A few days ago, I received a lengthy essay, on the topic of Giovanni Palatucci, from Dr. Wolf Murmelstein, the son of Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein, who was the last Jewish Elder of the Theresienstadt Ghetto during World War II. In the past, I have published several of the essays, written by Dr. Wolf Murmelsein, on my web site here. I previously blogged here about an essay written by Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein in defense of his father.
Dr. Murmelstein has written a defense of Giovanni Palatucci, who is called “the Italian Schindler.” There are others who claim that the story of Giovanni Palatucci is a myth, and that he was a Nazi collaborator. For example, this article in the New York Times.
According to Wikipedia, Giovanni Palatucci was arrested [by the Nazis] on September 13, 1944. He was condemned to death, but the sentence was later commuted to deportation to the Dachau concentration camp, where he died on February 10, 1945, before the camp was liberated by the Allies on April 29, 1945. Some say that he died of malnutrition and others declared that he was shot.
The fact that Giovanni Palatucci was sent to Dachau indicates that he was arrested for helping Jews to escape deportation, and that he was not a Nazi collaborator.
Postage stamps in honor of Giovanni Palatucci
Currently, Giovanni Palatucci is the subject of an ongoing debate because he is a candidate for beautification, the first step towards being canonized as a Saint in the Catholic Church. Scroll way down to the bottom of this blog post to read the requirements for canonization.
In 1990, Palatucci was named a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in Israel because he saved a Jewish woman from being killed during the Holocaust. However, there are also claims that Giovanni Palatucci sent Jews to the Auschwitz extermination camp. You can read about the “unfounded claims of heroism” here.
According to Wikipedia: Giovanni Palatucci (May 31, 1909 – February 10, 1945) was an Italian police official who between 1940 and 1944 may have saved thousands of Jews in Fiume (current Rijeka in Croatia) from being deported to Nazi extermination camps. In 2013 a research panel of historians led by the Centro Primo Levi reviewed almost 700 documents and concluded that Palatucci had actually been a willing Nazi collaborator and that of the 500 Jews living in Fiume, 412 were deported to Auschwitz, a higher percentage than in any Italian city. The matter is currently the topic of scholarly debate.
I am publishing Dr. Wolf Murmelstein’s essay, which defends Giovanni Palatucci, and gives new information about what actually happened.
BEGIN READING THE WORDS WRITTEN BY DR. WOLF MURMELSTEIN:
Giovanni Palatucci – 1909/1945 – was the son of a Lawyer in the South Italian Province of Avellino; three uncles were priests.
In 1930 he had to enroll in the Italian Army for the compulsory Military Service at Moncallieri, near Turin where he, in 1932, obtained his degree in Law at the age of 23; a four year Legal Practice followed.
We may suppose that Giovanni Palatucci, at Turin, had contacts with Jewish colleagues and clients. Noteworthy, in 1934 at Turin, members of a Jewish Group had been put on arrest for antifascist behavior.
Giovanni Palatucci, feeling unhappy about the difficulties of the legal profession, looked for a position in the governmental sector. So, in 1936, he became a Police Officer and started at the Police Headquarters in Genoa, a town where many German Jews stood coping with their emigration procedures.
It is not known whether Giovanni Palatucci had had the opportunity to meet those Jewish emigrants, learning about the first persecution in Nazi Germany; at any rate he had been blamed for “non proper contacts” and, at the end of 1937, sent to Fiume.
Fiume, now Rijeka, until 1918 had been the sole sea port of the Kingdom of Hungary. This was a matter of heavy disputes, and following the Versailles Peace Treaty, Fiume became a Free Sea Port Town. But, from 1924 on, in force of the Italian-Yugoslavian Agreement, Fiume was one of the many Italian sea port towns. Clearly, it’s economic and social conditions worsened. Nevertheless, the Jewish Community held good positions, thanks to the lasting contacts with the communities of the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
In the nearby Istria and Friuli, there was an increasing fascist harassment of the Slovenian and Croatian ethnic communities, a source of bitterness and hate. Fiume, just at the border with Yugoslavia, was the crucial point of Italian Fascist aims on the Balkan.
At Fiume Police Headquarters, Giovanni Palatucci joined the Section for Control of Foreigners; he could not know that his historical role was starting.
In March 1938, the notorious anti-Semite Temistocle Testa, a former fascist militia colonel, had been named as Prefect of the Fiume Province and the hardliner Vincenzo Genovesi became the Police Superintendent.
These two hard fascists were supervising Giovanni Palatucci, from 1938 to 1943. So, first of all, we ought to consider which level of actual authority Giovanni Palatucci had been holding in each of these years: his official rank and advancements, the sort of authorizations he had been entitled to grant and how he could submit proposals.
Just in March 1938, Austria had been annexed to Nazi Germany and there had been the first Jewish refugees reaching Fiume.
In October/November 1938, under the Racist Law of 1938, almost all members of Fiume Jewish Community lost the Italian citizenship that they gotten in 1924. As stateless persons, they were put under the control of the Police Section for Control of Foreigners.
In the following years, an increasing number of refugees, mainly Jews, reached Fiume, trying to escape the Nazi persecutions. So, from 1938 to 1943, Giovanni Palatucci had to deal mainly with Jews.
There were, at one site, the members of Fiume Jewish Community and on other site, the mass of Jewish refugees whose number can only be conjectured.
Therefore, the claim that there were only about 500 Jews in the Fiume zone, so that he could not have saved 5,000, turns out to be baseless; this claim is due to ignorance about the real conditions.
In 1940, Mussolini issued a decree for the expulsion of all these Jewish refugees. This decree actually meant that the Jewish refugees were taken to the border and handed over to the Nazis. Under these conditions, Giovanni Palatucci submitted the proposal to send (for “security reasons”) all these Jewish refugees to Southern Italy.
He could have managed to send them mainly to the area around Campagna – in Salerno province – where his uncle, Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, was a Bishop. His uncle could have called on his connections in the Italian Ministry of Interior to arrange for many Jews to be sent to the villages around there, which would have been obliged to take them in, as residents.
So it turns out that thousands of Jewish refugees – whose exact number can only be conjectured – were sent, from 1940 to 1943, to the Campagna Internment Camp; most of them survived.
Another uncle of Palatucci, was Alfonso, who was the Father Superior of the South Italy Franciscan Province; he advised the Priors of convents which could help.
So the further objection, based on the limited capacity of the Campagna Internment Camp, alleged to be able to handle only a few 100 refugees, turns out to be as baseless as the other claims.
In 1942, the Yugoslavian Jews, living in regions under the Italian Military Occupation, were scheduled to be handed over to the Germans for Deportation. Mussolini had signed the papers with “no objection”.
Italian Military Commanders, knowing enough about the meaning of the terms “deportation” or “resettlement”, refused to carry out that inhuman order to bring those Jews to Fiume, where Palatucci could have granted further help.
So, Giovanni Palatucci was able to help, mainly because his two uncles were ready to help. Thanks to the actions of Palatucci, the Italian Military Commanders in Yugoslavia could have helped to avoid involvement in Nazi crimes. There were chains of helpful actions.
Leaders of the Italian Jewish Assistance Organization “Delasem” had been able to persuade other Police Officials – often of Southern Italian origin, like Palatucci – to avoid expulsions of Jewish refugees, sending them, instead, to internment camps or to obliged residence in villages.
Besides that, Dante Almansi (a former Prefect and Chairman of Italian Jewish Communities Union) tried to call on his still remaining connections in order to ease Jewish conditions. However, Dante Almansi learned in 1940 that all Jews were supposed to leave Italy within a certain time. Indeed, it seems that there had been a project to “resettle” all Italian Jews in Ethiopian Highland.
In June 1943, when the possibility of an Allied landing in Italy had to be considered, the hardening of Jewish conditions was already being discussed in the Ministry of Interior.
In July 1943, as the result of an inspection, Palatucci had been blamed for disorder in handling the documents; he had relied on insufficient staff in his section. Had he, advancing in rank, already reached the title of section head?
Things changed in September 1943 when, after the Italian surrender to the Allied Forces, the German forces occupied most of Italy. The Friuli-Istria region had been put under direct German rule and renamed “Adriatisches Kuestenland,” in view of becoming part of Greater Germany, according to the German Vital Space theory.
Indeed, the Governor of the Austrian region of Carintia had been placed in charge of the civil administration of the area. The local “Italian authorities” (especially the police) lost any power, and in part, were even ousted. The deportation of Jews, who were still in Fiume, was planned and carried out by the German Police.
As to Giovanni Palatucci, he had to adhere to the laws of the so-called “Italian Social Republic,” which had been set up by Mussolini in October 1943.
At the same time, Palatucci joined the Fiume Resistance Board which had the non-realistic goal of establishing Fiume again as a Free Sea Port Town.
In November 1943, Giovanni Palatucci had been the only qualified Police Official still at Fiume. Because of this, the Interior Ministry of the Italian Social Republic, a pathetic movement which was meant to assert Italian presence, named Palatucci the “Temporary Head” of Police Headquarters, without giving him any real power.
The same Fascist Interior Ministry issued an order stating that actions against the Jews were the matter of German Authorities. Therefore, the accusations that have arisen against Giovanni Palatucci, in which he has been accused of having been involved in the rounding up and deportation of Fiume Jews, have turned out to be baseless. These accusations are due to deep ignorance about the real power conditions.
It seems that, even in those conditions, Giovanni Palatucci had still been able to help, since survivors have released evidence considered to be trustworthy by Yad Vashem.
At any rate, Palatucci had been put under arrest in September 1944 by the German Police. He was sentenced to death and sent to Dachau where he died in February 1945.
The Fascist Interior Ministry had been informed only about “his ties with the enemy” – with British spies, Jewish refugees, others? – without stating any further detail.
After the War, many refugees remembered the help granted to them by Giovanni Palatucci, and already in 1953, he had been considered a hero. After a year-long investigation, Yad Vashem found sufficient evidence to consider him a Righteous Gentile.
In past years, a new sort of revisionism started and records of help granted in That Darkness are being demolished in a very slanderous manner.
There had been the attempt to “review” the Perlasca Myth, concerning help granted at Budapest in November December 1944 but the son, Franco Perlasca, was able to defend his father’s reputation.
Now there is a debate about the “Palatucci Myth” because no close relative is able to oppose the slander. Against the late Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, an accusation has arisen that the story was made up with the aim of obtaining financial benefit: a pension for the parents. Whoever launched this tale does not even know that the mother passed away in 1947 while the father, Felice, owned a well established legal firm.
It may be guessed that he too, like his colleagues, had to deal with claims for war pension benefits. The father, Felice, and the uncle, Bishop Giuseppe Maria, had certainly been aware that, according to strong Italian law, no one had been entitled to financial benefits due to the death of Giovanni Palatucci who was not married. This accusation turns out to be baseless.
As to the mass of documents “found” more than sixty years after the events, questions of authenticity arise as Fiume Police Headquarters offices had been seized by the Nazis in autumn 1943 and by the Yugoslavians in May 1945.
Furthermore, it had been said on Italian Television in September 1943 that Palatucci had destroyed many documents in his office, upon the arrival of the German police forces. So, documents found by Croatian authorities in those archives, about seventy years after the events, are raising many questions about their authenticity, questions which ought to be carefully answered. Besides, Croatia is not happy with the Catholic Church procedure of beatification of Giovanni Palatucci, being rather interested in the deeds of Croatian monks, who took part in Ustascia actions against the Serbs.
How many Jews were helped by Giovanni Palatucci? Their number can be only roughly conjectured. The Talmud states that who saves one life is considered as saving the entire world.
After the Holocaust we should ask:
“When that Righteous person saved the entire world, which other Righteous person helped?”.
END OF ESSAY BY WOLF MURMELSTEIN
Giovanni Palatucci, who died in February 1945 at Dachau, is most likely buried in the cemetery at Leitenberg, located a few miles from the Dachau Memorial Site. The photo below shows the Italian Memorial chapel at Leitenberg.
Italian Memorial Chapel at Leitenberg cemetery
There were 3,388 Italians counted at the Dachau concentration camp at the last roll call on April 26, 1945, three days before the camp was liberated.
The number of Italian prisoners who died at Dachau is unknown. Most of the prisoners, who died at Dachau, died in the last months of the war when there was a typhus epidemic in the camp. They are buried in unmarked graves on the hill called Leitenberg because the camp had run out of coal to burn the bodies of prisoners dying in the typhus epidemic.
The Italian Memorial Chapel at Leitenberg, called Regina Pacis, was designed by Dr. Enea Ronca from Verona. The name means Queen of Peace. The Memorial Chapel was consecrated on July 31, 1973. It is dedicated to the memory of all the Italians who died in all of the Nazi concentration camps.
There are four steps to sainthood: A candidate for sainthood must perform a miracle, or be declared a martyr. In the case of Giovanni Palatucci, he has been declared a martyr. Because of his actions in saving Italian Jews from deportation to concentration camps, Palatucci was arrested and sent to Dachau where he died, possibly by being executed.
Before a person can be considered a candidate for sainthood, he or she must have been dead for at least 5 years. (Giovanni Palatucci has been dead for more than 5 years.) Then the potential candidate must complete the four steps to becoming a saint.
Step One: When the subject arises, that a person should be considered for Sainthood, a Bishop is placed in charge of the initial investigation of the person’s life. If it is determined that the candidate is deemed worthy of further consideration, the Vatican grants a “Nihil Obstat.” This is a Latin phrase that means “nothing hinders.” Henceforth, the candidate is called a “Servant of God.”
Step Two: The Church Official, a Postulator, who coordinates the process and serves as an advocate, must prove that the candidate lived heroic virtues. This is achieved through the collection of documents and testimonies that are collected and presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. When a candidate is approved, he or she earns the title of “Venerable.”
Step Three: To be beatified and recognized as a “Blessed,” one miracle acquired through the candidate’s intercession is required in addition to recognition of heroic virtue (or martyrdom in the case of a martyr).
Step Four: Canonization requires a second miracle after beatification, though a Pope may waive these requirements. (A miracle is not required prior to a martyr’s beatification, but one is required before his or her canonization.) Once this second miracle has been received through the candidate’s intercession, the Pope declares the person a “Saint.”