Film Financed by Vatican Saved Jews During War

Planned Delays Helped Spare 300 From the Nazis

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ROME, AUG. 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A 1943 movie commissioned by a Vatican-controlled center helped to save the lives of 300 people, many of them Jews, during the Nazi persecution.

Vittorio de Sica, one of the great Italian film directors of the 20th century, directed “The Gate of Heaven.” The movie was directly commissioned by the Vatican when Pius XII was Pope.

On Tuesday the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera reported that two films are now being made about the story behind the wartime movie. Christian de Sica, Vittorio’s son, will star in one of them.

The person responsible for the film on behalf of the Vatican was Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Paul VI, the paper said.

De Sica and the Holy See had the production of the film last longer than planned, to give refuge to some 300 people who were contracted as extras.

The film’s set was installed in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which territorially belongs to Vatican City. Those working in the film lived there.

Seeing the huge number of those employed and the length of the film, the furious Lieutenant Pietro Koch entered the sacred enclosure on the night of Feb. 3-4, 1944, and hauled off 60 suspects.

Actors — professional and improvised — were sheltered in the basilica during the March 3, 1944, bombings, which took place on Rome’s Via Ostiense.

The secret agreement between De Sica and the Vatican was that the film would not end “until the Germans left Rome,” Il Corriere della Sera revealed.

De Sica accepted the official commission given to him by the Catholic Cinematographic Center so that he would not have to work for the Italian Fascist government which, together with Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, tried to establish a film production center in Venice.

Vittorio de Sica (1901-1974) produced 35 films and received an Oscar for five of them, including “Bicycle Thieves” (1948). Sophia Loren and Richard Burton starred in his last film, “The Journey.”

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