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I was Saved by the Catholic Church

Dafna Roccas at the Catholic Convent, Rome 1943

It is a fact that thanks to the help of the Catholic church my family was saved, along with some 47150 of the 57150 Jews of Rome.

On the evening before October 16, 1943, when Rome's Jews were rounded up by the Nazis (who had conquered Italy a month previously), my father was informed of it by a cardinal with whom he was friendly. He warned some people who did not believe it and then he escaped on his bicycle, never imagining that the roundup would include women and children (at this late date we were all ignorant of the extent of the Holocaust).

Dafna Roccas (8) and brother (6), at the Catholic Convent, Rome 1943

 At dawn, we were warned by Catholic friends that they were taking entire families on trucks. We realized that the roads were blocked and soon enough the Germans came. They came with a list that they had taken from the registry of the Jewish community. We had moved from Pisa where we belonged to the Jewish community but never registered in the community in Rome. The list included my grandmother and two uncles who lived with us and were away at the time, but were deported later. I do not know why the two Germans who came to our house never suspected us and left empty handed, but not having a language in common helped.

Later we walked, separately, to a convent that took us in together with a few other families. We hid there for a few weeks, until my little brother, six years old, and myself, aged eight, were sent to convents that took care of children of convicts, one for boys and one for girls.

In the convent everybody knew that I was Jewish, but they were all very nice to me during the entire duration of my stay – until the liberation of Rome in June 1944. They went out of their way to teach me the "right way" so I would go to heaven, but nobody forced me to convert, and they agreed that I was too young to make such a decision without the approval of my parents. The main inconvenience was that we were very close to a German military camp, in the outskirts of Rome, and thus were subjected continuously to allied air strikes and also to the visits of lonely German soldiers seeking a little warmth. As soon as any of those came I took care to disappear, fearing one of the little girls would tell on me.

Dafna Roccas with her brother, sister and husband, Givat Brenner 1945

After returning home, I was still very much under the influence of the convent, not having had any religious practice at home, and on Sundays I used to drag my little brother to organized games for children at convents near home. For more than a year I used to recite every evening in bed – to be on the safe side – one Shema Israel and one Pater Noster in Latin, which after all meant only "Our Father in Heaven".

In March 1945, before the end of the war, my father agreed to send my brother and me with our married sister and her Zionist new husband, who provided certificates, to a kibbutz in Israel.

The first time I went back to Italy for a visit was in April 1973. I very much wanted to see the convent again, but by that time nobody in my family remembered neither its name nor its location. I tried Vatican offices but they told me that so many convents had closed and they did not know which one had held daughters of convicts. I supposed they did not try very hard to help. 

 

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Wednesday, 17 August 2022

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