VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2003 (Zenit.org).- At least 800 Jews in three Italian cities were saved from Nazi persecution in 1943 and 1944, thanks in part to an appeal from Pope Pius XII, documents reveal.
The newly found evidence shows that in the cities of Livorno, Lucca and Pisa, the Jews were spared after the Pope had asked various Church groups to help out.
The network of assistance was made up of Oblate Priests of Lucca, the archbishop of Genoa, Franciscan friars, cloistered nuns and Catholic politicians.
Gino Bartali, one of the greatest cyclists in Italian history, also collaborated in the initiative. He hid false documents in the crossbar of his bicycle to save the life of refugees.
These deeds have come out into the light thanks to letters and a testimony written by Giorgio Nissim, a Jew from Pisa.
The documents were found by his children, Piero and Simona, and have been examined by historians Silvia Angelini and Paola Lemmi, under the supervision of Liliana Piccioto of Milan’s Foundation of Jewish Documentation. Giorgio Nissim died in 1976.
Following the 1943 imprisonment of members of Tuscany’s “Delasem” network (which aided Jews after discriminatory racial laws took effect), Nissim continued his activity thanks to the collaboration of the three Oblate Priests of Lucca. The three were referred to as Fathers Paoli, Staderini and Niccolai.
“I organized a complete office of false documents in the premises of cloistered nuns,” Nissim recalled in his papers. “Frequently, it was the priests themselves who added the false signatures.”
That made it possible to save Jews by hiding them in a convent or enabling them to reach liberated areas in Italy.
“I would go to Genoa as best I could to take the money given to me by Father Repetto, the archbishop’s secretary, and would then give the funds to Father Paoli” to cover the costs of these operations, he added.
In a testimony given in 1969, kept in the archives of Milan’s Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, Nissim wrote that the network of Catholic assistance “had received the order to maintain relations [with the clandestine Jewish movement — editor’s note] by Pius XII, the Pope at the time.”
Andrea, son of champion cyclist Gino Bartali, confirmed his father’s participation in that network that aided the Jews.
“His task was to take the photos and papers to clandestine printers to produce the false document,” Andrea Bartali said. “When he arrived at the convent, he would get off the bicycle and put the material in the crossbar, and then go. He also acted as a guide, pointing out the less-known ways so that the refugees could reach some areas in the center of Italy.”