The lakes of Italy are known for its beauty. Although I have been to Italy several times it was usually the Lake Garda area I would visit, every time I was awestruck by its beautiful surroundings. I did see Lake Maggiore once in passing and it also looked majestic.
However this majestic beautiful place was also a place of horror for at least 16 Jewish Greeks during WWII.
Even though Italy did have a brutal and fascist regime and there were persecutions of Jews, the majority of the Jewish population did have a relatively ‘normal’ life compared to Jews elsewhere in Europe.
However this changed after the dismissal and arrest of Mussolini. Hitler sent an elite squad to free his ally from captivity after Italy had signed an armistice with allied forces in September 3,1943 and officially announced 5 days later on the 8th of September.
Hitler moved fast to establish a new Fascist Italian state in the North of Italy. The Repubblica Sociale Italiana.The Italian Social Republic was proclaimed on 23 September, with Mussolini as both head of state and prime minister.But the new republic really was a puppet state run by Nazi Germany.
Meina was a small village at the southern area of Lake Maggiore. The village had a Hotel with the same name Hotel Meina. The owners were the Behars, a family of Turkish Jews.
The hotel had about 30 guest rooms, a billiard room, a reading room and a room where the guests could play cards. The garden faced Lago Maggiore. In September 1943, it had a number of Jewish guests, mostly from Greece, who had escaped the Nazi occupation in Greece.
Since Italy had signed an armistice there was this false believe the war was over, nothing could be further from the truth.
On Wednesday morning, Sept. 15, the Meina hotel was surrounded by the SS. Twenty Jews were identified, including: Alberto and Eugenia Behar, the owners of the hotel, with their children; the Fernandez Diaz family; the Mosseris; Raoul Torres and his wife, Valerie Nahoum; Daniele Modiano; Vittorio Haim Pompas; Vitale Cori, the hotel’s bartender; and Lotte Fröhlich-Mazzucchelli.
The SS men were from the SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. They kept the Jews as prisoner in the Hotel, where the Non Jewish guests were free to do what they wanted to do.
On the night of 22/23 September the 16 Jewish guests were taken out of the Hotel and driven a few miles outside of the village where they were shot.
The 16 bodies were dumped in Lake Maggiore.
In the following days, the bodies floated to the surface. The SS recovered the corpses and burned them.
The fate of the 16 souls was initially forgotten but in 1968 those responsible for the Meina massacre were tried in Germany Mario Mazzucchelli, the non Jewish husband of Lotte Fröhlich-Mazzucchelli, testified as a witness. Three officers were sentenced to life but in 1970, the Supreme Court declared the statute of limitations had expired and released them.
In Meina commemorative ‘stumbling blocks’ were put down to remember the victims of the Meina Hotel massacre.One separate block for each victim and one general block for all 16.
In 2007 director Carlo Lizzani shot a movie of the awful event. Hotel Meina.
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