September 12, 2000

Two Italian productions about the ”Turkish Pope” who saved Jewish lives


Two television productions are under way on the life of John XXIII who lived in Istanbul as Cardinal Nuncio Roncalli. British actor Bob Hoskins, 59, will play the ”Good Pope” in a TV film directed by Ricky Tognazzi and written by several authors, including Marco Roncalli, one of the Pontiff´s relatives. Filming will begin in November. The producer is Mediaset, whose principal shareholder is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi´s family. The Italian public network RAI, Berlusconi´s immediate competitor, will also produce a TV film on John XXIII. In this film, directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard, the Pope will be played by American actor Ed Asner, 72. Filming will begin by year-end.

On September 7, 2000, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) launched an international campaign aimed to acknowledge the humanitarian measures undertaken by Nuncio Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII and was the Vatican Representative between 1935-1945 in Istanbul. During those years, many did not understand his work. However, in 1936 he wrote in his ”Diary of a Soul”: ”A few years from now, they will surely thank me for it.” Although a diplomat, Roncalli was above all a pastor and man of peace. Turkey has not forgotten him, and now even thanks their ”friend the Pope.” Istemihan Talay, Minister of Culture from Ankara, was in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, leading the Turkish delegation, which was later received by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, and by Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.”Roncalli lived in Istanbul for 10 years as a guest worthy of esteem, respected and admired, yet, unable to establish direct relations with the government of the country,” his faithful secretary, Monsignor Loris Capovilla, wrote in the prologue to the biography, ”Jean XXIII, Friend of the Turks,” written by Rinaldo Mammara, and published for the occasion by the Turkish Ministry of Culture.

Since that time, Roncalli maintained an extraordinary relation with Numan Rifat Menemencioglu, Turkish ambassador, who later shared his life in Paris and eventually visited him in Venice. ”A year or so later, Menemencioglu congratulated Roncalli on his election to the Papacy, and anticipated the development of new and closer relations between the Turkish nation and the Vatican,” Capovilla wrote. The Door to the East was indeed closer: on April 11, 1960, Nureddin Vergin, the first Turkish ambassador to the Vatican, presented his credentials to John XXIII. Roncalli’s activities was also portrayed in the documentary, Desperate Hours by Victoria Barrett , that premiered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2001, chronicling one of the least known of the Jewish people’s Turkish connections – the often heroic attempts made by Turks to save Jews during the Holocaust in Turkey and in Nazi occupied Europe. Last year, Olcek Sokak, the street in Sisli, Istanbul where the Vatican Istanbul Embassy is located, was renamed ”Pope Roncalli Street”. These are the events related to Nuncio Roncalli’s interventions which was the basis for his later canonization.

  • Jewish refugees who arrived in Istanbul and were assisted in going onto Palestine or other destinations by Nuncio Roncalli.
  • Slovakian children who managed to leave the country as a result of Nuncio Roncalli’s interventions.
  • Jewish refugees whose names were included on a list submitted by Rabbi Markus of Istanbul to Nuncio Roncalli.
  • Jews held at Jenovats concentration camp, near Staragradiskas, liberated thanks to Nuncio Roncalli’s intervention.
  • Bulgarian Jews who left Bulgaria thanks to Nuncio Roncalli’s request to King Boris of Bulgaria.
  • Romanian Jews from Transnistria who left Romania as a result of Nuncio Roncalli’s intervention.
  • Italian Jews helped by the Vatican as a result of Nuncio Roncalli’s interventions.
  • Orphaned children of Transnistria on board a refugee ship that weighed anchor from Constanza to Istanbul, and later arriving in Palestine as a result of Nuncio Roncalli’s interventions.
  • Jews held at the Sered concentration camp who were spared from being deported to Polish death camps as a result of Nuncio Roncalli’s intervention.
  • Hungarian Jews who managed to save themselves thanks to the conversions into Christianity through the Baptismal Certificates sent by Nuncio Roncalli to Hungarian Nuncio, Monsignor Angelo Rota.

Copyright ©2001 Turkish Cinema Newsletter, Washington D.C.