October 28, 2019

Rome Istituto Pio XI is a new House of Life

On 18 October 2019, a sunny Roman Friday, about 250 people witnessed the proclamation of the Salesian Institute PIO XI as a new “House of Life” by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. The distinction is granted in recognition of the role played by the educational institution during the Holocaust.

During the Nazi occupation of Rome, parents Francesco Antonioli and Armando Alessandrini lead the rescue operation of dozen of Jews persecuted by the Third Reich. With the help of their confreres they offered hospitality and saved the lives of 70 people.
In the course of the ceremony the school authorities presented the docudrama “Lo scudo dell’altro. The Memory of the dovere”. The film was made by students under the supervision of professionals of the film industry.

Silvia Costantini, vice president of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, opened the ceremony informing about the mission of the NGO created by Baruch Tenembaum and chaired by Eduardo Eurnekian.

Elena Colitto Castelli, coordinator of the Italian chapter of the program, stressed the courage of the Salesians and many other religious institutions in their fight against Nazism.

For his part, Father Stefano Aspettati, Salesian Inspector for Central Italy, recalled Don Bosco’s motto: It is necessary to train honest citizens and good Christians.

Reverend Giampiero Palmieri, auxiliary bishop of Rome, explained the concept of prayer for Hetty Hillesum: We need to pray to keep God’s peace within us, not to ask for salvation.

Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican, Oren David, sent a letter of endorsement. (Read below).

Houses of Life is an educational program created by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Its objective is to identify and pay tribute to the actions of institutions or individuals that streched a caring hand to those persecuted by the Nazis and its allies during the Shoah.

So far more than 500 locations were detected throughout the European continent.

The history

During the Nazi occupation of Rome, between 1943 and 1944, the Pius XI Institute of the Salesian institution of the San Giovanni Bosco order, located in the suburbs of Rome, gave refuge to dozens of Jewish children, young men and some adults.

The institution was a boarding school and a vocational school for people of different ages.
Those responsible for the rescue of Jewish children were Father Francesco Antonioli, director of the school, and Father Armando Alessandrini, the administrative manager.

According to a study published by the Salesian Order, the rescue list includes 70 names.

The institution opened its doors to Jews persecuted during the nine months that the German occupation lasted until the liberation of Italy, on June 4, 1944.

Some spent only a few days, while others remained there for several months.

Directors Antonioli and Alessandrini endangered their positions and their lives for the good of the children.

Painter Aldo Di Castro was 12 years old at the time. Today he vividly remembers the cold winter morning when he arrived at the school with his brother Renato. There his last name was changed to Barbieri.

Giuseppe Foa was also 12 years old when he entered the institute as an external student. His new name was Giuseppe Valente. Maurilio Shlomo Rossi, who remained at the school from 5 December 1943 until 17 April 1944, was 21 years old in 1943. He was accepted into the institution with his three younger brothers, Guglielmo, Gualtiero and Franco as well as his 43 year old uncle, Aulo Camerina.

On 6 October 1966, Father Francesco Antonioli and Father Armando Alessandrini were declared Righteous Among the Nations.

1. Invitation

2. Unveiling of the House of Life plaque

3. Elena Castelli, Silvia Costantini, rescued, relatives and school authorities

4. Silvia Costantini, Padre Giampiero Palmieri and Padre Stefano Aspettati

5. Letter signed by the Israeli Ambassador