On the last strip of the Tuscan Region, overlooking Lazio, is Etruscan land. This is charming Maremma, standing out of Pitigliano cliff. An ancient village with perched houses, Pitiglian is also known as “little Jerusalem”. The resemblance with the Holy City is noticeable, as it can be seen observed arriving from the sea.
The narrow and steep alleys leading to the ancient Jewish quarter are another mark of the connection between Pitigliano and Jerusalem. In the 800s the ghetto of Pitigliano was inhabited by hundreds of Jews, and for this reason the village took the name of “Small Jerusalem”. Jewish migration towards Maremma started four centuries ago, and the Synagogue was built in 1598. It collapsed due to a landslide in the 60's, but was was re-built by the Municipality in 1995. Today the Synagogue, the Kasher butchery, the Milkvè bath, the bakery of the “Azzime” and the winery, are all part of a touristic itinerary. There is also a Museum managed by the "Small Jerusalem" association,“ that gives 20% of its revenue to the Municipality.
Every day tourists visit the Jewish complex to buy kosher products in the souvenir shops of the hamlet. The kosher wine is produced in the local wine factory, and is on sale in every shop of Pitigliano. The shops also sell kosher olive oil, azzimo bread and traditional Jewish “sfratto”cake.
The cake is made in the shape of a cane, and was prepared in the past to remember the 17th century tradition of knocking on doors intimating the edict of the Grand Duke Cosimo II, and announcing to Hebrew people that they were obliged to leave their homes and move to the ghetto of Pitigliano. It is now considered a Christmas cake. During the summer, “bollo” cakes of the Sephardic tradition are prepared, made with lemon and anise.
Pitigliano is the historic location of the cultural meeting between the Christian and Jewish populations. This kinship was sealed in 1799 when the population of Pitigliano embraced pitchforks and compelled the soldiers to flee instead of pillaging the ghetto. Years later during the Holocaust, Pitigliano again defended its Jewish dwellers.
Cava and Servi are common names of the Jewish families that were restrained in the Roccatederighi's camp, sent to Fossoli camp, and from there shipped to Auschwitz. Other Jewish families living in Pitigliano hid themselves in the countryside avoiding the endless Nazi roundups, thanks to the solidarity network of dwellers and farmers living nearby. In 2002, the Dainelli, Perugini, Bisogno, Simonelli and Sonno families were awarded with the honor of “right” amongst nations bestowed by the Institute Yad Vashem of Jerusalem.
“A human chain of solidarity preserved us. I remember the people who brought us foods. We lived in a cave me, my father, my mother, and mine of two sisters. To let us know that we were in peril we had a special sign agreed before. The farmer riding a black horse was the alarm sign”.
These are the words of Elena Servi, founder and chief executive officer of the Small Jerusalem association. She is 83 years old, and lived through Nazi occupation. She is cheerful, hearty, with a very clear memories of those youthful days when Fascists and Nazis constrained her to a bitter life.
Jewish inhabitants of the town have unique and extraordinary testimonials. Another is the story of Carlo Frischumann, a dentist in Pitigliano's during the war. A Jew from Eastern Europe, he arrived in Italy with his real identity concealed under the name of Carlo Schemmari. He never disclosed his real Jewish origin to the people of Pitigliano. He was killed by the American bombing on the 7th of June 1944 that hit the crowded old town and destroyed part of it. The tradition tells that he was killed in his medical study while he was curing a German soldier.
Another tradition tells that his assistant was wrongly brought his medicine bag to the office of Carlo Schemmari in Pitigliano and so the doctor was obliged to go to his office to recollect his bag. When the war was over, the population of Pitigliano was left astonished when the girlfriend of Carlo Frischumann, alias Carlo Schemmari asked to exhume the body of Carlo from the Christian cemetery and then she revealed this real identity.
Elena Servi is at the core of the Jewish community of Pitigliano, nowadays made up only by three people.
"My son Enrico is 50 years old and he is the latest Jewish people born in Pitigliano. There is no Rabbi in Pitigliano and the community goes to the Synagogue of Livorno, managed by the Rabbi Yair Didi. "
Elena was in Israel during the first Gulf war. She lived in the Holy Land from 1986 until 1995. She decided to live in a typical Israelis allocation. She lived in the kibbuts named to the memory of Sereni. In the kibbutz Elena was also in charge of managing the laundry service, amongst other duties. From that experience of life she affirms: “frankly if the kibbutz was not real, it should be surely invented”.