Santa Maria al Bagno: a dip into history

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Museo della Memoria


A significant leap in time takes us on the Ionian coast, to Santa Maria al Bagno, one of the marinas of Nardò, characterized by a beautiful stretch of fine and white sand resembling a crescent moon, and four massive pillars which are the remains of the superb Torre del Fiume, now called Quattro Colonne. Here, in this small fishing village then chosen by the noble families of Nardò to build their summer residences, in the last two years after the Second World War, came the Jews escaped from the Nazi-fascist extermination and persecution.

They stopped in Salento, in the transit camps set up in Santa Maria al Bagno, Santa Cesarea Terme, Santa Maria di Leuca, waiting to leave for Palestine, land of the future state of Israel. No one knows the number of those who, between 1945 and 1947, found refuge in the villas and holiday homes, passing from the small town in which was also hosted the synagogue, in a house in the main square where now it is the Piccadilly Bar.It is said that some key political figures to the birth of the State of Israel passed by this place, from David Ben Gurion, first President of the State of Israel in 1948 to Golda Meir who will be prime minister.

However, this episode is not written in the official History, therefore it is important to talk about it and to spread that love for the neighbor that those who escaped the Nazi horror could find here and that is well documented by a photographic exhibition in the Museo dell’Ospitalità e dell’Accoglienza (Museum of Memory and Hospitality) in Santa Maria al Bagno. Here there are also the three murals painted on the walls of a house now in ruins and not far from the museum, depicting the diaspora and the long exodus that led the Jews to Salento with the hope of reaching the Promised Land.

Taken around by Giuliano Rizzo, manager of Public Relations Office of the City of Nardò, we silently walk in front of the murals created by Zvi Miller and kept within the white building designed by the architect Luca Zevi, while anxiety gives way to an unusual joy when we got into the other rooms: one where a theca still retains the unique wedding dress used by all those who here got married and another, with walls full of pictures with the beaming faces of those who, despite the extreme poverty and hardship, smiles at life because they saw death face to face.

It is important to highlight that the City of Nardò has obtained on the 27th January 2005, by the then Italian President Ciampi, the Gold Medal of Civil Merit for the assistance given to the Jews freed from the death camps. This lofty recognition is due to the great clamor raised in 2001 by the research carried out by the ex-refugee Jacob Ehrlich of his friend Vittorio Perrone, met in the 40s and then lost sight of. Thanks to the press and Internet the two were able to meet again, a lot of people became aware of a history long forgotten and testimonies unique to the world have been safeguarded. And the two friends are still there, immortalized together with a bicycle, the same one that the refugee had as a present from Perrone when he was a boy. Two photographs: the old version and the new one, showing them a few years ago: in the same pose and with the same smile.

Museo della Memoria e dell’Accoglienza
Lungomare Lamarmora – Santa Maria al Bagno
Free entrance
Information about opening days and times:
Urp Comune di Nardò +39 0833 838308 – +39 0833 838339

(Traduzione di Monia Saponaro)