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False Identity Documents of Mordechai Tenenbaum

Tenenbaum False Documents
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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?

For more on the persecution of Jews in Fascist Italy, see Michele Sarfatti, The Jews in Mussolini’s Italy: From Equality to Persecution, translated by John and Anne C. Tedeschi (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006); and Joshua D. Zimmerman, ed., Jews in Italy under Fascist and Nazi Rule, 1922-1945 (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2005).

Many Jews and others targeted by the Nazi regime hid their identities, and false identity documents such as Tenenbaum's saved many lives. After the collapse of Nazi Germany, many war criminals and perpetrators of atrocities also used false identity documents in order to escape justice for their crimes. For more in Experiencing History: Holocaust Sources in Context, see the photographs of Lala Grunfeld. For further reading, see Robert Melson, False Papers: Deception and Survival in the Holocaust (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000); Yehuda Nir, The Lost Childhood: A World War II Memoir (New York: Scholastic Press, 2002); and Gerald Steinacher, Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

For more on the Tenenbaums' time living with the Cardarelli family, see this oral history interview with Maria Cardarelli Puzzanghero.

For an image of Mordko with his newborn daughter, Katrin (Katja), see this photograph in the collections of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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Document I

 

March Ration Center Rome, April 3, 1944

re. 20

 

A U T H O R I Z A T I O N

 

The Italian citizen MARIO FERRI is an interpreter in the service of the German Wehrmacht. He is authorized to bring his wife and child from SORA to ROME. You are requested to give him every assistance and to allow him to travel without hindrance.

 

Signature of the Head of the Duty Station

[Stamp of the March Ration Center]

[Signature]

 

Document II

 

Family Name Cedrone

First Name Marco

Father’s Name Cesidio (not 100% about this; it’s difficult to read)

Mother’s Last and First Name Cardarelli Assunta

Date of Birth July first 1908  (7/01/1908)

Place of Birth Naples

Marital Status Married

Nationality Italian

Profession Surgeon

Permanent Address S. Donato V.C.

Street

 

Physical characteristics

Correct height  (I translated this literally. It’s old Italian though. Nobody would say it nowadays)

Pink complexion

Hair color: chestnut brown

Eye color: grey

 

Nose: straight

 

 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Source Number 49237
Date Created
1943 to 1944
Author / Creator
Unknown
Language(s)
German
Italian
Location
San Donato Val di Comino, Italy
Document Type Diary
How to Cite Museum Materials