Plan to redevelop site where Italian Kabbalists buried
PLANS BY the Italian city of Mantua to redevelop a site that contains the town’s Jewish cemetery have been met with fierce resistance after a group of US and Israeli Orthodox rabbis found proof that some of the most influential figures in Jewish culture are buried there.
One of the group, Israeli publisher Rabbi Shmaya Lev, claims to have unearthed in Budapest the register of the old cemetery’s burials — and it reads like a who’s who of 16th and 17th century Italian Jewry. Included are eminent Kabbalists such as Azariah da Fano, Moshe Zacuto and Aviad Basilea and scholar Yehudà Briel.
Noting that the area had fallen into disrepair, the rabbis re-claimed ownership of the cemetery and asked to be allowed to “map the burials, clean up and restore the cemetery and build a museum of remembrance”.
The problem is that the site, known as San Nicolò, is currently state property, having been sold by the community in 1852. During the war it was taken over by the Nazis, who built on it and turned it into a concentration camp.
To complicate matters even more, the area has been earmarked by the municipality as one of the sites to be redeveloped in the 18 million euro “Mantova Hub” regeneration project.
The project, as envisaged by architect Stefano Boeri, is sketchy but involves refurbishing the five Nazi-built structures to create public centres dedicated to the environment, sustainability, social innovation and local goods. The armoury will be converted into a “house of remembrance” to inform visitors about the area’s history and its use as a cemetery and concentration camp.
Rabbi Levi and the Central Rabbinical Congress (CRC) of the USA and Canada, met Mantua mayor, Mattia Palazzi, to put forward their concerns. And in a letter to Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, CRC executive director Issac Gluck asked for the plan to be cancelled.
Andrea Murari, head of town planning in Mantua, said: “We will be working with the [Italian Jewish umbrella group, the UCEI] and their experts on the final planning phase which will start very soon. We are not building anything new, we are just redeveloping an area that had fallen into heavy decay… The idea is to leave the area of the old cemetery as undisturbed as possible.”