La Spezia Sion Gateway, unknown story for many

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In the state of Israel the city of La Spezia is known as the “Sion Gateway”, remembered with emotion and affection, named with respect in the memory handed down generation to generation.

Yet here we do not all know the story of the Exodus mission, in which the city and its inhabitants were protagonists of an important passage in history that today risks to be forgotten forever.

Yesterday DoinItaly met Orli Bach, grandaughter of the legendary commander Arazi, who in 1946 courageously led the Mission Exodus, clandestine operation that allowed many Jewish refugees, survived in the Nazi camps from all over Europe, to sail from La Spezia to Israel. A moment that saw our city and its inhabitants as protagonists of an important passage in history.

Yet not everyone here knows the fascinating story witnessed with passion in the city by the Samuel group, and that today is likely to go forgotten because of a shipyard under construction just at the Pagliari Pier, where a plaque commemorates the departure of the Fede and Fenice ships.
The needs of the port contrast those of memory, a history-repeating process that seems a destiny for our city? It might not always be that way.

Commander Yehuda Arazi, known with several pseudonyms and under disguise – tells his grandaughter – led an international case in May 1946 which epicenter was precisely the port of La Spezia. Here, the boats Fede and Fenice were preparing to tranship 1,014 refugees.

In that phase Great Britain, the occupying force, regulated the controlled flow of 75,000 Jews in five years to Palestine, a number that proved to be inadequate in the post-war period: Europe rejected Jews returning from extermination camps, already victims of a a strong sense of estrangement that increased the desire of the international community to return to the promised land. Arazi gathered the migratory flow towards the Italian ports and in particular the one in the La Spezia area, where the Jewish community gathered for weeks on the docks and received, after a first suspicious approach, the solidarity of the La Spezia people.

Just the support of the people, the resistance of the refugees carried out with a long hunger strike, the attention of the international media and the visit aboard Harold Lasky, president of the British Labor Party executive who tried to leverage on the need not to to starve men, women and children who had already suffered unspeakable suffering, and with whom Arazi initiated a passionate negotiation, finally brought the London authorities to allow the two boats that sailed from the Pirelli Pier to Pagliari at 10 am on May 8, 1946.

In May 2006, at the Molo Pagliari, the anniversary of the departure of the two ships was celebrated with a big party, during which a plaque was placed, which is now inaccessible.

At the Pagliari Pier in May 2006 it was celebrated as in those days: with music, flowers thrown into the water and a lot of emotion. A plaque was used to commemorate the Gate of Sion, which today can no longer be reached because of a shipyard for commercial purposes under construction just where Exodus ships have left.
True, the economic development of the city requires that new operational and commercial structures be built, but is there still space for the memory of an event that was so important for the history of so many?
Today we talk about an ideas contest for the creation of a path of city memory and for a monument to La Spezia, the city loved as the Porta di Sion in the international Jewish community: an opportunity for a cultural and tourist journey in the city that should not be lost.

The association Samuel, together with the priest Gianni Botto, a lover of the tradition of the Old Testament and owner of the most important private collection of objects of Jewish origin, including a very precious Torah of the eighteenth century, today is the bearer of this message.

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