The Jewish community, present in the city from the end of the fifteenth century, originally came from the Iberian peninsula and was known as Sephardic, whereas other Jews came from the area of Askenazi or Germany and were known as Ashkenazi Jews, just as the most common surnames recall: besides Levi and Debenedetti, Lattes, Foà, Bedarida, which derive from Spanish cities and the French Provence region, Ottolenghi derives from the German city of Oetlinghen. The community disappeared in 1943/1944 when 28 Jews that were born, or lived as refugees and residents in Acqui were expelled. During those years, from mid 19th century, the community had grown to 500 members – 12% of the entire Acquese population – reduced to 31 following transfers to university centres and industrial areas. During the centuries, following alternated events of disqualifications, of prohibitions exercised particularly by the local post-Tridentine church, and the impoverishment of many small farmers, it eventually led to two attempts of pogrom within the ghetto, in 1799 and in 1848, and the coexistence of Christians and Jews, emancipated by King Carlo Alberto in 1948. In the decades of the belle époque, the Jews, all of whom were educated and many graduates, together with the Catholics were the city’s new ruling class, modernising it in many ways especially from an urban point of view, communication systems of railways and roads, and various fields of social-economy, tourism and culture. In 1938, the racial laws prohibited them from schools, public offices, many types of professions and from any kind of commercial activity; this eventually forced them to sell their goods below cost, and those who were able to either went into hiding or emigrated to escape the threat of deportation.
The itinerary begins from Piazza Abram Levi, named after the honorary director of the Postal services of Turin, that in 1909 donated his family building (as requested in his testament), once property of the Counts Lupi of Moirano, with a clause that it should become the Council’s seat, as it is today. The building was refurbished following a neo-Gothic style, which recalls particular important historic moments of the city. During the Napoleonic campaign against the Austrian/Russian it became the headquarters for the high ranking French commanders, and for Pope Pio VII, a veteran from the French imprisonment imposed on him by Napoleon, whom in 1814 waved and blessed the crowds from the balcony.
In the nearby Via Garibaldi, the building of the Jewish family Aimar has been preserved, a splendid architectural jewel in a neo-Gothic style, once the hat manufacturers and owners of the Negozietto that up until 1938, was the Jeweller’s De Benedetti, a pioneer for the many Jewish jewellers in Acqui.
At the junction with Corso Italia were two leather manufacturing shops, both property of the Dina family, close relations to Salvador Dina, a librarian and typographer, a brilliant publisher responsible for the Gazzetta d’Acqui newspaper. From mid 1800s, these streets, like the adjacent and surrounding ones, were the homes and workplaces of the emancipated Jewish community.
From here continue walking under the Civic Tower where you may admire the commemorative inscription dedicated to the Italian military men and Jews killed during the war – and you’ll arrive in piazza della Bollente already Jewish Ghetto from 1731 to 1848, restructured in the late 19th century on request of the Mayor Saracco, who entrusted the project to the Architect Leale. In 1888, the monumental Synagogue was constructed, of which the exterior walls may still be admired, sadly destroyed in July 1971, the night before its official recognition as a national monument. It was an essential reference centre for community life, where the Jews would discuss their social problems, a place to celebrate religious festivities, or rather the time-recorder of their unique story, and the three most significant moments of every persons life: birth, with an official presentation to the Temple; their naming (for males, also the Brith milah or circumcision; the Bar (Bat for females) Mitzvah, with readings from the Torah; and matrimony. The rooms adjacent to the Synagogue housed the Jewish School, a library of sacred and profane books, a room for the Rabbi and the caretaker, and a small guest room. A bronze memorial stone is placed under the arcades in Via Saracco, as a remembrance to the Temple and its brief duration.
From Via Raimondi, continue walking until you reach via Salvadori and you’ll arrive at the cemetery, the Beth Haim or House of Life. In an area of 3.664 square metres three generations and entire families of Acquesi of Mosaic faith are buried: from 1837 till 2005 there have been 830 single burials, of which 340 are identifiable by the funeral stone, arranged in chronological death order.
This site is a must: a stone archive that represents centuries of local community history, where the tombs of Samuel Levi, who financed the Jewish school also for children from poor families lies, of seven Rabbis including Ottolenghi, Azaria Bonajut and Adolfo Ancona; the banker Donato Ottolenghi, financier for the Italian independence, just like Israel and Jona Ottolenghi; of the exiled patriot Giuseppe Ottolenghi who from London strived hard for the repatriation of Foscolo’s ashes; of Abram Levi; Ezechia Ottolenghi, Director of the Antiche Terme Thermal Complex, who as vice Mayor promoted the city’s urban infrastructure modernisation. Rafael Ottolenghi, vice Consul in New York and in Cairo, besides being a versatile author, journalist and philosopher; Israel Ottolenghi, whom in 1807 represented the Monferrato communities at the Grand Sanhedrin in Paris, and Giuseppe Salvador Ottolenghi, held hostage by Napoleon in 1800.
Many were the shopkeepers and artisans that contributed to boost the city’s economy, the librarians that provided culture, members of the armed forces of all ranks, of volunteers and partisans, all of whom personally contributed towards the Italian nation.
There are thirty-four graves that host the remains of Eastern Jews that lost their lives in the Costa Azure, along with many other families that were tragically victims of the holocaust.
As an open-air museum it represents both the identity and social-pedagogical function of faith and mosaic culture, presented in the monumental epigraphics and artistic symbols of each and every sepulchral stone. As well as the sufferings, it offers incisions and reliefs: the Maghen David, the Law tables and scrolls, the Book, the blessing of hands of the Levite, the oil lamp which signifies eternal life, pomegranate and wheat, the Holy ark, lilies, the closed amphora that doesn’t receive or pour water, the talled that covers it, the oak, the lulav, the totipotent egg. Other than symbols of classic funerals are the uroboro serpent, the owl, the poppy, the willow, the winged clepsydra, the overturned torches, the death chapel and the sepulchre goods.
The Cemetery is a private property owned by the Jewish Community of Turin. It opens only on certain dates and on Jewish Festivities.