ROME (Dec. 19)
The Council of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities instructed its president today to seek a meeting with the Italian Justice Minister concerning an unprecedented criminal court ruling which acquitted an Italian magistrate of charges of militant anti-Semitism.
The case involved Giovanni Durando, a Turin Magistrate, who is editor of The Voice of Justice. The periodical, in its May 6, 1961 issue published an article fiercely attacking the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann and declaring that “Catholics cannot and must not forget that Jews are God-killers” and that as such “up to our days,” Jews “should be deprived of the possibility of being judges of anybody not belonging to their progeny.” The article also declared that “having crucified Christ,” Jews were “totally deprived of any sense of morality.”
Judge Durando was promptly denounced to Italian judicial authorities by several Italian Jews for “vilification of the Jewish religion and defamation of Jewish citizens.” Before a jammed Genoa courtroom, Ugo Levi, president of the Turin Jewish community, and more than 50 other Italian Jews, appeared with their attorneys as suing parties against the magistrate.
Judge Durando appeared without a lawyer. He contended that the subject of the charge against him should be considered “an ideological matter.” He said that while he had not written the article, he assumed full responsibility for it, since he had read it and approved it before publication. He said the article had been written by “a deeply religious person,” whose name he would not disclose.
In his defense, the magistrate said that the article “stresses the historical and theological principles of my religion.” He cited historical theological definition of Jews as “god-killers” and insisted he had nothing against Jews personally “for I consider them my brothers.” He said that during World War II he fought with the partisans “and saved many Jews.” The article, he declared, simply repeated “what the Apostles Paul and Luke already stated.”
PROSECUTOR ASKED FOR 11-MONTH JAIL SENTENCE FOR THE ACCUSED JUDGE
The attorneys for the complainants declared that the defendant’s arguments were similar to those used by Hitler in 1931 and rejected the contention that the article had been written to emphasize some religious principles. They declared that they contested the magistrate’s “right to state that his faith is better than that of others and that therefore those professing a different religion are to be considered immoral.”
The lawyers also reminded the court that Pope John XXIII had personally ordered the deletion of the phrase “perfidious Jews” from the Good Friday liturgy. They asked for damages of 500,000 lire ($800) to be turned over to the Association of Deportees to Nazi Concentration Camps.
The public prosecutor declared in his summation that Judge Durando had trespassed the limits of honest criticism and also had constructed his thesis on false religious principles. He asked an 11-month jail term and a penalty of 50,000 lire ($80) for the defendant. In his closing statement, Judge Durando asserted again that he did not mean to offend Jews and that he had been inspired entirely by a profound religious faith. He asked for acquittal.
After two hours deliberation, the court acquitted the defendant of the charge of vilification of the Jewish religion “because the fact does not constitute an offense” and of the defamation of Jewish citizens “because of lack of evidence.” The defendant said he would appeal to a higher court because he felt he deserved an unconditional acquittal, rather than one based on lack of evidence. The next day the public prosecutor also filed an appeal against the acquittal with a higher court.
GRAVITY OF ACQUITTAL VERDICT STRESSED BY JEWISH LEADERS
Jewish leaders said the gravity of the verdict was unquestionable. Aside from the calumnies of Jews and Judaism, they pointed out, the acquittal verdict questioned the right of Jews to judge non-Jews and, by inference, could mean that Italian Jews did not have the right to become judges in Italian courts. It was noted that Dr. Serge Piperno, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, is a magistrate.
The Union of Italian Jewish Communities Council meeting issued a communique after the extraordinary session which deplored the inadequate legislation “against genocide, incitement of hatred toward citizens” and recalled that Italy’s approval of the United Nations 1948 draft against genocide was still awaiting Parliamentary action.
In instructing Dr. Piperno to seek a meeting with the Justice Ministry, the Council also instructed him to firmly request the formulation and implementation of legislation adequate to deal with such situations as the Durando case.
The Union’s official weekly, Israel, declared editorially that the verdict constituted “the most evident and gravest of offenses against our honor and our dignity. We could not imagine a greater one than that ‘we are totally deprived of morality.” The weekly also stressed “the author of the article is not in tune with the spirit which is animating the Catholic Church of our day, under the guidance of Pope John XXIII.” It asked “what guarantees of impartial and democratic judgment can a magistrate supply, when his mind is still conditioned by a medieval religious fanaticism?”
Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff also asserted that Judge Durando “has taken the ancient fathers of the church into consideration but has forgotten the modern ones, first above all the present Pope, who tends to eliminate all forms of anti-Semitism in Catholic teachings.” He also noted that draft bills for punishment of genocide and anti-Semitism “have been awaiting Parliamentary approval for years.”