Back 21 of 88 Next
Mayer Relles.Mayer Relles.
Mayer Relles

Name: Mayer Relles (1908 – 1995)

Birth Place: Skalat, Poland

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1951, Superior

The burning and
gassing and all these things... no one had the faintest idea.

Rabbi Mayer Relles

Map of survivor's journey in Europe.

Biography

Mayer Relles was born in Skalat, Poland, on June 2, 1908, to a family that was beginning to shed some of the constraints of Orthodox Judaism. As a promising young Talmudic scholar, Mayer traveled to other countries when quotas were imposed upon Jews in Polish schools and was ordained in 1932.

Mayer enrolled for advanced studies at the rabbinical seminary in Rome in 1933 and moved to Venice to accept a rabbinical appointment in 1936. After the Fascist Italian government entered the war, he was arrested in June 1940, briefly interned in a concentration camp, and released a few months later. For the next three years, he worked in the Jewish community of Venice and pursued his studies in the neighboring city of Padua. In addition to his rabbinical studies, he received a Ph.D. in Italian Literature and Philosophy in 1941.

After the Germans occupied Italy in September 1943, Mayer went into hiding. He tried escaping into neutral Switzerland, but was arrested near the border. He remained incarcerated in the city of Como, Italy, until the Italian Underground helped him escape to Milan. Mayer spent several months there before successfully escaping into Switzerland in April 1944.

Rabbi Relles lived in Switzerland until September 1945, when he returned to Venice. From 1946 to 1951, he served Jewish communities in the Italian cities of Ancona and Trieste and completed his advanced rabbinical studies in Padua.

The rabbi and his wife moved to the U.S. in 1951. Rabbi Relles held teaching positions and rabbinical posts in the Chicago area and in Superior, Wisconsin. From 1971 to 1976, he returned to Italy to serve as chief rabbi of Trieste. He later served as the spiritual leader at Anshe Poale Zedek synagogue in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Rabbi Relles wrote a long manuscript account of his experiences in Italy during World War II and his escape to Switzerland in April 1944. It is available in the library of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Rabbi Mayer Relles died in 1995.

Audio and Transcript Information

Below are the highlights of each tape. They do not list all topics discussed. Recordings of only one tape side are marked: (no Side 2). Documents may be printed or downloaded at no cost. See Rights and Permissions


Listen to Mayer's testimony and view transcript

Tape 1, Side 1
  • Family and childhood in Skalat, Poland
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 1, Side 2
  • Family's religious life in Skalat
  • Description and history of Skalat
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 2, Side 1
  • Religious practices in Poland in the 1920s
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 2, Side 2
  • Teenage years
  • Leaving home to study in Lemberg (or Lviv, Ukraine), 1926-1927
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.2 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 3, Side 1
  • Student life at different schools in Lemberg
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 3, Side 2
  • Difficulties in school
  • Service in the Polish army, 1932
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 4, Side 1
  • Anti-Semitism in the Polish army
  • Accepted to rabbinical college in Rome, 1933
  • Moving to Italy
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 4, Side 2
  • Rabbinical studies in Rome, 1933-1936
  • Life in Rome under Italian Fascism
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 5, Side 1
  • Rome's Jewish community in the 1930s
  • Accepts appointment in Venice, 1937
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 5, Side 2
  • Jewish community in Venice in the 1930s
  • Italy's lack of anti-Semitic laws before the late 1930s
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 6, Side 1
  • Life in Venice, 1937-1943
  • Outbreak of war and persecution of Jews
  • Awareness of concentration camps
  • Escaping arrest, 1943
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.2 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 6, Side 2
  • Moving to Padua, 1940
  • Arrest and internment at Campagna, 1940
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 7, Side 1
  • Transferred to concentration camp at Ferramonte, 1940
  • Comparing German and Italian camps
Download Audio (MP3, 30 minutes, 25.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 7, Side 2
  • Conditions at Ferramonte are comparatively benign
  • Continuing studies and teaching while imprisoned
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 8, Side 1
  • Release from Ferramonte, December 1940
  • Student life at Padua, 1940-1943
Download Audio (MP3, 30 minutes, 26.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 8, Side 2
  • Community work in Venice, 1940-1943
  • Kindness of Italians toward persecuted Jews
  • Invasion of the Germans, September 1943
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 9, Side 1
  • Going underground, autumn 1943
  • Arrested while trying to leave Italy
  • Imprisoned at Swiss border
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 9, Side 2
  • Camerlate prison, 1943-1944
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 10, Side 1
  • Escape from Camerlate prison
  • Meeting Italian Underground in Milan
  • Hiding in Milan psychiatric hospital
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)
Tape 10, Side 2
  • Life in Milan psychiatric hospital
  • Escape to Switzerland, April 1944
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 813 KB)

About the Interview Process

  • The interview was conducted by archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky on October 12, 13, and 25, 1980. The three sessions totaled 10 hours. They cover Rabbi Relles' early life and wartime experiences up to his 1944 escape into Switzerland. He did not discuss his postwar life, immigration to the U.S., or the Jewish communities he served in Chicago, Superior, or Manitowoc.


Audio and Transcript Details

  • Interview Dates: Oct 12, 1980; Oct 13, 1980; Oct 25, 1980
  • Interview Location: Relles home, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Interviewer: Archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky
  • Original Sound Recording Format: 10 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
  • Length of Interviews: 3 interviews, total approximately 10 hours
  • Transcript Length: 164 pages
  • Rights and Permissions: Any document may be printed or downloaded to a computer or portable device at no cost for nonprofit educational use by teachers, students and researchers. Nothing may be reproduced in any format for commercial purposes without prior permission.

Pictures

View more information by clicking the link below each picture.

Join Now.