ITALICS Posthumous honor given to Florence chief rabbi for saving Italian Jews in WWII
A posthumous award was granted Tuesday in Jerusalem to the former chief rabbi of Florence who was a leader of the Italian city’s Jewish-Christian underground rescue network during the Holocaust.
The Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews during the Holocaust and the Bnai Brith World Center granted the award to Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, as well as honoring Matilda Cassin, a member of the underground.
The citations were presented to Asher Varadi, Cassin’s son, and David Cassuto, son of Rabbi Cassuto.
The Jewish-Christian rescue network in Florence was led by Cassuto and Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, the Archbishop of Florence, who was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2012.
After Rabbi Cassuto was arrested by the Nazis, deported and sent to his death, the network continued functioning.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, addressed the ceremony on Tuesday, and said that there still had not been a full reckoning of the Church’s actions as well as inaction during the Holocaust.
“The Church has not yet completed its reading of what happened during the Holocaust. Even if it is discussed less today, that period remains like a stone in the relationship between us. While some Christians – among them Catholics, including clergy – cooperated with Jews to rescue Jews from deportation, we must recognize the silence of many other Catholics,” Pizzaballa said.
“Though the Church was not directly responsible for the Holocaust, we must recognize that the ‘teaching of contempt’ that emanated over hundreds of years also from the Church and influenced the mentality of the European populations, contributed, unfortunately, to what happened,” the archbishop said.
In 2013, champion cyclist Gino Bartali was recognized when a ceremony was held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem to honor his help in rescuing Jews as part of Florence’s Jewish-Christian rescue network. Bartali was inducted into the prestigious garden of the Righteous Among the Nations for his work during the German occupation of Italy.
The 1938 Tour de France winner aided the Jewish-Christian rescue network in his hometown of Florence and the surrounding area by shuttling forged documents and papers hidden in the tubes and seat of his bike. He also hid a family.
Eighty percent of the Jews in Italy survived the war, according to the Italy and the Holocaust Foundation.
However, more than 7,000 Jews were deported under Benito Mussolini’s regime, and nearly 6,000 of them were killed.
*AP contributed to this report. The article was published in the Times of Israel on November 27, 2019.