He saved thousands of Jews from death
Giovanni Palatucci was a 28 years Old Italian policeman who in 1937 was working in the city of Fiume (nowadays part of Croatia) in charge of the Foreigners department.
In October 2002, the Pope’s vicar in Rome, Father Gianfranco Zuncheddu, opened the cause for beatification where details about this policeman who gave his life to save about five thousand Jews during the Second World War, are revealed.
When Benito Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister in 1922, the fascist party was not practicing anti-Semite policies. That changed in 1938, when the government of the ”Duce” accepted the Nazi pressure and decreed a number of anti-Jewish laws that included the confinement of foreign Jews sheltered in intern camps. One of the largest camps was located in Campania, where Giovanni’s uncle was Bishop.
In a recent conference about ”the saviors of the Holocaust”, Baruch Tenembaum, founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an organization that investigates the actions of those who risked their lives to save persecuted people during the Second World War, explained that Palatucci’s work consisted in publishing the papers of residence required by the refuge law. Silently, he started to falsify documents and visas, explained Tenembaum, that allowed the official deportation of Jews officially. ”But he managed for them to be sent to Campania, with instructions to contact his uncle, who would offer them the greatest assistance possible.”
After Mussolini’s detention in 1943, the German forces occupied northern Italy, turning the situation of Fiume of growing danger for the policeman and deadly for 3,500 Jews who were there.
That year Palatucci was promoted chief of police and thus he could continue his secret work. According to the information that arose from the investigation made by Tenembaum, ”instead of giving information to the Germans about Jews to be deported, he destroyed the files. When he learnt the plans of the Nazis, he warned people in time, often providing them with false documents and money to run away.”
”Giovanni Palatucci went beyond the command: he loved his neighbor more than himself”, explained survivor Roszi Neumann to the commission that started the cause of beatification.
Palatucci’s situation got worse when German officials searched his apartment looking for information so, the Swiss Ambassador to Trieste, a close friend of the policeman, offered a safe pass to Switzerland but, instead of using it, he sent his fiancée, a young Jew that nowadays lives in Israel.
”On September 13, 1944 he was arrested by the Gestapo accused of conspiracy and sent to prison in Trieste where he was condemned to death, explained Tenembaum. Even though the sentence was commuted, a month later he was moved to the extermination camp of Dachau where he died on February 10, 1945, a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the allies.”
He was 36 years old. Some people say that he died of malnutrition; other witnesses declared that he was shot.
In 1953, the city of Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, paid honor to Palatucci by naming a street with his name. Two years later, the Italian Union of Jewish Communities awarded him posthumously with a gold medal. His president, Amos Luzzatto emphasized: ”The chief of Police could not have ignored the risk he was taking. He acted knowing that he was going towards his own sacrifice; for him he was a merit to give his life for just one man”.