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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

Giovanni Di Veroli

Giovanni Di Veroli, nicknamed Ciccio, was the only Jew born in Rome to have played professional football for either Roma or Lazio. Fortunately he played for the right side of the Tiber.

Source Wikipedia

Giovanni Di Veroli, nicknamed Ciccio, was the only Jew born in Rome to have played professional football for either Roma or Lazio. Fortunately he played for the right side of the Tiber.


Di Veroli was born in Rome on August 11, 1932. At a very early age his family moved to Milan. His father was an “urtista”, a hawker who sold crucifixes, rosaries and other religious souvenirs around St. Peter’s. This was an historical traditional trade for the Jews who were authorised to sell even outside of the Rome ghetto, something that in other cities in Italy was not possible. The trade was “tolerated” even during the fascist regime at least until the Racial Laws of 1938.


Despite the numerous pilgrims and tourists, Prospero Di Veroli was not making enough money to feed his children so in 1937 he moved north. A relative needed a person who could manage a clothes shop. The commercial activity went very well and was not affected much by the Racial Laws. Giovanni was, however, as he could no longer go to school, but he gave his father a hand in the shop anyway.

Bombing of Milan. Source Wikipedia

The situation precipitated when Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. The north of Italy was the industrial centre of the country and heavily bombed by the allies. The Di Verolis lost their home and had to live in a barn outside Milan. Going to work became dangerous so Prospero decided to go back to Rome. In hindsight this move was fundamental. The family was able to avoid the massive roundup of Jews at the end of 1943.


The Di Verolis moved to Velletri, outside Rome, and life began again. But even Velletri was under attack and a bomb exploded right near the shelter where the family was. Prospero managed to find his children amongst the rubble, safe but scared. To escape the bombings, the Di Verolis moved back to Rome but here an even greater peril awaited them.


July 25, 1943 officially sealed the fall of the fascist regime. Benito Mussolini was arrested and Italy changed sides on September 8. This changed everything. The King, government and military leaders fled Rome and the Germans moved into the capital and took over. No Jew was safe. On September 26 Herbert Kappler, SS Lieutenant Colonel Commander of the Gestapo in Rome, demanded 50 kg of gold from the Roman Jews otherwise 200 people would be deported. The entire city contributed and 80kg plus 2,021,540 lire were collected. This was not enough. On the morning of October 16, 365 German soldiers stormed the Jewish Ghetto. Going house to house they rounded up 1022 people, 419 men and boys and 603 women and girls (274 were younger than 15 years of age) all sent to the concentration camp of Birkenau near Auschwitz. Only 16 survived, 15 men and one woman. None of the many children ever came back.

Source Wikipedia

The Di Veroli family, warned by an uncle, managed to escape and hide in a paper warehouse. Then a doctor got them in the San Gallicano hospital and claiming that they had scabies de facto managed to hide them there for three days. When the Germans finished the roundups the Di Verolis moved into a warehouse together with another 40 people.


The adults had to stay put so it was up to the children to find sustenance and money. Giovanni was sent out and went to the markets to see if he could find food. He also was in charge of selling wallets to the Germans. In the warehouse there were a lot of fake leather wallets so the kids used to go up to the Germans in the streets of Rome and offer them in exchange for food or money. “If they discover you are a Jew tell them you are not and then walk away and leave the city. Don’t come back here because you will be followed” Prospero told Giovanni. Di Veroli was good at his job and the family survived. Rome was liberated between June 4 and 5.


Once everything was over, the family left Rome and went back to Milan to continue with the commercial activity that they had had to abandon due to the allied bombs. Giovanni started playing football and joined Ambrosiana Inter’s youth team. But in 1949, nostalgia for Rome made Prospero think again and he returned to the capital to open a clothes shop. The rest of the family quickly joined him.


In 1950 a new team was founded in Rome: Stella Azzurra. It was founded by a group of Jews who had survived and wanted to return to a normal life. They trained in Trastevere and the team became an important point of reference for the Jewish community. Di Veroli, who had played with Inter, joined and people could immediately see that he was of a higher level. A Lazio scout went to see a match. While Giovanni was playing somebody in the crowd shouted “c’è Speranza per la Lazio” which translated meant that there was hope for Lazio. Di Veroli told the person to F off. In reality an observer from the club, Speranza (probably Odoacre Speranza) had come to see him. When the gentleman went to speak to him the matter was cleared and Giovanni Di Veroli signed for Lazio.


After his youth training, he joined the A team for the 1952-53 season. He was a protagonist of the Reserves Team which won the scudetto that year and Di Veroli was the top scorer of the competition playing as a centre forward. On May 10, 1953 came his debut in Serie A against Fiorentina.


In the next three seasons he totalled 50 Serie A appearances playing in defence. Of particular interest was Lazio’s tour of Israel in June 1954 where they played against Maccabi Tel Aviv twice, Maccabi Petach Tikva, a selection of Israeli players and a game against a selection of players from Haifa. A very important tour which must have been very significant for Giovanni.


In 1955-56 he won another Reserves Championship but a year later he suffered a leg fracture and it took him a long time to get back to normal. He missed an entire year and managed to play just one league game in the 1957-58 season and two in Coppa Italia in June that Lazio would win in September.


With the arrival of Fulvio Bernardini as manager and the signing of new defenders, Di Veroli had the possibility to play for a Sicilian team but in Serie B. But he did not want to move his family away from Rome and decided to refuse and quit football. He did not have a good relationship with the new manager and there was bad blood between Di Veroli and Lazio in the end. But a few years later there was a reconciliation. Giovanni had always been grateful to the club that allowed him to play football at the highest level.


Once he stopped playing he open a shop on Via del Corso and sold shirts. He was so successful that he opened another shop in Via del Tritone.


In May 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. War was imminent. On one side the Arab nations of Egypt, Syria and Jordan backed by the USSR and on the other side Israel backed by the USA. Giovanni was very concerned and decided to leave. He felt that Israel had a right to exist and wanted to help his Israeli brothers. He left for Tel Aviv with the objective of joining the group of photo reporters following the Israeli army. He had a hobby of taking photographs and even if he was not a professional, he managed to chronicle the war. He was on the Sinai and West Bank lines of fire and the explosion of a grenade very near him probably reminded him of the bomb exploding at Velletri. The war lasted six days and had a profound effect on the geopolitics of the area to this day.


When Giovanni came back he continued to follow his businesses and was very successful. He was a Lazio fan and often went to see the games at the Olimpico.


He died in Rome on June 1, 2018. Lazio issued a statement: “SS Lazio, its President, the coach, the players and all the staff express deep condolences to the family for the passing of Giovanni Di Veroli. The former Biancoceleste footballer wore the jersey of the First Team of the Capital from 1952 to 1958, winning the 1958 Coppa Italia, the first trophy in the history of the club”.


In 2023 his son Roberto, together with Paolo Poponessi, wrote a book on the life of Giovanni which I used as the basis for this short biography. He must have been an amazing human being, somebody who would have been interesting to have a chat with.


Giovanni Di Veroli is a Biancoceleste hero. The only Roman Jew ever to play Serie A football in Rome. And he did so for Lazio. Shalom Giovanni.


Lazio career

Season

Total appearances

Serie A

Coppa Italia

1952-53

1

1

-

1953-54

13

13

-

1954-55

20

20

-

1955-56

17

17

-

1957-58

3

1

2

Total

54

52

2

Sources


Paolo Poponessi, Roberto Di Veroli. Una stella in campo. Giovani Di Veroli, dalla persecuzione razziale al calcio di Serie A. Paolo Emilio Persiani, 2023.

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