Carlo Angela, a ”Righteous Gentile”

”There are three essential conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to be recognized as ‘Righteous Gentile’: having saved Jews, having put yourself into a precariously dangerous situation in order to save Jewish lives, having done it without any calculated self serving gains.”

This is the incipit of the tribute to Carlo Angela, written and read by Franco Brunetta during the first official ceremony that was held in his honor on June 3, 2000 in San Maurizio Canavese, a little town in northern Italy, where he lived most of his life and accomplished most of his great exploits.

Carlo Angela was born in Olcenengo, Italy on January 9, 1875. He studied medicine at the University of Turin, where he graduated in 1899. Subsequently, he went to Congo, Africa, where he practiced among the Belgian army’s suite and then came back to Europe. In Paris he specialized in neuropsychology by attending Babinski’s classes, a great professor famous for having worked with Sigmund Freud.

During the postwar period he decided to participate in Italy’s political life and became a member of ”Democrazia Sociale” (socialist party founded in 1921), but even if the party seemed to be progressive, it showed many nationalist and authoritative positions. This led the party to support Mussolini’s Fascists movement. That is why in 1924 Angela decided to keep distance from the party and, together with other members, he joined the more reformist socialist party of Ivanoe Bonomi.

It is only a few months later that Angela publicly sides against Mussolini by writing an article on the newspaper ”Tempi Nuovi,” blaming Fascism of the murder of the socialist Giacomo Matteotti on June 10, 1924. It did not take long for Fascists to react: on the night of June 21 they broke into the Newspaper’s editorial office, ransacking and setting it on fire, while Carlo Angela was forced to move to San Maurizio Canavese, where he started working as a manager of Villa Turina Amione, a psychiatric facility for mental illness.

It is right in this hospital that Angela started his glorious masterpiece of human solidarity and civil resistance, rescuing many people from the deportation to concentration camps. The professor, together with only a few reliable companions, rescued in Villa Turina Amione numerous antifascists, draft dodger’s and, above all, many Jews. He forced wrong diagnosis and doctored clinical records, turned Hebrews into Aryans and healthy people into mental patients. Among the ones he rescued we find the lawyer Massimo Ottolenghi, together with his son and wife; the Fitz family; captain Dogliotti; Lord Revelli of Beaumont and Renzo and Nella Segre.

Thanks to one of them, Angela’s incredible exploits have been revealed years later. In 1996 the Italian publisher Sellerio presented ”Venti Mesi” (Tewnty Months), a journal written by Renzo Segre, an Italian Jew who avoided Nazi deportation thanks to the professor’s help. He and his wife pretended to be mentally ill and hid for one and a half years at Villa Turina Amione. He is one of the few men who can give testimony of Italian prosecution and, above all, an important witness of Angelo’s remarkable deeds.

In his book, Segre describes the professor as an incredibly charismatic character, who despite the fact of having a family of his own, saved him and many other people, putting his life in danger without ever asking for anything in return.

Renzo Segre’s daughter, Anna, published the diary twenty years after his disappearance, and it was on the day of its presentation that the historian Franco Brunetta, started a long but fascinating research on Angela’s life. He looked through many documents, private and public archives, interviewed and listened to the memoirs of other survivors that had been saved by the professor.

After four years of hard work everything was ready for the first official ceremony on June 3, 2000. Two years later his name would be written on the stones of the Righteous Gentiles at the Holocaust Museums in Jerusalem.

At first sight it might seem incomprehensible that the figure of Carlo Angela has remained unrevealed for such a long time after his disappearance, but this is only due to the extraordinary discretion that has always characterized him. Thank his prudence and tenacity he was able to rescue so many lives and shape his path among the ”Righteous Gentiles”.