History of the Beth Shlomo Synagogue
In 1940, after the issue of the anti-Semitic "racial laws" in Italy and the start of Italian involvement in WWII, the fascist governement ordered to route to the internation camp of Ferramonti (near Cosenza, in Southern Italy) all the Jews present on the national territory, and not holding an Italian passport. The camp, specifically built for this purpose, was therefore used to imprison many Jewish refugees, mainly of Askhenazic descent, who had escaped from countries progressively fallen under the Nazi rule.
The community forcibly gathered in Ferramonti lived in difficult but not inhumane conditions: the somewhat lenient approach of the Fascist authorities allowed the prisoners even to build and operate a small synagogue.
In 1943 the Allied troops stormed Southern Italy succeeding in few weeks to push back the Germans north of Naples, and the Ferramonti inmates therefore spared the terrible destiny of their Italian brethren. The militaries of the "Jewish Brigade", an elite corps part of the Allied Army, transformed the Synagogue into a military chapel for the Jewish soldiers. The whole Ferramonti internation camp became, more in general, a military camp.
After the definitive defeat of Nazism, in 1945, the Jewish Brigade headquarters were transferred to Milan, where the Jewish military started to take care actively of the assistance of the Shoa' survivors, who were helped also to arrange their -officially illegal- immigration to Eretz Yisrael.
In this period, thousands of refugees were brought to Milan and hosted -sometime for long periods- in Palace Odescalchi (Via Unione,5) where the provisional offices of the Jewish Community had been located. In two rooms of this building they founded a Beit haMidrash ("House of Study") that was named She'erit Haplita' (the Remaining of the Survivors) not to forget the tragic history it was stemming from.
The holy books and the apparels of the small Ferramonti temple, that had in the meanwhile followed the Jewish troops in their Italian campaign allowing them to have a military synagogue, were exploited to arrange a religious meeting place for the refugees.
Further to the post-war improvement of the general situation in Italy, and even after the conclusion of the first great Alyiot, the synagogue continued nevertheless to exist, thanks to the commitment of some former refugees who decided to stay in Milan. From the original building, which hosted later the Police Department of Milan, the Temple moved to a nearby location, maintaining the same furniture used in Via Unione. The seats of that time are still used nowadays, and it is possible to see, on them, the small brass plates with the engraved name of the members of the first Congregation. Most curiously, the benches were originally owned by a Fascist organization, whose labels are still visible, and after the war were given to the Temple as part of the indemnification for the racial laws crimes.
In the following years the Beith haMidrash was renamed again and again, to honor some of its most important sponsors. Among them, a special mention is reserved to Mr. Shmuel Bestanding, President during the period spent by the congregation in Via Unione. The present name "Beth Shlomo" is a tribute to Dr. Shlomo ("Sally") Mayer, a prominent and most famous representative of the Jewish Community in Milan.
The heritage of the Ferramonti internation camp is still alive and deeply felt in the modern synagogue, located nowadays in the impressive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the very center of the City of Milan. Many of the old and timeworn siddurim used by the refugees during WWII are still displayed on dedicated bookshelves. Most importantly, the small Aron haKodesh dating back to Ferramonti, which enclosed the sefarim of the first Jews liberated in Europe and accompanied the Jewish Brigade in its fighting, is still in use and could be seen on the left of the modern one, as an enduring testimony to the new generations of a tragedy but also of a heroic past.