During Italy’s Fascist period, Don Arrigo Beccari was a young priest at the catholic seminary of Nonantola, a small village near the city of Bologna, in the Emilia Romagna region.
In July 1942, a group of fifty Jewish children escaping from Dalmatia, (at the time occupied by Italian troops) took refuge in Villa Emma near Nonantola with help of Josef Itai, the leader of DELASEM (the Jewish communal welfare agency). The Villa had been hosting another 50 children prior to the group’s arrival from Dalmatia and had been a relatively safe place during the war.
However, with the armistice and the German occupation that followed Italy’s surrender, the hunting down of Jews began. Having heard of the Jewish children’s residence in Villa Emma and knowing the huge risks they were running of falling into Nazi hands, Don Arrigo Beccari decided to take action. Without consulting his superiors in Modena, he took as many children as he could with him in the seminary and found places to stay amongst trusted villagers for the others. The kitchen of the seminary supplied food for all of the young refugees and the goodness and generosity of the priest and his friends provided them with emotional support throughout the German occupation. When the Nazis began to search every Catholic institution and school looking for Jewish refugees and even the village seminary became too dangerous a place to hide, a plan to escape to Switzerland seemed the only option to ensure their survival. With the assistance of his physician Dr. Moreali, Don Arrigo arranged for false Italian documents to be issued for all the Jewish people of the village (now 120) and helped the refugees to successfully board a train for the Swiss border.
A few days later the German police arrested Don Beccari and imprisoned him in Bologna. Despite the torture to which he was subjected to, Don Beccari never revealed to the Gestapo any of the details of the escape, nor of the people who assisted him in the rescue.
In his personal account of the war he remembers the joy that he felt helping others: ”It would be difficult for me to erase the memory of the terror and suffering of those days or of my joy at doing the small good, which was my duty and which had to be done.”
- Paldiel, Mordecai. The Path of the Righteous. Hoboken: KTAV Publishing House. 1993.