Mario, the son of Settimio and Ida Sonnino, was born in Rome in 1941. Jews had lived in Rome for over 20 centuries, dating back to the time of the Roman empire. They were fully integrated into Italian society, holding positions in nearly all professions, including the government and the military.
In November 1938, before Mario was born, Italy's dictator, Mussolini, passed various anti-Jewish measures under the prodding of his German allies. These laws caused an abrupt end to most jobs and to public education for the Jews of Italy. Jews were forcibly separated from their non-Jewish friends, colleagues and neighbors. Many were impoverished. Mario's parents struggled to make a living and cope with the drastic changes.
When the Germans occupied Rome in August 1943, Mario was two years old. He lived with his parents, his older brother Sandro, and his three year-old sister, Cesira.
Early on the rainy Saturday morning of October 16, 1943, Mario and his family were arrested in a surprise raid by the Germans. They had decided to round up and deport all Italy's Jews. Mario and his family, along with over 1,000 other Jews, were thrown into trucks and brought to the Military College across from the Vatican. They were kept there for two days, without beds or toilet facilities.
Soon after, they were locked into crowded freight trains. Conditions barely sustained life. There was little food or water. There were no sanitary facilities. They travelled like this for five days.
On October 23, 1943, the trains were finally unsealed. They had arrived at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. The sick and the weak, the elderly, and all young children along with their mothers, were told to clean up in the shower room after their long journey. They undressed and entered a long sealed room, which turned out to be a gas chamber. They were dead within minutes. Mario was two years old when he was murdered.