Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Essays & Editorials
2008 - 2009
2007 - 2008
2006 - 2007
Guest Publication by Holocaust survivor Wolf Murmelstein
[Please note the following is the original text as submitted by the author. No edits specific to grammar or translation have been made]
[photos added to enhance the text]
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND CONDITIONS OF HIS DEEDS.
The article of Alessandra Farkas on New York Times lead to a heavy debate on the actual deeds of Italian Police Officer Giovanni Palatucci at Fiume, now Rijeka, hailed for decades as the savior of about 5000 Jews. According to documentary evidence collected and quoted by the New York based PRIMO LEVI CENTER, he should turn out, on the contrary, as a cooperator of the Nazis .
The contributor noted, however, that in the heavy debate the historical background of Giovanni Palatucci, his life and deeds, is not taken in account at all. Indeed, In the Nazi-fascist regime of tyranny, only who was considered to be a reliable party member could act helpfully, clearly without leaving documentary evidence or so. The many questions arising on the authenticity of documents “found” sixty years after the events in the archives of former Italian Police Headquarter of Fiume, seized twice in less than two years, are not answered. The great difficulty of getting Shoah survivors release useful evidences about events and persons is simply ignored.
Furthermore, the contributor cannot help but has to take in account so the well known critical attitude of the New York Times towards present Israel Government as it’s way, in 1943, in handling the first news about the ongoing destruction of European Jews. The fact that we have to watch at same time the slanderous demolition of “Palatucci Myth” - like those of other persons who helped - and the revaluation, in essays and film, of the Hanna Arendt thesis about the Holocaust strategist Eichmann as a simple executor of orders appears to be more than a pure coincidence! Indeed, many historians and writers blame the leaders, almost all dead as martyrs, of Jewish communities in Nazi-fascist Europe for not having opposed resistance; a pure nonsense.
Giovanni Palatucci – 1909/1945 – was son of a Lawyer in the South Italian Province of Avellino; three uncles were priests.
In 1930 he had to enroll in 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 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. Matter of heavy disputes, 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 hold 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, 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, in force of the Racist Law of 1938, almost all members of Fiume Jewish Community lost the Italian citizenship they got in 1924. As stateless persons they were put under the control of the Police Section for Control of Foreigners. In 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 the mass of Jewish refugees whose number can only be conjectured. Therefore, the objection that there were only about 500 Jews in Fiume zone and so he could not have saved 5000, turns out as baseless and due to ignorance about real conditions
In 1940 Mussolini issued a decree for the expulsion of all these Jewish refugees which actually meant to took them to the border handing them out to the Nazis. In this condition Giovanni Palatucci submitted the proposal to send, for “security reasons”, all those Jewish refugees in South Italy. He could manage to send them mainly around Campagna – in Salerno province – where his uncle, Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, was the Bishop who could call on his connections in Italian Ministry for Interior obtaining for many Jews of that Internment Camp, having only a few hundred person capacity, to be sent in villages around for obliged residence.
So thousands of Jewish refugees – exact number can only be conjectured – transited from 1940 to 1943 through the Campagna Internment Camp; the most of them survived. Another uncle, Alfonso, was the Father Superior of the South Italy Franciscan Province and advised the Priors of convents to act helpfully. So the further objection based on the limited. few hundred person, capacity of Campagna Internment Camp turns out as baseless too.
In 1942 the Yugoslavian Jews living in regions under Italian Military Occupation had been supposed to be handed out to the German for Deportation; Mussolini had signed “no objection”. Italian Military Commanders, knowing enough about the meaning of the terms “deportation” or “resettlement”, refused to accomplish that inhuman order bringing those Jews to Fiume where Palatucci granted further help.
So, Giovanni Palatucci could help mainly because his two uncles too were ready to go on and thanks to his action Italian Military Commanders in Yugoslavia too could help avoiding involvement in Nazi crimes. There were chains of helpful actions.
Leaders of the Italian Jewish Assistance Organization Delasem had been able to persuade also other Police Officials – often of South Italia origin, like Palatucci - to avoid expulsions of Jewish refugees sending them, instead, in internment camps or in obliged residence in villages. Besides, Dante Almansi – a former Prefect and Chairman of Italian Jewish Communities Union - tried to call on his still lasting connections in order to ease Jewish conditions. Dante Almansi in 1940, however, learned that all Jews were supposed to leave Italy within some years; indeed, it seems that there had been a project to “resettle” all Italian Jews in Ethiopian Highland.
In June 1943, when the possibility an Allied landing in Italy already had to be considered, in Ministry of Interior the hardening of Jewish conditions was discussed. So, Palatucci in July 1943, as the result of an inspection, had been blamed for disorder in handling the documents; he recalled on insufficient staff in the section. Had he, advancing in rank, already reached the title of section head?
Things changed in September 1943 when, after 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 in “Adriatisches Kuestenland” in view of becoming part of the Great Germany according the German Vital Space theory. Indeed, in charge as head of the civil administration the Governor of Austrian region of Carintia had been placed. The local “Italian authorities” lost any power, especially the police, and in part even ousted. The deportation of Jews still in Fiume had been planned and carried out by the German Police.
As to Giovanni Palatucci, he had to adhere to the so called “Italian Social Republic” set on by Mussolini in October 1943. At the same time he joined the Fiume Resistance Board which had the non realistic goal to establish Fiume again as Free Sea Port Town. In November 1943 Giovanni Palatucci had been the only qualified Police Official still at Fiume, so the Interior Ministry of the Italian Social Republic, a pathetic move to meant to assert Italian precence, named him “Temporary Head” of Police Headquarters, but without any real power. The same Fascist Interior Ministry issued an order stating that actions against the Jews were matter of German Authorities. Therefore, the accusations risen against Giovanni Palatucci to have been involved in the rounding up and deportation of Fiume Jews turn out as baseless and due to deep ignorance on real power conditions.
It seems that even in those conditions Giovanni Palatucci had been still able to help as survivors released evidence considered as trustworthy by Yad Vashem. At any rate he had been put on arrest in September 1944 by German Police, 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 enemy” – with British spies, Jewish refugees, others? - without stating any further detail.
After the War many refugees remembered help granted by Giovanni Palatucci and already in 1953 he had been considered as an hero; after a yearlong investigation Yad Vashem found to have sufficient evidence to consider him as a Righteous.
In past years a new sort of revisionism started and records of helps 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, could defend his father’s reputation.
Now the debate about the Palatucci Myth where no close relative is able to oppose slanders. Against late Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci accusation had been risen to have made up the story aiming to obtain a financial benefit – pension – for parents. Who 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 been certainly 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 to turns out as baseless.
As to the mass of documents “found” more than sixty years after the events, question 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 in Italian Television that Palatucci in September 1943, at arrival of the German police forces, destroyed many documents of his office.
So, documents found by Croatian authorities in those archives, about seventy years after the events, are rising many questions about their authenticity which ought to be carefully answered. Besides, Croatia is not happy on the Catholic Church procedure of beatification of Giovanni Palatucci being rather interested to let forget the deeds of Croatian monks taking part in Ustascia actions against the Serbs.
How many Jews had been helped by Giovanni Palatucci? Their number can be only roughly conjectured. The Talmud states that who saving one life is as saving the entire world. After the Holocaust we should ask “when that Righteous saved the entire world which other Righteous helped?”.
Copyright: 2013 Wolf Murmelstein H.E.A.R.T