Remembering Settimia Spizzichino

roman ghetto

I want to remember everything about my life, even that terrible experience called Auschwitz. The two years in Poland and Germany—the winter in Poland was an absolute nightmare, though obviously the cold was not the worst thing about that time. This is all part of my life, and above all it is part of the lives of so many others, those who did not make it out of the camps. It is to these people I owe my memories. I must remember, to be able to tell their story. I vowed this when I arrived back home. And my purpose has only strengthened over the years, especially when someone dares to say that this never happened.” – Settimia Spizzichino, from her memoirs Gli Anni Rubati: Le Memorie di Settimia Spizzichino

Settimia Spizzichino, pictured above (far right) with her sisters and other family, was born on April 15, 1921 into a large Jewish Roman family who lived in the Roman ghetto. On the morning of Saturday, October 16, 1943, occupying German troops raided the ghetto and began the deportation of over 1,200 of its inhabitants to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. On October 23, upon arriving at the camp, Settimia was separated from her mother and her sister Ada, who held a baby daughter—the three were placed immediately in line for the gas chamber—while Settimia and her other sister, Giuditta, considered able-bodied, were tattooed and put to work moving stones.  Settimia ended up in the camp hospital, and was subsequently transferred to the main Auschwitz camp. There she was injected with typhus and scabies as part of Josef Mengele’s atrocious experiments. With the evacuation of Auschwitz in January 1945, she followed the infamous death march to Bergen-Belsen. In the spring, when a camp guard began firing on prisoners, Settimia hid in a pile of corpses for several days. She was still hiding there when soldiers of the British VIII Army Corps liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. She returned to Rome, one of only 16 ghetto inhabitants and the only woman to survive the raid.

Settimia was active throughout her life in efforts to educate young people on the Holocaust, making television appearances and school visits, and taking trips to Auschwitz. In her memoirs, published in 1996, she details her experiences, including her time in the hospital during the experiments, and her dealings with doctors, nurses, and fellow prisoners.

Settimia never married. She died on July 3, 2000.