Trieste is home to Europe's largest synagogue and has a rich Jewish history that can be felt in the most curious of places!
Writers Italo Svevo and poet Umberto Saba are celebrated in statue form in the streets of downtown Trieste along with their Irish literary contemporary, James Joyce, who lived in Trieste for ten years. Svevo, one of Joyce's students at the Berlitz school, and later a close friend, became the basis for the character of Leopold Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses.
The Jewish community contributed to the financial sector in Trieste by founding the first insurance companies, including Generali Group, which is still in existence today.
The Carlo and Vera Wagner museum is housed in a historically significant building which was originally intended as a Jewish hospital, used as a primary school, and, later, as a shelter for Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, as well as a Polish Ashkenazi oratory. It was opened as a museum in 1993 in order to showcase objects belonging to the community, and as an oratory. Headstones from the original Jewish cemetery can be found in the museum's courtyard.
The original cemetery, mentioned in Saba's poetry, became the Park of Remembrance in 1909. The current Jewish cemetery is located at the cemetery of Sant'Anna.
Some of the buildings from the two ghettos in Trieste still survive and have been restored.
Risiera San Saba, Italy's only extermination camp during WWII, is now a museum just 10 minutes from the center of the city.
When Trieste was declared a tax free port in 1719, it became the most important port in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This bustling city attracted people from all over Europe including a large Jewish community which originally settled in Trieste for trade. The tolerance charter enacted by Austria in 1781 allowed the Jews to practice any profession, study at the university, own property and hold titles of nobility. The Jewish population was an important part of intellectual life in Trieste in the fields of psychoanalysis, literature, and finance. In the 19th century it was the best of times for the Jewish community in Trieste, and the community numbered as many as 6,500.
The same port in Trieste which brought so many prominent members of the community originally, later became known as the "Gateway to Zion" during its darkest time, during Nazi-Fascist rule and clandestine emigration to Palestine by Jews escaping Nazi occupation in the 1930s. It was at this time that Italy's only extermination camp was established from an old rice mill on the outskirts of the city, Risiera San Saba, which was used from October 1943 to March 1944, and is now a museum of memory of the atrocities of history. After the war, the Jewish population of Trieste helped holocaust survivors board ships which left the port of Trieste for new homelands. Fiorello La Guardia, who was of Triestine origin, was an active part of the Zionist movement, helping countless refugees through the American embassies of Budapest, Rijeka and Trieste. Fiorello La Guardia's grandparents are buried in the Jewish cemetery, and not far, in the Anglican Cemetery rests, Achille La Guardia, Fiorello's father.
In all, there were five functioning synagogues over the course of Trieste's history, the one that survived was built in 1912. This imposing building was designed by architects Ruggero and Arduino Berlam, and the interiors were designed by Piero Lucani. Its design and layout are an example of a post-emancipation modern synagogue. There is a large rose window of the Star of David. The synagogue is currently used for important occasions. The building also houses the community services, important archives, and a library. Triest's synagogue is the largest in Europe.