Four hours before dawn on Sundays about 20 or 30 Jewish families begin setting up their street stalls at the Rome flea market, near Porta Portese. They must arrive early in order to secure a place to display their wares, which include table-cloths, cameras, lenses, towels, fur collars, cigarettes, Cuban cigars, postcards and children's toys.
All of the goods are imported from the Soviet Union in the luggage of the 500 to 600 Russian Jew who leave Moscow each month for Israel, but who detour to Rome to await a visa for the United States. Those who choose New York over Tel Aviv account for about half the number of Jews whom the Russians allow to leave.
The Jews peddling things in the Rome flea market (open only on Sundays) count on these new arrivals to supply them with their merchandise, even though some if it was brought out of the Soviet Union as family treasures. The sales made at the flea market largely support a permanent colony of another 300 Soviet Jews who has gone earlier to Israel, but who did not like the country and came to Rome about 18 months ago under the illusion that Rome would be the gateway to American for them also.
Upon arriving here, they found that neither Rome nor Washington recognizes them officially as refugees. The American State Department considers them still "firmly settled in Israel," whereas the Israelis consider them not as citizens but as among the "fallen." They arrived here with an Israeli travel document, which is good for only one year which now, for the 300, has expired. Neither refugees nor immigrants, they have no official status.
Italy always has been hospitable to the homeless, including wandering Jews, unless they were found to be subversives. These 300, who are all members of family units, cannot get work permits, but the Italian police turn a blind eye to their flea market activities, and to other odd jobs they may find. One youth is now working in an amusement park and two physicians are working as masons.
When these Jews arrived in Vienna, early in 1973, they were met by Israeli agents at the airport or railway station and, after a night at Schoenau castle, they were put on a night flight to Tel Aviv.