Hidden Judaica in Trieste

As early as 11 June 1940, a few days after Italy entered into the war, Union of Italian Jewish Communities president Dante Almansi reminded local communities of the need to store the sacred objects, as well as precious materials from libraries, museums and historical archives, in places where they could be considered safe from enemy air raids. However, it seems that it was not until the summer of 1943 that the Jewish community in Trieste decided to collect its ancient silver objects and the Torah scrolls in a secret room inside the synagogue itself, a room the entrance to which was hidden underneath a wardrobe. It was here that they were found at the end of the war.


Vincenzo Ruzzoli of Ancona (about 1798-1810), Rimmonim, partially gilded, embossed, engraved and with fused silver
Provenance: Trieste, Scola spagnola
Trieste, Museo della Comunità Ebraica di Trieste Carlo e Vera Wagner
© Elio Ciol

Carlo Nathan Morpurgo (1890-1944), secretary of the Jewish community from 1939 onwards and a former irredentist and Zionist, played an important role in preserving precious objects. Hailing from a middle-class family, Morpurgo studied at the University of Graz and graduated with a law degree in 1922. It was around this time that his portrait was painted by Vittorio Bolaffio (1893-1931), one of Trieste's most renowned painters who spent his time in the company of writers, critics and poets. Morpurgo was fired from his position at the Banca Commerciale Italiana soon after the promulgation of the racial laws (1938). As secretary of the Jewish community, he was very active in DELASEM, and traveled to Ljubljana and Rijeka after the occupation of Yugoslavia in April 1941 to assist refugees; he continued to serve in this position even after 8 September 1943, courageously helping many Jewish families to escape from Trieste.


Ritratto Carlo Morpurgo by Vittorio Bolaffio - Musei provinciali di Gorizia-1
Isac Vittorio Bolaffio, Portrait of Carlo Morpurgo, c. 1922, oil on canvas (62 x 30 cm)
Gorizia, Musei Provinciali, Pinacoteca
© Ente Regionale Patrimonio Culturale - Friuli Venezia Giulia (Aut. prot. gen./2020/0001222)

Before being arrested in January 1944, Morpurgo managed to give one Torah scroll and the seals and two imperial patents of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1771) into the safekeeping of the bishop of Trieste, Antonio Santin (1895-1981). Morpurgo also succeeded in preserving the historical archives of the Jewish community, including a 17th century Book of Pawns by Ventura Parente, in the cellars of the synagogue.


Patent by Maria Theresa of Austria to the Jewish people of Trieste, 1771
Trieste, Museo della Comunità Ebraica di Trieste Carlo e Vera Wagner
© Marino Ierman
Page 98 from the Book of Pawns by Ventura Parente, mid-17th century
Trieste, Museo della Comunità ebraica di Trieste "Carlo e Vera Wagner"
© Courtesy of the Comunità Ebraica di Trieste

On 2 September 1944, Carlo Morpurgo was deported to Auschwitz. He died there two months later.