brothers Abram and Lucio Stella, "il primo molto virtuoso e
versato nella poesia, l'altro dedito ai negozi" [the fist very vituous and well
versed in poetry, the other dedicated to commercial transactions], the last
descendants of an important family tree which had established itself in Rovigno since
Their home was located in the ghetto which existed between the
"contrada" [street] Parenzo and the "contrada" [street] Grisia where
was also located the home of the famous linguist
Antonio Ive (1851-1937). During
restoration work of the edifice some human bones were discovered. It was deduced,
therefore, that a Hebrew cemetery existed there as an additional proof of their existence
in that city. Moreover Ive mentions the presence in the "sottoportico" of
the "barbuti" [the bearded ones] The "sottoportico" was the
entrance to the ghetto in those days and it was so described as only the Jews would
wear beards in those days. The word ghetto appears often and it defines
quickly the portion of the city inhabitated by the Jews.
The "Giudecche and the "Ghettos" in
Venice and Istria
Initially the quarters where they settled were called "giudecche" probably a
derivative from the word Jew "giudeo." As a matter of fact, It is believed
a section of Venice called the "Giudecca" obtained its name from the
"Zudei" [Jews in Venetian] who first settled on that island.
The fear to live isolated, away from their co-religionists caused by the
recurring hostility of the people that were their hosts, pushed the Jews to gather in the
"giudecche" which in certain cities simply amounted to one or more streets
and a square. But this was not the only reason why the Jews could not live next to other
families of different confessions to maintain and observe their precepts. As the
authorities of that period were interested in developing commerce, agreements were made to
erect or assign some buildings for them where they could continue to observe their
religious traditions, while taking part in activities beneficial to all the citizenry.
The giudecca was replaced by the ghetto beginning in the XVI century and was a
poisoned fruit of the Counter-Reform. The essential difference was that the
grouping of the Jews in a single location of the city was not any longer voluntary
but it had become compulsory. (It appears that the word "ghetto" derives from
the Venetian "getto" [casting], a foundry in Venice were metals
were cast [gettati]. These, in a nutshell, are the origins of the nomenclatures
"giudecca" and "ghetto" which characterized, even in Istria,
localities wher the Jews settled from one century to the next, but still not
reaching the extreme meaning of the term "ghetto" quite likely because of the
small number of the Jews and only as compliance with the directives of the
The origins of the Hebrews
But what were the origins of the Hebrews that settled in the Istrian territory? The
subject is complex. Since the Diaspora there were several migrations, often caused by the
anti-semitic rage, an ancient curse that resulted in real massacres. (It should be
noted that the most cruel exterminations did not occur in Italy, that should be
recognized as one of the mildest countries toward the Jewish people). Therefore, there
were several migrations which saw groups of Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews moving back and
forth between Europe and the Orient to return to their own countries, depending on
the changing political and economical conditions, while preserving their own faith and the
liaisons with their co-religionists. The typical names that are still heard in our ears,
as Sacerdote, Stella, Comparino da [from] Ganhousen or Weimar compel us to assume
origins from Italian regions as well from Central European countries. But the
footprints left behind by those people while reaching for Istria in the past were
more or less erased by the patina of time.
Almost forgotten as the words of the melancholic and resigned lullaby which is part of
the popular Yiddish tradition and which must have reverberated, who knows how often, under
the Istrian sky, sung by Hebrew mothers who have lived in
|In a corner of the Temple, all alone
sits a widow. daughter of Zion
She rocks her small Videle
and she sings to him a lullaby to put him to sleep
Ay-lu lu, lu lu
Under the rocker of my Videle
there is a a young goat white as snow
The young goat has gone to market.
This shall also be your destiny:
you will sell raisins and almonds
Sleep, my little Videle, sleep.
This article was originally published by the bi-monthly "Trieste ArteCultura"
(June 1999 online edition).
CITIES AND ASSOCIATED NAMES - We aim to associate Hebrew names
mentioned in the text in various periods with the towns involved. Some relevant data is
also provided to point out the scarce sources and clarify or supplement other items in the
- Davide Weimer and Salomone de Crucilac
- Marco and Mandolino, sons of Davide Weimeer
- Samuele de Magoncia, Abramo Liberman, Moisč di Samuele and Samuele di Salomone
- Zanzotto Calbo,podesta`
- David Mayer, lived in Isola in 1478.
Tommasini, bishop of
Cittanova, author of Commentari storico geografici
della provincia dell'Istria [Historic and geographic Commentaries of the Istrian
- Mose Sacerdote [Moses Priest]
- Marin Sanud il Giovane (author)
- Sacerdote brothers, Moses and Giacob, and Abramo e Aronne S Sacerdote
brothers, Moses and Giacob, and Abramo e Aronne Stella
- Curzolo Family
- Comparino di Ganhousen (with Samuel and Iona)
- Abram and Lucio Stella,
Antonio Ive (1851-1937)
- Contrada GRISIA
- Contrada PARENZO
- VIDELE (Baby boy)
- Salomone, feneratore[lender] of the city of Trieste.
- Triestin ambassadors Antonio and Leonardo Blagovicchio held by: Federico conte di Cilli
[Frederick Count of Cilli] - Carinthia
VENEZIA (La Serenissima = The most Serene) - Venice
- GIUDECCA = Jewish quarters
- Marin Sanud il Giovane [Marin Sanud the Young], Venetian, diplomat, historian and
reporter ("cronista"), author of "Itinerario per la terraferma veneziana dell'anno
1483" [itinerary of the Venetian mainland in 1483] - a unique source of Istrian news.
- Doge Francesco Foscari, Doge = dux = Duce = leader of the Council of
YIDDISH (in German: judisch = a short for judisch-deutsch). A language spoken by
many European Jews and their descendants in many other continents, it is a dialect of High
German written in Hebrew alphabet characters and containing elements of Hebrew, Russian,
JEWS, HEBREWS, Zudei [in Venetian dialect]
- Ashkenazic Jews: settled in middle and northern Europe after the Diaspora
- Sephardic Jews: originated from Spain and Portugal before the Inquisition
MUSICAL ITEMS - YIDDISH: Lullabies similar to the one in the text may be
found at: http://jewishmusic.com/cgi-bin/sidedoor.pl?/ydvar63d.htm??http://infoseek.go.com/Titles?col=WW&sv=M8&lk=noframes&nh=10&qt=Yiddish+lullaby.
Translation and Glossary compiled by Franco G. Aitala
- Presenza ebraica in Istria (Italiano) - http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:jQh9gSmZjCoC:multicultura.univ.trieste.it/ebrei/Artecultura-giugno1999.pdf+Istria&hl=en and http://multicultura.univ.trieste.it/ebrei/Artecultura-giugno1999.pdf
- Misc. internet sites.