With the courageous efforts of heroes such as Father Beniamino Schivo, the rector of a seminary in Citta di Castello, 85% of Italy’s 45,000 Jews were saved from the Nazis during World War II. The following is the story of one of those families.
There are reasons to explain a relatively high rescue rate of Jews in Italy during WWII. Mostly it was the hatred the Italians had for the Germans that reduced the number of Jews killed.
Support came from the clergy, citizens, authorities, officials, and false identity cards which made the escape from Italy possible for Jews. But this effort didn’t come about without great risks to the people themselves and to their families.
Born in Breslau, Germany, Ursula Korn and her mother fled Germany in 1935 to the Italian Riviera after Nazis seized power. They joined her aunt and uncle In Alassio, Italy, while her father stayed behind to manage his business.
Paul Korn lost his business to ”Aryanization” and eventually joined his family in Italy after much hardship. When Mussolini’s Italy entered the war, in 1940, Fascist Italy aligned with Nazi Germany. Soon after its alliance with Germany, Italy passed a law stripping Italian citizenship from Jews naturalized after 1919.
Ursula’s father and uncle were sent to a camp in Salerno, while Ursula, her mother and her aunt went to Collazone and were transferred in 1941 to Citti di Castello. There they met a priest who suggested they contact Father Beniamino Schivo, rector of the seminary.
”From that moment on, Father Schivo became our protector, our best friend,” Ursula said, ”in every way, endangering his own life, he saved ours lives.” He made life bearable, despite restrictions on the Jews.
Beniamino Schivo provided shelter, clothing, and food for the family, and arranged for Ursula to continue her education at a convent. ‘The nuns loved me,” Ursula recalled, ”my teacher introduced me to her family in Naples, they became my second family.”
With the German occupation of the region, in 1943, the situation changed drastically. Their lives were in danger, ”so Father Schivo took off his habit and with another priest led us past German patrols to a summer villa,” Ursula said.
The priests broke down the door and helped them prepare their hiding place. The Korns hid in the dark, slept on the bare floor. Schivo even arranged for a caretaker to bring the Korns soup every night.
On Christmas Eve 1943 Beniamino traveled nine hours through war torn Italy, to bring food and comfort, and spent the night with them in their tiny cubicle next to the oven where the nuns baked their bread.
Too close to the German line of defense, the villa became too dangerous for the Korns to live. Ursula and Johanna hid in the woods, where they met a group of partisans.
Vatican Radio broadcast a papal injunction: ‘He who makes distinction between Jews and other men is unfaithful to God and is in conflict with God’s commands.’ The Pope ordered religious houses be opened to fleeing Jews.
Priests provided them with false identification papers, with the help of the Swiss, Hungarian, Romanian, and the French Embassies in Rome, and Italian police officials, many of who suffered tortures and beatings and terms in prison, for their noble deeds.
In 1943 Mussolini was overthrown, and 20 years of Fascism came to an end. The Italian government informed the Allies on Sept 1st that it had accepted an armistice.
During this time, the village was under intense bombardment from Allied forces, so Ursula and her family sought sanctuary at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Schivo brought them to his seminary, which had been converted into a hospital. Finally, in 1944, the British liberated the town.
When the Germans searched the convents, Father Schivo hid Johanna and Ursula in his seminary, even though he was wanted by the Germans and would have been shot immediately if they had been found.
Busy as he was with the many wounded, Father Schivo visited the women every night. When the Allies took over his partisan unit, Paul Korn rejoined his wife and daughter. Ursula remained in Citta de Castello until 1950 when she and her parents immigrated to the U.S.
Ursula kept in contact with her rescuer and in the 1980s nominated him for recognition as one of the Righteous among the Nations. Beniamino received his award from Yad Vashem in 1986.
Ursula said of Schivo: ”I’ve never met a more wonderful, compassionate, or courageous man in my life, in his humility he doesn’t feel he did anything special by saving us, he says it’s his duty to help those who’re suffering.”
”My friendship with Monsignor Schivo will last as long as I live.”
By the end of 2001, 295 Italians, including whole families, were recognized as Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.