When Italy formally entered World War II as Nazi Germany's ally in June 1940, the Italian Ministry of the Interior ordered the arrest of all non-Italian Jews. Adult men were taken to internment camps, while women and children were confined where they lived or were relocated to small internment villages.1
Mordechai and Ursula Tenenbaum (born Ursula Steinitz) first met while in Italy studying medicine. He came from Poland, and she had grown up in Germany. Ursula had originally wanted to become a nurse, but she had not been permitted to complete high school in Nazi Germany because she was Jewish. She decided to become a midwife instead, and Mordechai (Mordko) became a doctor. The Tenenbaums married in late 1939, but they were arrested and separated by Italian police just months after their wedding. Mordko was sent to internment camps in southern Italy and Ursula was taken to a small mountain town in central Italy called San Donato Val di Comino, which served as an internment village for non-Italian Jews. Ursula managed to convince the police that she was gravely ill with tuberculosis, and that—because Mordko was a doctor—she needed her husband to be released so he could care for her. Mordko reunited with his wife in San Donato, where he worked as a laborer and secretly practiced medicine in the village in exchange for food.
The Tenenbaums obtained these false identification documents in 1943 after Italy surrendered to the Allies.2 German forces soon occupied the northern and central portions of the country, and the Tenenbaums could no longer stay with the Cardarelli family in San Donato.3 Ursula had recently given birth to a baby girl, and the Cardarellis passed the Tenenbaums' infant as their own child while the couple fled into the mountains to escape German forces.4 After securing false documents the Tenenbaums fled for Rome, where they lived underground until the city was liberated in June 1944.
Nazi persecution had prevented Ursula from becoming a nurse, and Mordko had not been able to practice medicine legally in Fascist Italy because he was Jewish. Nevertheless, his position as a doctor helped the family survive. Ursula managed to keep the family together because he was a physician, and Mordko was able to trade his medical services for food.
Although these documents contain conflicting information, the false identity card lists Mordko's occupation as a surgical doctor. Why might the Tenenbaums have used these different documents, and in what circumstances might they each have been applied? How could identifying himself as a doctor on his false documents have been advantageous? What other questions arise from the details of his false identity documents?