Elena, Alberto, Lello, and Colomba Astrologo Identified
April 2, 2014
Colomba Astrologo was only four years old the morning her father left home after breakfast to go to work. He never came back. She cannot remember him, but her older siblings do. They also remember life in hiding during the German occupation of Rome, and the decades-long uncertainty of not knowing where their father was.
Giacomo Astrologo was born in Rome on January 19, 1901. When he was just older than 20, he married Fortunata, and between 1924 and 1939 they had six children: Elisa, Lina, Elena, Alberto, Lello, and Colomba.
Giacomo had a cart to sell souvenirs to tourists near Saint Peter's Basilica. During the war, his business suffered from the reduced number of tourists in Rome, but he still earned enough income to support his family. Beginning in 1938, the Fascist regime passed antisemitic legislation modeled on the Nuremberg laws that obliged many Jews to sell or close their business. His ambulant cart allowed Giacomo to keep working.
In September 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies. Germany quickly occupied northern and central Italy and almost immediately started rounding up and deporting the Jews. Colomba does not remember exactly where the family was hiding, but she knows they were not in a house: they might have been in some Roman ruins close to the Jewish ghetto or in basement with no electricity, where only a few cracks let them know if it was day or night. She cannot remember if someone helped them in hiding: "I only know that we came out in bad shape, hungry and sick,” she explains.
While Fortunata was hiding with the children, ages four to 17, Giacomo risked his life every day, taking his cart to Saint Peter's to support his family.
On March 28, 1944, Giacomo was arrested by fascist policemen and sent to the transit camp Fossoli, 400 kilometers north of Rome. In May, Giacomo was deported to Auschwitz, where he died on December 25. His family did not know about his fate. In occupied Rome, Fortunata had nobody to ask for information or for help. Only years later, a cousin, Costanza, related how she had met Giacomo in Auschwitz. She was 14 when she saw Giacomo behind the barbed wire in the camp. Costanza cried "Uncle, I am hungry!" And Giacomo went to look for something for her to eat and came back with some potato peels. That was the only piece of information the family had for many years.
Fortunata could not care for the six children on her own: even before the war was over, the elder girls had to find jobs. Colomba remembers that Elisa, Lina, and Elena started to work at very young ages as maids. They used to bring some leftovers home to feed their younger siblings.
Soon, however, Colomba, Lello, and Alberto started living in Jewish institutions for orphans and displaced children, first at the Franca Muggia. Alberto ran away from the orphanage and there was no news from him for many months. Colomba thinks that she and Lello went through all the Jewish orphanages in Roma, from the Ostia House to the Pitigliani Institute.
It is likely that these pictures were taken by Americans in an effort to obtain help from Jewish associations in the United States, but none of the Astrologo siblings remember them.
The memories Colomba has of her years in orphanages are very sad: "Blows, lots of blows from the teachers and the educators, and always the nose bleeding.” She left the orphanage in 1955, at 16, very shaken. She is grateful to the institution for saving her life and, as her mother always told her, for making her stronger. But she needed years to recover: "I was almost crazy. I have worked a lot with myself and I am proud of this.”
All the Astrologo siblings ended up working in retail, and they opened their own shops, mainly apparel and decoration. Fortunata died in 1986, but her six children are still alive. All of them are married; combined, they have 16 children and a number of grandchildren. Both the loss of their father and the traumatic experience of persecution have affected their lives and their relationships.