It’s always sad when your hero gets knocked off his pedestal. But it’s shocking when that hero turns out to have a been an enthusiastic Nazi who got falsely credited with saving 5000 Jews.
That supposed hero, Giovanni Palatucci, was an Italian police officer sent to Dachau, where he eventually died, on charges of embezzlement and treason. Since his death at age 35, Palatucci has been declared a martyr by the Vatican, been commemorated on an Italian stamp, and counted among the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
Having uncovered a trove of documents about Palatucci’s history, an Italian researcher has revealed that Palatucci did exactly what he was directed to do: round up Italian Jews, confiscate their property, and send them off to concentration camps. Not exactly heroic.
How did this Nazi become recognized as a “righteous gentile?” It may go back to Palatucci’s uncle, a bishop who was trying to get Palatucci’s parents a pension. Yad Vashem and the Vatican are both reviewing Palatucci’s history to decide if they want to revise their records. In the meantime, the story is a good reminder to study history closely, even the ugly parts.