The Jewish ghetto was an area of segregation supported by the local Bishopric, a careful executor of the strict directives imposed by the Council of Trent against the Jewish “usurer and deicide” also by means of special pro-Jew preaches, prohibitions of pastorals of frequenting the Catholics, various prohibitions to the Community, to avoid that the Jewish houses had any contact with the Christian ones. Established in 1731 by the House of Savoy, rulers of the Monferrato territory after the peace of Utrecht in 1714 in application of the royal decrees that imposed the unification of the smaller communities to the larger ones, the ghetto housed five of the seven families of the Levi family from Monastero Bormida (about 40 people) forced to relocate and to cohabit with other 40 families of local Jews (about 200 people). In the beginning the ghetto consisted of 13 houses situated in piazza della Bollente and in the present-day via Saracco where the synagogue and the Jewish school were situated; it excluded the piazza, that was used for the city’s markets and was open to the population. The Jewish families rented the location at a lease of 4 and a quarter % of the property’s value. They commerced goods from fabrics to used clothes, from food grains to wine, to loans and money exchange as bankers; they were resourceful entrepreneurs, they installed spinning mills and silk factories, they obtained licenses for the collection, sale and spinning of silk cocoons, they opened textile, leather shops and traded various kinds of goods, generating intolerance on behalf of the poor farmers, impoverished from insolvent debts.

During the Jacobin three-year period, the Jewish community was suspected of connivance with the French and the names of the heads of the household were officiated in a special list. On the 26th February 1799, the first attempt of pogrom to the ghetto exploded, starting with the looting of the shops as an outcome of the attempt of the capital execution of the young rabbi Bonajut Ottolenghi, author of a celebratory speech in front of the tree of freedom, in the ghetto square, of his brother Israel and their father, the rich loaner Giuseppe Salvador known as ‘Nasino’ - saved in extremis by the Bishop Della Torre’s intervention.

Faced with the growing increase of the Jewish population, and the insufficient living spaces, in the following decades, the original ghetto was enlarged twice; first in 1824, with the annex of the building between the present via Bove and Corso Italia, and again in 1836 with the addition of the city block towards the present piazza San Guido. Their resourcefulness in the trade business and their progressive enrichment, other than the persisting anti-Judaism of the Curia and the Bishop Contratto, produced recurrent frictions between the Catholics and the ghetto, which constituted the explosive mixture of the sudden and violent second pogrom on the 23th and 24th April 1848 (during the celebrations of the occurred emancipation granted by Carlo Alberto) torn apart by the intervention of the Mayor Conte Blesi who personally came and rescued the Rabbi Bonajut from the besieged house, escorted by the civic guard who led him to the castle’s prison, to escape the crowd’s ferocity. Even though the year 1848 had not entirely eliminated the anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, that were a breeding ground for racism, the following decades in the nineteenth century were marked by a Jewish- Catholic dialectic and fruitful cohabitation.

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