July 17, 2015

Mayor of Florence receives the Raoul Wallenberg Medal

Eduardo Eurnekian: “The Wallenberg Foundation pays tribute to the people of Florence that saved the lives of thousands during the Holocaust.”

On 17 July 2015, Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence, received the Raoul Wallenberg Medal on behalf of all the Florentines that helped save thousands of persecuted people during World War II.

The award was presented to Nardella by Eduardo Eurnekian and Baruch Tenembaum, Chairman and Founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. The ceremony took place at the Palazzo Vecchio, Firenze.

The Florence Network

In September 1943 Germany had recently occupied Italy and the deportation of the Jews was about to begin. Elia Dalla Costa, the Archbishop of Florence wrote a letter addressed to to the heads of monasteries and convents in Florence and its surroundings, asking them to open the gates of their institutions to Jews.

This was the beginning of a singular cooperation between the clergy and Jewish leaders such as Raffaele Cantoni and Rabbi Nathan Cassuto. Thanks to the Archbishop’s letters and the goodwill of his people, many Jews found a safe haven in Catholic institutions in the city. A shelter was created in the seminary of Minore di Montughi from which the Jewish fugitives were taken to the different convents and monasteries, and some were even housed for a short time in the Archbishop’s residence.

Likewise, the famous Florentine cyclist Gino Bartali will be remembered on the occasion. Through numerous acts of solidarity, Bartali helped save Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis during the time of the Italian Social Republic. Moreover, in a bold demonstration of civic courage Bartali gave refuge to a Jewish family in his cellar and, by doing so, saved their lives of all its members. Ceremonies honoring Archbishop Dalla Costa, Bartali, priests, nuns and other Florentine rescuers will follow suit in the near future.

Houses of Life

The presentation of the accolade will be conducted in the frame of the “Houses of Life” educational program, an endeavor that aims at identifying buildings and houses that served as safe havens in the midst of the Holocaust.

So far, the Wallenberg Foundation has located, in Rome alone, nearly two hundred places of refuge. Houses of Life were also identified in France, Poland, Greece and Germany. The locations are mostly churches, convents and Catholic boarding schools.

Last June, the Wallenberg Foundation presented the Wallenberg Medal to Sister Emerenziana Bolledi, at the Institute of the Sisters of St. Joseph, in Rome. As a novice, Sister Emerenziana gave shelter to 60 mothers and children sentenced to death by Hitler s regime.

The program is taking place throughout Europe with the cooperation of Aleteia, the Catholic news agency, with direct involvement of its Editorial Director, Mr. Jesús Colina and Institutional Relations Manager, Ms. Silvia Costantini, http://www.aleteia.org/en

The mission of the Wallenberg Foundation is supported by more than 300 heads of state and Nobel laureates. Jorge Bergolio, Pope Francis, is one of its founding members.