Sinagoga centrale di Milano

The Synagogue in via Guastalla was destroyed by the bombs dropped in August 1943 and pillaged by the nazi in November that same year.

The Synagogue in via Guastalla 19 was inaugurated in 1892, after a single year of construction based on the project of Luca Beltrami, a well-known architect in Milan, and other famous architects of that time. Its inauguration was a tangible sign of the recovery of Milan’s jewish community. On its facade, very bright in its polychromy, an ultramarine blue mosaic stands out with its decorations made of golden tiles, an evidence of their full “emancipation”, where even places of worship had to blend with the urban landscape instead of hiding behind anonymous facades. The Synagogue, with its offices, became the center of the life in the community which, in those years, counted more than 4,000 members; they later doubled to 8,000 in the 1930s, with the arrival of several German jews running from nazi persecutions.

The Synagogue became a shelter and an important point of reference when, in 1938, Milan witnessed a new wave of jewish immigrants coming from Italy’s smaller communities, due to the discriminations produced by the anti-jewish racial laws.

During the Second World War, on 13th August 1943, a bomb and an arson almost torn it to the ground. On 8th November 1943, the SS, lead Otto Koch who was known among his troops as Judenkoch – “Jews’ cook” – because of his brutality, broke into the Synagogue in via Guastalla; Koch was in charge of rounding up, arresting, expropriating, torturing and interrogating the jews.

Around 9:30 in the morning, two men in plain clothes knocked at the door of the Synagogue. Alberto Bassi, an employee at the Synagogue, opened the door, thinking they were refugees collecting their subsidies or jewish people looking for some document or information. However, behind the two men were members of an SS patrol, who identified themselves as agents of the Gestapo, who broke into the Rabbi’s office where 15 people were hiding. They were all arrested. One of them, the Bulgarian Araw Lazar, tried to flee among the ruins of the Synagogue, but was killed with a gunshot. Two of them managed to flee by climbing a wall in the inner yard, while the others were brought to Koch’s office and later to San Vittore where they were interrogated, forced to undress and brutally beaten. With his gun pointed at them, Koch ordered them to disclose where the treasure of the Synagogue was hidden. There was no treasure, so the SS seized chests containing sacred furnishings, silverware and carpets stored in the basement. After the bombings and the pillaging of the Synagogue by the hand of the nazis, the jewish community of Milan was dismembered.

Its facade, miraculously intact, is all that is left of the original project by architect Luca Beltrami, the rest was reconstructed in 1953 and restructured in 1997.

Behind the big Synagogue, there is the Schola Carlo e Gianna Shapira, whose furnishings originally belonged to the former Synagogue in Fiorenzuola d’Adda.
Between 1943 and 1945, the persecutions struck hard on the community in Milan; to commemorate the victims, on the wall near the entrance of the Synagogue, there is a big stone bearing the names of the over 800 jews of Milan and the surrounding areas who were killed after being deported to extermination camps.


Francesca Costantini