Cesare Sacerdoti was born in 1938 in Florence. His father, Simone Sacerdoti was a chazzan/rabbi (and cellist) who worked for the Jewish community of Florence (as did his maternal uncle, Fernado Belgrado) under the Chief Rabbi Natan Cassuto. Cesare remembers vividly going to synagogue with his father and uncle, enjoying the services.
He recalls vaguely the anti-Jewish measures, which forbade Jews to go to the seaside or public parks, but remembers the armistice celebrations in September 1943. Towards the end of September, the employees of the community were paid three months salary in advance and were told to go into hiding. When the synagogue was raided on the 6 November 1943, Cesare and his family went into hiding. Cesare recalls that before leaving the house, the father removed a paper amulet (given to the parents on the occasion of their wedding). The father hid in the Convitto Ecclesastico di San Leonardo. Cesare, his brother, and his mother hid in the Convent in Via dei Seragli. Madre Maria Tribbioli gave them shelter and did not tell the other nuns that they were Jews. Cesare and his brother went to kindergarten and to the school of the convent. On the 27th of November Cesare’s father picked his mother, brother and himself up to change hiding places, as a nearby convent had been raided the night before and many Jews had been arrested. As they crossed the Ponte alla Carraia, his father spotted a group of Italian fascists (Banda Carità) who recognized him. He cycled away to distract them. Cesare’mother was desperate and wanted to jump into the river with her children. In that moment Gina Frilli, a friend of the mother and member of the underground recognized her and took her to her home. His father was captured by the fascists and later taken to the SS headquarter, from where he managed to escape. He made contact with the secretary of the cardinal, Monsignore Meneghello, who together with Don Giulio Facibeni made arrangements for Cesare and his brother to be taken to Montecatini to the Orphanage of the Madonnina del Grappa. His parents instructed him, to say the Schema in his head, not to show himself naked (because of the circumcision) and to take care of his brother. Cesare recalls the human warmth of the nuns but the cold the and the hunger in the orphanage. He also recalls the carob tree which was the only ‘sweet’ treat in his time in the orphanage. A chaplain of the German army used to visit the orphanage and bring some food (see photograph on the website). His mother came to visit once and Cesare hardly recognized her because she had make up on and had dyed her hair. During his time at the orphanage he made friends with a boy called Elio, who he later discovered was another Jewish boy.
In September 1944, a military lorry came to the orphanage to collect them on behalf of their parents. These were soldiers from the Palestine Brigade Water Company of the British Army. After being reunited with his parents, Cesare had to spend a lot of time in hospital for the treatment of head sores probably due to malnutrition. His father was called to help rebuilding the Jewish community in Viareggio and his mother ran a kosher boarding house. His father later taught music at a state school. Cesare graduated from the from the Nautical College and joined the merchant navy for a short time. Then he worked in the clothing industry, for Alitalia and for M&S in London after he moved here for his wife. He had met her in Florence where she studied Italian and Art history. She inspired him to start a career in publishing which let to taking over the Karnac bookshop on the Finchley Road, which specialised in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. These are topics which have always fascinated Cesare. He was instrumental in having the people who helped his family survive recognized as Righteous among the nations in Yad Vashem: Monsignore Meneghello  and Madre Maria Agnese Tribbioli [Mother Superior at he the Florence Convent, 2009] and Monsignore Giulio Facibeni [founder of orphanage for war orphans, e.g. orphanage Madonnina del Grappa, recognized in 1996]. Cesare wanted to talk to his four children about his past without “the painful parts” and transmit an Italian- Jewish identity. Today Cesare feels home in England, Israel and Italy.
Italy. Florence. Hidden Child. Help from Catholic church. Karnac bookshop (psychoanalysis and psychotherapy).