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Getting married in an internment camp

21 Gennaio 2021
Getting married in an internment camp Foto: Dina Smadar Dina Smadar
In Ferramonti my father immediately felt in love with my mother and they started talking about the wedding that took place in a hut in the camp. My father and his friends cleaned the hut and scrubbed the floor. by Dina Smadar

Berlin, 1933: my mother is 9 or 10 years old. Hitler has come to power. My grandfather and grandmother experienced difficult times and needed to make fateful decisions. They wanted to go to Palestine but the limits on immigration were very strict. All business with Jews was forbidden.

Synagogues were burning, Jewish-owned stores and businesses smashed and Jewish schools closed. My mother was an eyewitness to Kristallnacht. Grandfather was taken to the Sachsenhausen camp. Human language is too poor to describe the tortures and suffering.

Hitler gave instructions that Jews might be released and allowed to leave Germany within one week, the required documents were obtained. Through Yugoslavia, traveling from village to village. Long torturous journey my mother, grandfather and grandmother, arrived at the Ferramonti camp. Surrounded by darkness and heard voices. Everything had left them very uncertain about future events.

They shared two small rooms with a couple. The Italians gave them a daily allowance that was sufficient to purchase a small amount of food. They were hungry the entire time but conditions in Ferramonti could not be compared to what they had experienced in Germany.

My father, Zvi Neumann, left his parents home in Slovakia when anti-Semitism was on the rise. He left alone at the age of 17 or 18. In May 1940 he left Bratislava. At this point comes his adventure on the river boat Pentcho.

In Ferramonti, everyone tried to live more or less normal life, opening businesses and to earn a living. My grandfather, grandmother and the couple they lived with, opened a restaurant. They served the meals in their living room. In the camp utensils and bought food on the black market. Supplies were smuggled by Italian soldiers who earned large sums this way. They obtained flour, oil and other products.

Water was a problem. There was no running water in the restaurant and it was necessary to bring it from wells in the vicinity. My family expected that their efforts would earn them enough profit to provide them with a financial base for the future, but the profits were very small.

Ferramonti camp seemed like the “Garden of Eden.” The Italians treated them well and allowed them to manage their own lives, provided that they did not leave the boundaries of the camp. The survivors always mentioned the guards and managers of the camp favorably. There is no doubt that we are alive today because of them; we owe them our lives.

The hunger, shortages, fleas and other problems were negligible in comparison to what they had experienced before leaving their countries of origin. All they had seen, all they had heard and the family members taken to the gas chambers. And so, community life began to develop within the boundaries of the Ferramonti camp.

My father learned carpentry in Slovakia and found a variety of odd jobs. He made sandals, comfortable chairs and anything else people requested. Residents and groups in the camp had arrived separately from across Europe. My father fell in love with my mother immediately, they began to discuss the wedding which was held in a cabin in the camp. My father and his friends cleaned the place and washed the floor. White sheets covered the tables and old jam jars found at the site were used as glasses. They prepared “coffee” from chicory and cake from ricotta cheese, etc. The repast included dates and figs, which were plentiful and inexpensive. There were two other weddings on the same day; they even had a bachelor party…

Everyone took the wedding ceremony and entire event very seriously. My mother wore a suit that a friend sewed from remnants of white cloth, her veil was made of mosquito netting and flowers for the bridal bouquet were picked in the fields. The wedding ceremony was conducted by Rabbi Deutsch, and the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Pacifici, sent a certificate attesting to the marriage.

My parents married, they were allocated a single room with my mother’s parents. Friends exchanged objects and crafts, which made it possible for them to decorate their space. The efforts of the camps’ residents to live a more or less normal life surpassed any imagination. Friends organized cultural life and sports.

The cabins had thatched roofs and huge fleas fell from the straw…. They treated the insect-infested mattresses with kerosene.

I was born, On the 15.3.1944. Since there was no hospital in the camp, My mother got ill and was taken to the hospital in Cosenza.

My parents passed away in Israel, at a ripe old age. They are survived by a daughter, son, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren

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Ernst Bernhard
Discover the park

Ernst Bernhard

Ferramonti di Tarsia (Cs)

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