Island Priest Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations

Organized Fishermen to Row Jews to Safety

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By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, SEPT. 15, 2011 ( Today the memory of Father Ottavio Posta was honored, as he was given posthumously the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

The priest was responsible for saving some 30 Jews who had been imprisoned at the castle on Isola Maggiore. Isola Maggiore is the second largest island on Lake Trasimeno, in central Italy.

Father Posta’s story would have remained lost to history, but Doctor Isabella Farinelli, directress of Perugia’s Diocesan Historical Archive, discovered a series of documents in which Jews who escaped deportation recounted the providential help of the parish priest of Isola Maggiore.

A thank you letter of Aug. 23, 1944, sent to the archbishop of Perugia, explains what happened.

Father Posta, parish priest of the Isola Maggiore of the Trasimeno, «was of great help and consolation to us during the period in which we were prisoners on the island because of the racial laws,» the letter reads. «When danger was threatening primarily because of the threats of the Germans against us, with a truly paternal and generous gesture he not only induced the islanders to transport us to the shore where the English already were, but he himself faced with us the danger of crossing the lake, under cannon and machine gun fire, giving a brilliant example to his parishioners and meriting our most profound gratitude.

«We would be most grateful to Your Excellency if with your word you made yourself the spokesman of our gratitude to the distinguished Father Ottavio Posta for his altruistic act, and act of a Good Shepherd of the unfortunate oppressed by inhuman laws.»

The letter was signed by Bice Todros Ottolenghi, Giuliano Coen, Albertina Coen and Livia Coen.

Other testimonies

The episode was also recounted by Livia Coen when she gave testimony at the trial of Armando Rocchi in a Bologna court in 1945.

She said that «on Dec. 14, 1943, together with my sister Albertina and my sister-in-law Ada Saralvo, I was arrested by the carabinieri for belonging to the Jewish race and deported to a concentration camp, first in Villa Ajo, then to the Scuole Magistrali, and finally in the Castello Guglielmi.»

The testimony continues: «The head of the province, Armando Rocchi, called me to the headquarters two days after I was arrested and expressed his displeasure over my arrest and added that, not being able to do anything for our release, he promised me that while he was head of the province he would not let us be removed. In fact, he kept this promise. Though requested to transport us from the Magistrali to the National Concentration Camp of Carpi, in the province of Modena, he decided to put us in the Castel Guglielmi, Isola Maggiore, in the Trasimeno, to be able to keep his word and at the same time hide us from the German ire.

«In the Castello Guglielmi, at the moment of the retreat, 45 Germans came to arrest us, but the officer of the Questura saved us by hiding us in the deepest forest where we were for three days and three nights and afterward, together with Father Ottavio Posta, they took us at night to the other shore of the lake, which had already been liberated by the English and thus, with the help of the good ones, we were able to return alive to our homes.»

These events were confirmed by Agostino Piazzesi, one of the 15 fishermen who is still alive, who helped Father Posta save the Jews.

Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti, the current archbishop of Perugia, spoke of Father Posta as a priest who «lived his priestly ministry in poverty, sharing the little he had with the needy.»

The honor conferred on Father Posta was seen as an honor for all the clergy of Umbria, which at the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, is also represented by Father Aldo Brunacci of Assisi, Monsignor Giulio Cii of Citta di Castello, and Father Federico Vincentti of Perugia.

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