ROME, FEB. 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A new book details the lives of hundreds of Italians, including Catholic clergy and religious, who helped to save Jews from Nazi persecution.
The work, “The Righteous of Italy: Non-Jews Who Saved Jews, 1943-1945,” was presented last Friday at the International Conferences Hall of the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Promoted by the Italian Embassy in Israel and the Italian Institute of Culture in Tel Aviv, the book, published by Mondadori, will be available in bookstores next week.
The work is the result of research carried out by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority based in Jerusalem. The group confers the title “Righteous Among the Nations” to non-Jews who saved Jews from deportation and death, risking their own lives.
The “Righteous” recognized by Yad Vashem number more than 20,000, including 400 Italians. The histories of 387 of these Italians are included in the volume.
During the presentation, Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, vice president of the Council of Ministers, explained that the 400 Italian “Righteous” are “proof of an ampler and more widespread phenomenon,” the “piece of a mosaic of exemplary and admirable humanity, which makes an important contribution to Italy’s history.”
The foreign minister recalled the importance of the testimony of the righteous for humanity, underlining the statement in the Old Testament which reads: “If I find in the city of Sodom fifty righteous men, or even only ten, I will forgive the whole place because of their love.”
Ambassador Nathan Ben Horin, a member of Yad Vashem’s Commission for the Righteous, confirmed that from his research that “the Italian population showed itself as one of the most humane in Europe,” in reference to persecuted Jews.
Arrigo Levi, foreign relations counselor of the president of the Italian republic, told how his family fled to Argentina to escape the Nazis. On collecting testimonies immediately after the war, Levi said he was convinced that the Italian “Righteous” numbered in the tens of thousands, and that among them, the people of the Catholic Church played an important part.
Historian Andrea Riccardi, president of the Community of Sant’Egidio, underlined that, although the Jewish and Catholic world did not interact socially, many bishops, priests and religious intervened to save Jews.
Historian Liliana Picciotto, of Milan’s Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, which oversaw the Italian edition of the new book, provided figures for the period. In 1943, there were 43 million Italians and some 32,000 Jews. Of the latter, 8,000 were deported and 24,000 were saved.
Italy boasts one of the highest figures in Europe of Jews saved from the Holocaust, and Picciotto attributed this work to “the civil Resistance that took place in the whole of Europe and also in our country, beginning with the Catholic clergy.”
The part played by the Catholic Church is clear in the histories of the Righteous contained in the book.
Of the 387 cited in the book, 58 are bishops, priests and men or women religious. This does not include the numerous lay people who saved Jews thanks to the support of nunciatures, bishoprics, parishes, convents and other Church institutions.