Two days of ceremonies opened in the mountain village of Assisi yesterday to honor the townspeople who saved the lives of 300 Jews during World War II when, following Italy’s surrender, the occupying German forces departed about 20 percent of Italian Jewry to death camps in Eastern Europe.
Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, whose eighth centennial is also being celebrated this week. Representatives of Italian Jewry and surviving members of the Jewish families who received shelter in the village which had no Jewish population of its own, came there yesterday to pay tribute to the courage of the villagers. They were joined by many present day residents and by Catholic priests, monks and nuns in recalling the events of nearly 40 years ago.
The rescue of Jews who sought refuge in Assisi, beginning in the spring of 1943, was organized by Bishop Placido Nicolini, his brother Ruffino Niacci, and Father Aldo Brunacci. Only Father Brunacci is alive today and was on hand for the ceremony of thanks. But the entire population of the village collaborated in the rescue, including its fascist Mayor, Amaldo Fortini.
Jews were hidden in homes, convents and monasteries. They were provided with false papers identifying them as Catholic parishoners. Some were given clerical disguises and were instructed in Catholic ritual to appear authentic. Jobs were found for the refugees, enabling them to blend into the community, unknown to the German occupying forces. The villagers protected the Jews at risk of their own lives until the town was liberated by Allied forces in June, 1944. Graziella Viterbi Carucci, one of the Jews who owed her life to the people of Assisi spoke at the ceremonies yesterday. So did Daniel Kropf of Trieste whose parents were among those rescued. Kropf is vice chairman of the European Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Another speaker was Miriam Viterbi whose family was the only one of the 300 Jews that remained in Assisi after the war.
A silver plaque was presented to the Jews’ benefactors, inscribed with the words, “The Jews of Italy, in gratitude, 1943-82.” Today, an Italian translation of “Assisi Underground,” a fictionalized account of the period written by the Israeli author Alexander Ramati, was presented to the village. Bice Migloo, director of the Rome Jewish Cultural Center, presented documents on Nazi concentration camps to representatives of Assisi’s schools.
Assisi has also been honored by the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. An avenue of trees has been planted in the Garden of The Righteous.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.