This is the story I got from Mari Vannucci, who now lives in what once was the Jewish ghetto, right behind the area what once was her grandfather’s business. What with her limited English and my limited Italian, I may have gotten a few details wrong. But what follows is pretty close to the truth.
During World War II, the Germans occupied Pistoia. The Gothic Line was just a few miles away, and because of that, Pistoia was heavily bombed by the Allies. The Germans found several Jewish families who had been living peacefully in Pistoia for centuries in a ghetto near the Piazzetta degli Ortaggi (The Little Vegetable Square).
The Nazis took their homes and their belongings and incarcerated them in the cellars below the Vannucci’s store. They were locked behind irons gates in this dark and damp dungeon until they could be transported to death camps.
Unknown to the Germans, there was a secret passageway from the dungeon to the Vannucci’s business. Some the Jews were able to crawl up through this passageway, and sneak out of the store and into the night, secretly helped by the Vannucci family.
Whatever happened to them after that, only God knows. I want to believe that some were able to escape over the walls and into safety.
Fabio Giannelli, professor at the Instituto storico della Resistenza, said, “It was very easy for individual Fascists to capture foreign Jews in flight from the Nazis. But there were also many Pistoians who helped hide the Jews.”
But in the end, most of the Jews were transported. On the wall outside the ghetto is a plaque placed by the citizens of Pistoia in remembrance of these Jews, as symbolized by one 34 year-old woman in particular, Regina Fiser from Yugoslavia, fleeing for her life. She was finally caught near Pistoia on 30 November 1943, where she was kept in this prison until 22 February 1944. Then she was deported to Auschwitz and exterminated.