By Ruth Ellen Gruber
On Saturday, I attended a ceremony in the outrageously beautiful Umbrian hill town, Polino, where the local authorities named a newly built piazza in honor of Giovanni Palatucci, a World War II Italian fascist police official who is reputed to have saved thousands of Jews by giving them false documents.
Palatucci, who died in Dachau, is revered as a popular hero in Italy (he was also honored as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem and honored by the ADL, the Roman Catholic Church, the Italian Jewish community and others) — even though recent scholarship has cast serious doubts on the extent of his rescue efforts. He is known to have worked to save at least some Jews, but the generally quoted figure of 5,000 seems inflated….
Anyway, it was a lovely ceremony that mixed hagiography with true sincerety.
A representative of the Jewish community in Rome was invited — but declined because it took place on Shabbat.
I myself attended mainly because my friend, Mario Carletti, sculpted the memorial that marks the new piazza. It shows a bust of Palatucci, with barbed wire gates and the “arbeit macht frei” slogan.
Still, listening to the priest, the mayor, the police band, the prefect, I felt that there needed to be a Jewish voice — so I more or less invited myself to say a few words, stressing the need to honor those who did what the majority of people did not, and reminding of the teaching that whoever saves one life saves the world.
Local Italian TV ran a spot — it starts at minute 8:00, and I can be seen (in a white linen suit) walking in the procession at 8:52 . CLICK HERE FOR THE LINK