Gino Bartali, Italian cycling legend, saved Jews during WWII [VIDEO]
World renowned cyclist Gino Bartali, the subject of new book “Road To Valor,” saved Jews during World War II, according to ” title=”HuffingtonPost.com” target=”_blank”>HuffingtonPost.com.
Italian leaders decry list of ‘influential’ Italian Jews
Italian leaders expressed anger and solidarity with the Jewish community after a neo-Nazi Internet forum published a list of “influential” Italian Jews on its website.
The Italian media Wednesday called the list on the American white supremacist website Stormfront “a blacklist of hate.” The list included journalists, businesspeople, politicians, artists and others.
Politicians denounced the Stormfront posting and called for action against online hatred.
The list “reminds us of the most shameful page in our history when, based on similar lists, thousands of Italians were expelled from schools, universities and workplaces and were deprived of citizenship and persecuted,” Nicola Zingaretti, president of the Province of Rome, said in a statement.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno expressed “shame and anger,” and called those who posted the list “ignorant and racist cowards.”
Italian lawmaker Enrico Gasbarra called for urgent action by the European Union to implement legislation that would “put an end, once and for all, to the possibility of using the Net as a tool of violence and persecution.”
According to figures cited by the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center, Italy’s leading research center on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, there are 1,200 Italian websites with some form of anti-Semitic content.
“It is very difficult to intervene when the sites have their servers in other countries,” as Stormfront does, the center’s Michele Sarfatti said.
‘Tree of Life’ explores history of Italian Jews
After surviving the German occupation of Italy during World War II by hiding with his parents and brother and sister in the home of non-Jews, Vittorio Volterra immigrated to Israel in 1952, at the age of 20, and never looked back. He met his wife in Israel, and his daughter, Hava, was born there. After what his daughter calls a “near-death experience” with tuberculosis, Volterra enrolled at the Hebrew University to study physics and went on to become one of the great physicists of his time.
Then, in 1998, while still in his prime, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Thirty days later he died in Israel.
Hava Volterra, an engineer by profession, left Israel to live in the United States when she was 21. She had loved her father deeply, but when he died prematurely she realized that she had scarcely known him and was left with scores of unanswered questions. Vittorio was, she says, totally, utterly Italian in his mannerisms, language, culture and heritage. But why had he never talked to her about his family’s roots? Why had he never talked about his feelings for Italy? Who were his ancestors, and what had it meant to him to be an Italian Jew? And what might it come to mean to his daughter?
To answer these questions, Hava set out to research her father’s family tree and make a documentary. The result is “The Tree of Life,” a remarkable 76-minute film of great beauty and substance.
Hava’s several voyages of discovery to Italy and Israel unearthed an almost unbelievable amount of information. With the help of a professional genealogist, as well as her father’s brother, she was able to trace her paternal grandfather’s family back to the first years of the 15th century, to a moneylender granted the right to live among Christians because his professional services were needed. That man’s descendants included moneylenders, merchants and bankers, most of them highly successful. One of them was close to Lorenzo de Medici in Florence, Italy.
Vittorio’s mother’s family was equally entwined in Italian culture and society. Here, his daughter goes back to the 13th century, to Jews in the ghetto of Venice who were rabbis, mystics and scholars. One of these was the brilliant kabbalah scholar known as the Ramhal, exiled from Venice by the Jews themselves, who feared that his mystical claims would provoke Christians and divide the Jewish community. The Ramhal and his wife and children died of the plague in Israel in 1747.
Hava’s search also brings her to the age of emancipation in mid-19th-century Italy. On her paternal grandmother’s side, she discovers Luigi Luzzatti, a Venetian economist who did much to address grievous social issues and in 1910 became the first Jewish prime minister in the Western world.
On her paternal grandfather’s side she meets Vito Volterra, a brilliant physicist and mathematician who lost everything in 1931 when he was one of only 12 university professors to refuse to swear an oath of loyalty to Mussolini.
And so Hava reaches the black years of Italian-Jewish history, when Mussolini’s racial laws and Hitler’s occupation of Italy after Sept. 8, 1943, disillusioned and finally decimated the fervently patriotic community of some 50,000 Jews.
For the years prior to the age of film, she tells the story of her ancestors with clever, charming animations and an appealing Jewish and Italian musical score. To convey the aura of the increasingly bleak 1930s, she uses family photographs and superb archival footage. We see Mussolini at his most pompous and the Italian people in their most fanatic adherence. We also see films of the devastation of both World War I and World War II.
To better re-create and understand her father, Hava interviews those who knew him best: his wife, his sister, a cousin, teachers, students, colleagues and friends. She also speaks with noted specialists of Italian-Jewish history, physics and kabbalah.
Finally, she and her aunt visit the Catholic family who saved his life in a mountain village 70 miles outside Ancona during the German occupation. The result is not only a portrait of a man, but also a personal glimpse of the history of Italian Jewry and its complex, delicate, often fraught but equally often intimate relationship with Italian culture.
Hava never directly answers the question of why her father did not talk about Italy to her. But the answer is there for us to see. It involves love of country, passion, devotion, commitment and, ultimately, profound disillusionment and betrayal. It involves painful emotions perhaps better conveyed visually than through the written word.
“The Tree of Life” will open at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Los Angeles on Oct. 24. This article was reprinted with permission from The Forward.
Susan Zuccotti is the author of the books “The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival” (University of Nebraska Press, 1996) and “Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy” (Yale University Press, 2000).
Iconic Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, 77
The crusading Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci spent the last years of her life issuing fiery warnings against a Muslim world that she saw poised to overrun the West.
Critics accused Fallaci of sowing racial and religious hatred, but she became a heroine to many Jews and Israelis for her vocal defense of Israel and denunciations of new forms of anti-Semitism.
“She was the most loved and most hated woman in Italy,” said Clemente Mimun, the Jewish director of Italian television’s main news program.
Fallaci, who divided her later years between New York and her native Florence, died last Friday in Florence after a long battle with cancer. She was 77.A glamorous woman always seen with long hair and thick eye-liner and a cigarette poised in her fingers, Fallaci was a war correspondent in Vietnam and fought as a child in the anti-fascist resistance during World War II.
She never married but had a passionate affair with the Greek left-wing activist Alekos Panagulis in the mid-1970s. After his death in an automobile accident, she wrote a book based on his life, “A Man,” that sold 3.5 million copies.Fallaci became a celebrity icon in the 1960s and 1970s with incisive, baring interviews of global VIPs including Henry Kissinger, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She also wrote a series of novels and other books.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, marked a watershed.
Fallaci’s “The Rage and the Pride,” a vehement defense of the United States published soon after the attacks, became a best seller and provoked a storm of controversy with its strong language and uncompromising positions.
She followed with further books and articles that lambasted the West for weakness in the face of Islam and minced no words in her criticism of Muslims in general.
Islam, she wrote in her last book, “The Force of Reason,” “sows hatred in place of love and slavery in place of freedom.”
One of her most famous essays was a blistering attack on anti-Semitism published in April 2002 that read like a manifesto.
Repeating over and over the assertion “I find it shameful,” Fallaci unleashed a brutal indictment of Italy, Italians, the Catholic church, the left wing, the media, politically correct pacifists and Europeans in general for abandoning Israel and fomenting a new wave of anti-Semitism linked to the Mideast crisis.In the essay, Fallaci, who long had held pro-Palestinian views, declared herself “disgusted with the anti-Semitism of many Italians, of many Europeans” and “ashamed of this shame that dishonors my country and Europe.”
“I find it shameful,” she wrote,” and I see in all this the resurgence of a new fascism, a new Nazism.”
She recalled that in the past “I fought often, and bitterly, with the Israelis, and I defended the Palestinians a lot — maybe more than they deserved.
“Nonetheless, I stand with Israel, I stand with the Jews,” she wrote. “I defend their right to exist, to defend themselves, and not to allow themselves to be exterminated a second time.”
Festival Flick Honors Righteous Italian
Until Nazi Germany occupied its wavering ally Hungary in March 1944, the Jews of Budapest had survived in relative safety, though severely restricted and harassed.
But with the invasion, the arrival of Adolf Eichmann and the enthusiastic cooperation of the native Arrow-Cross fascists, the deportations and bloody killings of the city’s Jews reached a climax in the fall and winter of 1944.
Yet an estimated 33,000 Jews were saved, mainly through the courage of a few diplomats (the International Red Cross, for once, also helped) who set up “protected homes” under their nations’ flags.
The most famous of the rescuers, Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, has been honored as embodying the Righteous Gentile. Some have also heard of the noble work of Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz.
Almost unknown is , an Italian, credited with sheltering and sustaining some 5,200 Jews from November 1944 until the liberation by Soviet troops in January 1945.
His story is now told in the film “Perlasca, The History of a True Man,” which will screen Sunday, March 20, at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, as part of the weeklong Hungarian Film Festival.
In the movie, Perlasca (Luca Zingaretti) is a balding, nondescript 34-year-old man, enjoying the wine and women of Budapest as representative of an Italian cattle import company.
But on Nov. 30, 1944, he comes across a raid on a house sheltering Jews and is horrified by the brutality of the SS and Hungarian police and the mistreatment of the Jews.
Similar to Oskar Schindler and his Nazi background, Perlasca is a proud veteran of Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia and of the Italian legion that aided the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
After befriending some of the expelled Jews, Perlasca decides he must help and, waving a letter of appreciation from Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, manages to become an assistant to the sympathetic Spanish ambassador in Budapest.
Like Schindler, Perlasca is a man of strong nerves, great resourcefulness and infinite chutzpah.
As Budapest, “ruled by Satan,” descends into chaos, he bullies Hungarian officials into believing that all Jews are Sephardim, and therefore Spanish citizens, and produces fictitious orders from Franco, threatening execution of nonexistent Hungarian prisoners of war in Spain, if “his” Jews are harmed.
Even after the Spanish embassy flees the capital at the approach of the Red Army, Perlasca stays behind as the self-appointed “consul” of Spain.
Perlasca died in obscurity in Italy in 1992, but in recent years he has been recognized for his humanitarian heroism by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the governments of Italy, Spain and Hungary.
Directed by Alberto Negrin and based on Perlasca’s diaries and the book “The Banality of Goodness,” the film has Italian dialogue with English subtitles.
“Rosehill,” another movie at the film festival, has only tenuous ties to the Jewish experience, but explores a chapter in Hungary’s stormy history not well-known to Americans.
The year is 1956, and Gabor (Peter Andorai), a high-ranking minister in the Communist regime, lives a luxurious life in a large villa and garden, named Rosehill, with his much-younger wife, and their young children, Panka and Miksa.
Veteran communist Gabor has long-since rejected his bourgeois Jewish family roots and the kids grow up curious and carefree, mainly under the eyes of an old, devoutly Catholic female servant.
As summer arrives, two happenings change the fortunes of the family. A mysterious letter arrives from Israel, which Miksa hides from his father, and Hungarians rise against their government, followed by a brutal crackdown by Russian tanks.
Gabor is already under some suspicion but is offered a post in the new hard-line Soviet puppet regime. He refuses and then starts to reexamine his past life.
His introspection is closely connected to the letter from Israel, which brings news of the former woman comrade he loved, and then left in the lurch.
“Rosehill” is directed by Mari Cantu and is in Hungarian with English subtitles.
The plots of both films present some difficulties for monolinguistic American viewers, but provide interesting human and historical insights.
The Hungarian Film Festival runs March 18-24 at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Featured are 19 movies, including a retrospective of the pictures of Karoly Makk. “Rosehill” screens Sunday, March 20, at 2:45 p.m., followed by “Perlasca” at 5 p.m. For tickets, call (310) 274-6869 or visit www.laemmle.com. For festival information, call (818) 848-7395.