Local Man Produces Documentary about Roman Jewish Experience during Nazi Occupation of Rome

Posted on October 2, 2013 By

Joel Markel, the executive producer and founder of Ottimo Films, has created Oro Macht Frei (Gold Will Set You Free), a 70-minute documentary that tells the story of the Roman Jewish experience during the Nazi occupation of Rome, September 1943 through June 1944. The film seeks to bring the viewer into a personal and relatable reflection of the Holocaust in Italy by weaving testimony from Roman Jews who lived there with historical research of Susan Zuccotti, Alexander Stille, and Liliana Picciotto.

Oro Macht Frei will have its premiere October 14 in Rome at the Teatro Vittoria, marking the 70th anniversary of important turning points in the Italian theater of World War II and the advent of the Holocaust in Italy. The premiere was hosted by ANED (the National Association for Ex-Deportees to the Nazi Concentration Camps) and received the patronage of the City of Rome, the Region of Lazio, the Roman Jewish Community and the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.

Joel Markel, the son of an Hungarian Auschwitz survivor, has long desired to contribute to the field of Holocaust memory to honor the experience of his mother and the millions of victims of the Jewish genocide. In 2004, during a tour of the Roman Ghetto, Markel first heard the story of Kappler’s Gold Extortion (See below).

He immediately felt connected to this story because for generations his family had worked as jewelers. Joel wanted to bring this story to an American audience not only because it is interesting in itself, but because it deals with a community that is small enough to be able to comprehend, and to give names and faces to the reality of the millions of people lost or forever affected by the nightmare of the Holocaust. It is a story, he believes, in which one can recognize oneself and one’s own family. Joel continues to support the film financially and through his vision.

Besides Executive Producer Joel Markel, Jeff Bonna, producer, and Catherine Campbell, editor, helped create and produce this documentary. For more information, to view the extended trailer, or make a donation, visit www.ottimofilms.net.

The Story of Oro Macht Frei (OMF):
On September 26, 1943, only two and a half weeks into the German occupation of Rome, the head of the SS Herbert Kappler called the two leaders of the Roman Jewish community into his office and demanded that they produce 50 kilos of gold within 36 hours or he would deport 200 Jewish heads of family.

Over a feverish day and a half, this already poor, working class community whose poverty had only deepened over the five years of Italian racial laws and the deprivations of war itself managed to come up with the 50 kilos of gold in an effort to save each other.

OMF reveals the sad delusion of security that Kappler’s gold extortion produced in the minds of the community who, believing they had paid their ransom and would be left alone, did not go into hiding.

Two and a half weeks after turning over the gold, on October 16 the Nazis conducted the first and largest round-up of Italian Jews, finding many of them in their homes in the old Jewish ghetto. After being held for two days in a military school, 1,023 Roman Jews were deported to Auschwitz; only 16 from this round-up would return home at the end of the war. Those who escaped arrest managed to hide through the help of non-Jewish friends and neighbors, in their own workshops or in Church institutions.

Until the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944, arrest and deportations of Roman Jews continued through a systematic manhunt (per Italian police edict), which included a cash reward for offering information that led to the capture and arrest of any Jews throughout occupied central and northern Italy.

In addition to sharing testimony of hiding and arrest, OMF treats of the controversial stance of the Vatican which did not speak out or stop the deportation of the Roman Jews; however, whether through its aegis or through the initiative of individual convents and monasteries, managed to provide hiding for thousands of Jews and other refugees in Church institutions throughout the city.

What was the Pope’s position during the Nazi Occupation and how did his “silence” effect the lives of the Roman Jews in particular? To answer these questions, OMF draws on several well-known and diverse voices from the on-going debate over Pope Pius XII’s motivations to save as many Jews as possible versus his motivations to save the institution of the Church, as well as the personal reflections of the Roman Jews themselves.

About Joel Markel: Joel Markel is the founder and president of Preferred Home Health Care & Nursing Services (PHHC), Eatontown, a company that provides a wide range of medical and non-medical home health care services from pediatric to geriatric care throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He and his wife Stephanie recently received a recognition award for their long-term commitment to the Homeless Health Initiative (HHI), a volunteer outreach program run by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). PHHC provides home care for individuals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.