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Italian Jewish history dates back to the 2nd century BCE, making it the only country in Europe with a pre-Diaspora era Jewish community. By the end of the 13th century, Jews of German origin began arriving in the Lombardy region (of which Milan is the capital), where they engaged primarily in moneylending – but in 1320, they were expelled from Milan by the podesta (city official.) These displaced Jews had no choice but to settle elsewhere.
In 1452, Pope Nicholas V granted rights of residence to Jews in the duchy of Milan. Jews were forced to maintain loan banks in every town in Lombardy, even where losses were incurred, and a steep annual tax was levied against them as well. They were also required to renew their residential permits approximately every ten years and were still not permitted to reside in Milan proper.
Following a period of Spanish occupation, the duchy fell under Spanish rule in 1535, and ten years later, Philip II decided to expel all Jews from its borders. After long negotiations, however, they were permitted to remain until 1597, at which time all 900 Jewish residents had to leave the duchy. Many of them migrated to nearby Mantua.
Once Italy became unified in 1861, Jews were finally allowed to settle in Milan, and an official Jewish community was established five years later. Thanks to a period of rapid
growth, there were 12,000 Jews in the city at the time when discriminatory Fascist laws were imposed by Mussolini in 1938. Though no deportations or massacres occurred right away, widespread
persecution, anti-Jewish raids, and the dreaded deportations began taking place in 1943. Some 850 Jews were deported from Milan during the war, many of whom would be murdered by
Of the 30,000 Jews in Italy today, 1/3 live in Milan, making it the second-largest community in the country after Rome. The community is made up primarily of pre-WWII families and of migrants from the Middle East who fled during the Arab-Israeli wars. Milan is home to no less than eight synagogues and places of prayer; a Hebrew school; a home for the elderly: and several kosher restaurants. A Jewish print magazine is published monthly.
Holocaust remembrance culture is alive and well here, and particularly so in recent years. A memorial site was completed at Milan's Central Station in 2013. Located at the infamous Platform 21 from which Italian Jews were deported to Nazi death camps, the memorial features a testimonial hall and commemorative wall of names. Additionally, Gunter Deming's Stolperstein project has been extended to Milan, with the first memorial plaques having been installed in the city in January 2017.
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