Pietro Renato Melli

Pietro Renato Melli


by Sara Baretta

PHOTO 1 – Installation of the file on Pietro Renato Melli, A.s.Fe, Questura, category A8, Jews, envelope 4, file 9

Pietro Renato Melli was born in Ferrara on November 1, 1891, son of Ugo and Elda Ascoli.
At a young age he marries Alesia (or Alessia, in some documents) Stomarchi, a Catholic girl of his same age, originally from Denore, a small fraction of the Ferrara countryside; during the two-year period 1917-1918 Pietro fought in the First World War. The couple have three children: Ugo Pacifico, Bruna and Vittoria, all baptized.
In 1939, the year of the census of Jews residing in the city1, their son Ugo Pacifico, born in 1919, was an engineering student at the Polytechnic of Milan, the two daughters, Bruna and Vittoria, 2They were then respectively 29 and 23 years old and both were married to men defined as ‘Aryans’.
At that date the family nucleus resided in via Cammello 4, and was made up of the parents and Ugo Pacifico, as the daughters were married, and had moved away from the family of origin.
Melli was the owner of an electrical material shop, located in via Mazzini, the main artery of the city’s former Jewish ghetto3.
The supervision of Pietro4 began in 1939, (PHOTO 1) a sign that politically it had never given rise to previous checks and reports, and had probably always adopted moderate attitudes. The complaint is traced back, as we will see later, mostly to reasons of ‘economic and commercial envy’, and to the attempted confiscation of his electrical goods store, a thriving business which in 1939 had as many as ten employees.
Thus he becomes part of the lists of residents of the Jewish race being constituted, who will serve until 8 September 1943 for active surveillance and for possible imprisonment in Italian internment camps, and later for dispatch to those of German extermination. (PHOTO 2)
In March 1939, Pietro Renato attempted the difficult path of discrimination5 is affixed to all the documents, by presenting an application to the prefecture, which will however be rejected; in a note, based on the reports of some usual and well-known informants, we read that: “from the information obtained (…) it emerged that the same, although registered in the p.n.f. since 28/10/1932, he does not appear to be of true fascist faith, he is an acid mutterer and does not enjoy sympathy with the current government (…) He manages an electrical material shop in via Mazzini and his conditions are flourishing. (…) The members of his family are of regular conduct (…) His wife is not enrolled in the female group while the son is enrolled in the youth group since 07/27/1937” 6. The application for discrimination will not be accepted.
On 29 March 1939, by deed by Notary Rivani, he had donated the electrical material resale company to his wife Alesia, as an ‘Aryan’ Catholic, to save the business from any possible confiscation resulting from racial laws. A letter from the usual well-informed, dated May 12, 1940 (therefore a few days before the outbreak of the Second World War) denounces Melli, (even though formally he is no longer the owner of any business, now in the name of his wife), specifying that: “he hoarded a large quantity of goods of all kinds, even unrelated to his trade (heating systems, pipes in general, special brasses, etc…). This material is secretly kept in a warehouse that is always closed, not easy to find (the previous sentence is underlined with green pencil, two exclamation marks and a question mark) in the building in via Mazzini” 7. (PHOTO 3)
The inspection was already carried out on May 16, under the impulse of the alleged hoarding, which even reached the ears of the secret services of the political police, the O.V.R.A. (Opera Vigilance Repression Anti-Fascism) of Bologna. All that was found, after having carried out a thorough inspection, which also included neighboring cellars owned by other properties, turned out to be “a pile of scrap iron which is regularly reported to the appropriate collection committee, which has already ordered its withdrawal ” 8.
On 12 July 1940 he was denounced again with the accusation of hoarding material (the war had already begun for just over a month) and also for having the commercial activity in his wife’s name.

The new accusation concerns material for the construction of electric light bulbs for bicycles (Ferrara is the city of bicycles, which is why it takes on such importance), and for this reason he was beaten by a team of fascists. It is on this occasion that his removal is explicitly requested. He is described as “a particularly treacherous element, capable of divulging false news (…) and of depressing public spirit (…) it is proposed that the aforementioned Jew be interned in a municipality in another distant province” 9.

His fate is thus sealed, in fact already on 17 July the Ministry of the Interior ordered his imprisonment in the Urbisaglia camp. (PHOTO 4) On Monday 23rd, the order reached the Questura in Ferrara, and the same evening Pietro Renato was arrested at his own home, at 9 pm. The detention report for political police investigations bears the signature of deputy brigadier Luigi Gusmano 10, and by Fabbri Bruno P.S. guard

On July 25, 1940 he arrived in Urbisaglia, during his stay, as well-off, he will not have paid any per diem.

On August 19, Melli asked for the first time to revoke the internment order, which was not accepted.

Wife Alesia and children Ugo and Vittoria will be authorized to visit the joint, starting from August 26, with a one-day monthly stay, “for the purpose of conferring for commercial reasons”11. On 14 September it was the turn of the sister, Maria Melli in Foà, to be authorized with a one-off two-day permit to visit his brother, where he will arrive on 20 September.

Alesia subsequently sent numerous letters tending to request the revocation of the provision, providing a list of eminent Ferrara personalities ready to ‘provide news on political and moral conduct’: Among the many names of well-known and influential names of eminent Catholic clergymen and of the prefect Franceso Palici Di Suni, or the one who had supervised and prepared the operations for the revision of the census of the Jews in application of the racial laws 12. In the documents there is no evidence that the named personalities have ever been contacted to provide information.

On 8 November, Alesia forwarded a new request for revocation of the provision, requesting that her husband undergo a medical examination to ascertain whether his physical conditions were compatible with the regime of internment, the outcome of the examination, on 26 November, it will establish that he is suffering from a hernia and needs to be operated on, and only later will it be possible to establish whether or not his conditions are compatible with the regime of internment. On December 12, he authorized himself “to have the person named in question subjected to a suitable institute in this province, at the expense of the institution that is required there by law, to undergo the operation and expenses he needs”, 13 However, Pietro decides to postpone, reserving the right to have the operation performed at his own expense by a trusted surgeon.
Unfortunately, events take an unexpected and tragic turn, his son Ugo, in his early twenties, is hospitalized on December 13 at the Sant’Anna Hospital in Ferrara, (PHOTO 5) where he undergoes an urgent operation for suspected peritonitis ; the post-operative period is one of the worst: the boy has a very high fever and is wasting away day by day; on 31 December he was finally subjected to a lung x-ray and the outcome gave no way out: miliary tuberculosis. On 15 January 1941, at 13, due to pulmonary complications, Ugo died.

The funeral in the Catholic rite takes place on January 16, on a sad and cold winter day in the Po Valley. An agent of P.S. is sent to check “Please report that about sixty people attended the funeral, of whom fifty of the Aryan race, most of them university students, and about ten Jews, including their parents (…) the wreaths were sent from: parents, relatives, sisters, the Foà family, university colleagues, aunts. The funeral took place in a simple way and without incidents of any kind” 14

On January 1, 1941, the electrical material resale shop had already been closed. The license that Pietro Renato requested to assist his sick son, and following his death, to assist his wife devastated by pain, was extended from time to time, until January 27, 1941, it became indefinite. 

Human compassion prevails, and the definitive revocation of the provision takes place on March 14, 1941, but will nevertheless remain subject to a supervisory regime. (PHOTO 6)
On 20 May 1941 Pietro Melli moved to Bologna, in via Albertazzi 19, with his wife and a maid. The area where he goes to reside is of recent construction, made up of Art Nouveau villas and small buildings, far from the Jewish ghetto of Bologna. (PHOTO 7)

A note dated June 10 reads that:” She is wealthy, she believes she moved there due to the recent deaths that have affected her family and that have prostrated her wife, who was advised to change city ” 15

Moving to nearby Bologna is also a common escape for other Jewish citizens of Ferrara, especially those who have their own business (in the case of inmates in the Urbisaglia camp, the twin brothers Primo Ugo and Secondo also followed the same path Lino Hanau, and Giacomo Trevi). 

It is a departure dictated not only by the greater possibilities that a larger and more vital city from an economic point of view can offer, but above all by the attempt to escape the violent and repeated attacks on one’s person, family, activities and to the material goods owned, perpetrated directly by the representatives of the city’s institutions, who since the advent of fascism have had such a large part in the rise of the same at a national level,  combined with the greater capillarity of social control possible in a city of limited dimensions, split between fascists and anti-fascists since the dawn of the twenty years.

Even in Bologna, Pietro remains under surveillance, and is constantly subjected to police checks, from which it appears that “as a vociferator, he had been interned in the concentration camp of Urbisaglia and was released last March, due to family deaths , who are believed to have depressed his spirits by making him renounce his ambiguous behavior” 16
He also moved the electrical material shop in the name of his wife to the city, which would find its headquarters in via San Vitale 15, in the immediate vicinity of the Bolognese ghetto. 17
In June 1944 it appears that the apartment in via Albertazzi 19 had been sublet, a sign that the family no longer felt secure, and also that little extra security that came from having a ‘pure Aryan’ wife and baptized children was no longer considered sufficient. He had therefore probably abandoned the city, going to take refuge elsewhere. Where it is not known, but it seems plausible that he had moved towards central Italy, where the war was about to end, or perhaps hidden in the house of some anonymous benefactor nearby, or a refugee in Switzerland. It is only a personal speculation, generated by analogy with other stories, other lives. Whatever choice he made, he would have survived.
In October 1944, the temporarily abandoned shop in via San Vitale was “broken into (…) by German soldiers, who, on several occasions, removed the electrical material found there. Miss Lamina Giuditta 18 also residing in via San Vitale 15, consignee of the keys to the warehouse itself, intervened with the commander of the expedition and obtained receipt of the he was taken the first time” (with a certain courage, I might add).

The neighbors confirm that they have seen various things, rolls and parcels being taken away (…) It has not been possible to ascertain where this material was transported. It is assumed that the first sampling was carried out by order of a German command, while the subsequent ones took place on the initiative of some German officer on his own behalf. The latter hypothesis is supported by the fact that during the unloading operations the soldiers gave light bulbs to the curious who stopped to observe” 19

The investigations carried out after the war, at the request of Melli himself in an attempt to trace the stolen goods, had obviously given a negative result. (PHOTO 8)

The war is now over, life resumes, and like most of those who had been interned in Italian camps before ’43 he had survived, with his senses alerted, ready to escape, because they had already intuition that the unimaginable would happen. 

He will still enjoy a long life and die at the age of 86, on July 24, 1977. He is buried in the Jewish cemetery of Ferrara, his hometown.

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  1. The first measure implemented against Italian Jews was the census of Jews carried out starting from 22 August 1938 for the purpose of counting and filing the Jews who were in Italy, as a prerequisite for the issuing of special legislation. Based on the results of the census and the classification stated in the Manifesto, there were about 51,100 Jews liable to persecution in Italy, of whom 46,656 were people of Jewish religion or identity and, precisely as a result of the racial-biological criterion, about 4,500 were non-Jews (the anti-Jewish persecution therefore did not concern only the Israelites). Of all these, about 41,300 were Italian citizens and about 9,800 were foreigners, but the new laws revoked the citizenship granted to almost 1,400 of the former after 1918
  2. Ugo Pacifico was born on 22/08/1919, only the age he was in 1939 is known about Bruna, i.e. 29 years. Vittoria, (or Vittorina in some documents) was born on 07/11/1917, married to Edoardo Bissi, a housewife by profession. Source: A.s.Fe, Questura, category A8, Jews, envelope 4, file 9
  3. The Jewish presence in Ferrara dates back to 1100. At first it was a tiny settlement in via Centoversuri, then in Giudecca in the near the ancient medieval walls – hence the current via Giovecca. In 1492 the Sephardic Jews coming from Spain following the expulsion of Isabella the Catholic were welcomed by Ercole d’ Este, who wrote on November 20, 1492 as follows: “We are very happy that they are coming to live here with their families… because they will always be well received and treated in all the things we can and every day they will count more on coming to our house.” For more than a century the Jews lived in peace, and the choice to settle in certain areas was a voluntary choice of contiguity, not dictated by any constraint, at least not until the establishment of the ghetto, by papal will. The ghetto of Ferrara was established with an edict of Cardinal Cennini dated 23 August 1624, with a certain delay compared to the other cities that had already been part of the State of the Church for some time (Ferrara was in fact devolved to the Papal State only in 1598 and until that date no forced containment measures, as seen previously, had been implemented). The ghetto was built in one of the oldest areas of the city, where the Jewish presence was already conspicuous, a short distance from the cathedral, and was closed by five gates. At that date, approximately 1,500 Jewish citizens were registered. The gates of the ghetto were briefly reopened with the French occupation in 1796, but they closed again already in 1826, after the restoration, even if with less strict rules, until the unification of Italy in 1861. After 1938, with the the entry into force of the fascist racial laws, the situation of the Jews throughout Italy changed radically. However, Jews also continued to arrive in Ferrara from other provinces, thinking of finding a safer environment (thanks to the presence of Italo Balbo, a friend of Renzo Ravenna, who was one of only two Italian Jewish mayors, who however had to resign in 1938 following the racial laws) but the ghetto, in fact, returned to function
  4. A.s.Fe, Questura, category A8, Jews, envelope 4, file 9
  5. Discrimination pursuant to art. 14 of the R.D.L. 17/11/1938, XVII, n° 1728, Art. 14. “The Minister for the Interior, on the documented request of the interested parties, can, case by case, declare the provisions of article 10 not applicable, as well as of art . 13, lett. h):

    a) to the members of the families of the fallen in the Libyan, world, Ethiopian and Spanish wars and of the fallen for the fascist cause;
    b) to those who are in one of the following conditions:1.mutilated, disabled, wounded, war volunteers or decorated for valor in the Libyan, world, Ethiopian and Spanish wars;2. combatants in the Libyan, world, Ethiopian and Spanish wars who have attained at least the war merit cross;3.mutilated, disabled, wounded in the fascist cause;4. members of the National Fascist Party in the years 1919-20-21-22 and in the second half of 1924;5. legionnaires from Fiume;6.have acquired exceptional merits, to be evaluated in terms of art.16.

    In the cases provided for in lett. b), the benefit can be extended to the members of the family of the persons listed therein, even if they are predeceased. Interested parties can request the annotation of the measure by the Minister of the Interior in the registers of civil status and population. The provision of the Minister for the Interior is not subject to any encumbrance, both administratively and judicially”. With the approved regulations, Jews are granted the right to request “discrimination”. This term indicates a measure that introduces a differentiation between the Jews themselves: those with particular merits are granted preferential treatments, small advantages, a mitigation in the application of the measures. Some advantages consist, for example, in the possibility of keeping the radio, of continuing to have an Aryan maid in the house, or of being able to go on holiday even in hotels; in this case, however, it is mandatory to show the card bearing the condition of discriminated against issued by the fascist authorities. In any case, the stamp of “belonging to the Jewish race”

  6. A.s.Fe, Police Headquarters, category A8, Jews, envelope 4, folder 9
  7. Ibidem
  8. Ibidem
  9.   Ibidem.
  10. Luigi Gusmano, imprisoned after his release for political crimes, will be assassinated on June 8, 1945, in what is defined as the Piangipane prison massacre, during which 17 political prisoners adhering to fascism  they were killed in bursts of machine guns.
  11. A.s.Fe, Questura, category A8, Jews, envelope 4, file 9
  12.  The names are: Mons. Ruggero Bovelli archbishop of Ferrara – the federal consul Olao Gaggioli – sansepolcrista – the prefect of the province marquis Franceso Palici Di Suni, the president of the court of Ferrara – the podestà – national councilor Avv. Alberto Verdi – the King’s attorney at the court of Ferrara-Mons Valeriani Giovanni parish priest of S. Francesca Romana in Ferrara. A.s.Fe, Questura, category A8, Jews, envelope 4, file 9
  13. Ibidem
  14.  Ibidem
  15.  A.S.Bo,  Police Headquarters of Bologna, Cabinet for people dangerous to the security of the State, subseries “dismissed”, envelope 103, Melli Pietro Renato (1940 Dec. 20 – 1945 Aug. 11 )
  16. Ibidem
  17. The ghetto of Bologna was the urban area of ​​the city of Bologna intended to contain the Jewish community that resided in it, as established from bubble Cum nimis absurdum issued July 14, 1555 by Pope Paul IV. The papal edict generally regulated the Jewish presence in the temporal domains of the Papal State. The Jewish community was expelled for the first time in 1569, was able to return in 1586 and dispersed following the expulsion of 1593 to slowly reconstitute itself only in the Napoleonic era. Only at the unification of Italy the Jews Bolognese were able to completely emancipate themselves being recognized as normal Italian citizens.
  18. Lamina Giuditta was then thirty-eight years old, daughter of an unknown father and of Lamina Germana, widow- A.S.Bo, Bologna Police Headquarters, Department of Persons Dangerous for the Security of the State, subseries “disbarred”, envelope 103, Melli Pietro Renato (1940 Dec. 20 – 1945 Aug. 11)
  19.  Ibidem