Category Archive: American Gathering News

Croatia removes plaque with WWII pro-Nazi regime’s slogan near death camp

‘For the homeland — Ready! salute, used by puppet regime during war, has resurfaced among nationalists and right-wingers

ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatian authorities on Thursday removed a plaque bearing a salute used by the country’s pro-Nazi regime during World War II that was placed last year near the site of a notorious wartime concentration camp.

Workers took down the plaque in the town of Jasenovac that honored fallen Croatian fighters from the country’s 1990s war and moved it to a memorial site in the town of Novska.

The “For the homeland — Ready!” salute was used by the pro-Nazi puppet regime that was established in Croatia during World War II. Tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and Croat anti-fascists were killed in Jasenovac and other camps. The salute has since resurfaced among nationalists and right-wingers.

Croatia’s right-leaning government has faced criticism for not responding sooner to the plaque. Jewish and Serb groups have boycotted official Holocaust commemoration ceremonies in protest of the plaque and junior partners have threatened to walk out of the ruling coalition.

Critics argue that the government’s reluctance to act has only encouraged the surging right in the European Union’s newest member state.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said Thursday the salute was unacceptable to him because of its link to the WWII Ustasha regime. But Plenkovic added the government wanted to resolve the divisive problem through dialogue and with respect those who died in the 1990s war.

That war erupted after Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia and minority Serbs launched a rebellion. Around 10,000 people died in the 1991-1995 conflict.

Ivan Friscic of the Croatian fighters union said the group agreed to move the plaque from Jasenovac.

“It will be placed elsewhere as it is,” he said. “With all the symbols and signs, and no one must touch it.”

Local media said ex-fighters used the “For the homeland — Ready” salute at Thursday’s press conference.


Three Italian brothers seek to reconnect with their life during the Holocaust

BTA — Renting a house in the Italian countryside and eating loads of pasta is about as blissful a vacation as they come.

For the three Anati brothers, however, such a trip is a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Yet the brothers — Bubi, 77; Andrea, 85; and Emmanuel, 88 — did just that in 2013, precisely with the aim of reconnecting with their past.

The Anatis were raised in an upper-class family in Florence. In 1942, just before the deportations of Florentine Jews to Auschwitz began, the family escaped the city. They fled from village to village and eventually settled in a forest near Villa a Sesta, a town some 50 miles from Florence. With the help of locals, their father dug a cave — and the family lived underground, literally, for several months during the winter of 1944 until the end of the war.

The family then moved to Israel, where the brothers have lived ever since.

“Shalom Italia,” an hourlong documentary directed by Tamar Tal Anati (Bubi’s daughter-in-law) airing Monday night on the PBS series “Point of View,” follows the brothers’ return to Italy in an attempt to find the cave and seek some closure about those dark years. The affable trio treks through the forest, meets with members of a family that helped them survive and, since this is Italy, eats plenty of pasta along the way.

The true joy of this sweet film, however, is the authentic camaraderie of the brothers and their cultivated passion for Italian culture. Bubi, who worked for years at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, is the youngest and most earnest. He’s the guiding force behind the trip because locating the cave was something he had wanted to do for years.

Andrea, an oceanic physics researcher, is a whimsical goof — he frequently whistles, hums and introduces himself to strangers — in great physical shape for an octogenarian.

Emmanuel — his brothers affectionately call him “Meme” (pronounced “may-may”), and sometimes “Meme mio,” or “my Meme” — is an internationally renowned archaeologist. He is the most serious of the three and has no desire to relive his Holocaust memories, having long pushed them out of his mind. But Meme agrees to the trip to satisfy Bubi.

On screen, the brothers’ personalities don’t exactly clash — they do, however, lightly bump up against one another. They bicker over which room to eat dinner in, when to leave the rented house in the morning and which path to take to find the cave in the forest. But the banter is more endearing than whiny. One particularly humorous debate occurs over whether the brothers brought toy bows and arrows with them when they fled Florence — Andrea insists they did, Meme calls him ridiculous.

In spite of its charm, “Shalom Italia” does not glaze over the serious history underpinning the story. The film’s lighthearted tone goes hand in hand with the brothers’ ghosts from the war. They have interesting conversations about the nature of memory over mouthwatering meals, which include salami, mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto and pasta with pesto.

In one memorable scene, Andrea says he remembers their years on the run fondly — for him it was an adventurous time that brought together the entire family.

“We lived in the woods, played Robin Hood and collected mushrooms,” he says. “I had fun during the Holocaust.”

Meme ruffles at the remark, saying that while Andrea enjoyed his youth, he was forced to grow up quickly.

At another point, Bubi says he cannot eat or even get close to sardines. He realizes that he feels this way because the family ate sardines during the war.

Ultimately the film is a testament to how memories are filtered through our attitudes and experiences, even the desires of those around us.

“It was very interesting to see that when you confront someone else, your memory starts to change,” Tamar Tal Anati told JTA from her home in Tel Aviv. “[And] to see how memory reconstructs itself.”

Tal Anati had been married to Bubi’s son for years, but was not aware that her father-in-law and his brothers were Holocaust survivors. When Bubi told her about the planned trip to the Italian countryside — and she learned of the cave and the reason for the journey — she felt compelled to film it.

“I was fascinated by the fact that each one of them has a completely different memory of the same event,” she said. “And I was curious to see how they would deal with the physical and mental challenge of this journey.”

Tal Anati noted that for decades, the brothers did not even think of themselves as true Shoah survivors. But since the filming of “Shalom Italia,” which helped them reckon with the memories of that long-ago winter, they do now.

“Our character and the way we see life is the result of the memories we hold,” she said. “And once these memories change, we change.”

(“Shalom Italia” airs at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Monday, July 24, on PBS. It will also stream online at from July 24 through Aug. 26.)

In meeting with Netanyahu, Hungary’s PM acknowledges ‘sin’ of WWll

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday acknowledged Hungary’s “sin” in not protecting the country’s Jews during World War II, seeking to quell a controversy over his recent praise for Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy.

Standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Hungarian leader also promised a “zero tolerance policy” toward anti-Semitism.

“We are aware of the fact that we have quite a difficult chapter of history behind us. And I wanted to make it very clear to him that the Government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin, when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary,” Orban said. “I want to make it clear that it is our belief that every single Hungarian government has the obligation to protect and defend all of its citizens, regardless of their birth and origins.”

Hungary’s Nazi-allied regime instituted anti-Semitic laws modeled on Germany’s Nuremberg laws beginning in 1938. After German tanks rolled into Budapest in 1944, Nazi-installed Hungarian leaders ordered the mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the war, through deportation to death camps or in massacres on Hungarian soil.

Orban said Hungary failed to live up to its commitment to its citizens during World War II, “both morally or in other ways. And this is a sin, because we decided back then, instead of protecting the Jewish community, to collaborate with the Nazis. I made it very clear to the prime minister that this is something that can never, ever happen again, that the Hungarian government will in the future protect all its citizens.”

Hungarian officials later pointed out this was the first time Orban referred to Horthy’s actions as a “sin.”

MK Yair Lapid, who had urged Netanyahu’s to cancel his planned trip unless Orban’s apologizes, welcomed the Hungarian’s leader’s statement, but reiterated his outrage over Orban’s previous praise for Horthy.

“We must be clear: Hungary had a significant role in the Nazi extermination machine and was actively involved in the murder of Jews, in the murder of my family. That only heightens the severity of praising Miklos Horthy,” Lapid said. “The State of Israel is a strong and sovereign country and we must fight the increasing expressions of anti-Semitism in Europe which come from both the left and the right. When a prime minister in Europe says that an anti-Semite was ‘an exceptional statesman,’ we cannot be silent. That it is our moral responsibility to the millions who were murdered in the Holocaust.”

During the joint appearance with Netanyahu, Orban pointed out that a “sizable” Jewish minority lives in Hungary today. “I made it very clear to the prime minister that their security, being Hungarian citizens that they are, will be fully guaranteed by the Hungarian state, I’ve also made it very clear to the Prime Minister that the Hungarian government has a zero tolerance policy against all forms of anti-Semitism.”

There is a renaissance of Jewish life here in Hungary, Orban added. “And this is something that we are proud of. We think that the renaissance of Jewish life is a substantial contribution to the common achievements of the Hungarian nation quite clearly.”

Orban praised Netanyahu as a “dedicated patriot,” adding that this is the key to his country’s success.

“There’s a lot for us to learn from Israel, ladies and gentlemen, because Israel teaches the world and us also that if you don’t fight for something, you will lose it,” he said. “Because nowadays, you have to fight for everything in the modern world.”

Netanyahu said he raised with Orban “concerns” about his recent praise for Horthy and an anti-immigration billboard campaign, focused on Jewish billionaire George Soros, many Jews felt was anti-Semitic.

“He reassured me in unequivocal terms, just as he did now, publicly. I appreciate that. These are important words,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister also thanked his host for standing up for Israel in international forums. “You’ve done that time and again. We appreciate this stance, not only because it’s standing with Israel, but it’s also standing with the truth.”

Budapest is at “the forefront of the states that are opposed to this anti-Jewish policy, and I welcome it,” the Netanyahu added.

Speaking in English after Orban, Netanyahu hailed Hungary as the birthplace of modern Zionism.

“When I come to Hungary, the first thing I think about, before anything else, is that Hungary was the, in many ways, the birth of modern Zionism, the movement that led to the establishment of the modern Jewish state because in Hungary was born our modern Moses, Theodor Herzl,” he said.

“It is probably inconceivable to think of the Jewish state, the State of Israel today, if it weren’t for that man born here in 1860, who envisioned the rebirth of the Jewish state and who saw in his mind’s-eye also the great challenges that would be posed anti-Semitism. He thought that this ultimately was the best solution for the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, adding that he planned to visit the site where Herzl’s house once stood.

Before their statements, Netanyahu and Orban witnessed the signing of a bilateral culture agreement and declarations of intent regarding cooperation in innovation and technology. The culture agreement will enable reciprocal financing of cultural appearances, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Dozens of Israeli shows take place annually in Hungary via the existing culture agreement and dozens more will be added, thanks to the new one, thus allowing additional artists and directors – inter alia – to go to Hungary and expose Hungarian audiences to Israeli culture,” the PMO said.

The innovation and technology agreement is intended to increase cooperation between the Israel Innovation Authority and its Hungarian counterparts to promote Israeli-Hungarian startups. “The goal of the agreement is to promote cooperation between the governments including in the private sector with emphasis on high-tech, autonomous vehicles and new technologies,” according to the PMO.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were welcomed by Orban and his wife Aniko Levai at the steps of the Parliament in Hungary, where they reviewed a military honor guard. The Netanyahus toured the parliament, which houses the Holy Crown of Hungary, which has been used by kings since the twelfth century.

On Monday afternoon, Netanyahu was met Hungarian President Janos Ader in the presidential palace. He concluded the day with a dinner with Orban at the prime minister’s residence.

On Tuesday, he will meet the leaders of the Visegrad Group, a political alliance of four Central European countries: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. He will also hold individual working meetings with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Later in the day, Netanyahu and Orban will attend an economic forum attended by dozens of Israeli companies and more than 100 Hungarian companies from the cyber, high-tech, agriculture, pharmaceutical and technology sectors.

On Wednesday, the two prime ministers will visit the Dohany Street Synagogue and meet with Jewish community leaders. Relations between the local Jewish community and Israel have been tense over recent controversies surrounding Netanyahu’s apparent refusal to confront Orban over moves perceived as promoting anti-Semitism in the country.


The small German city of Themar became home this weekend to a large neo-Nazi rock concert called “Rock Against Foreign Domination.”

Several thousand fans showed up to the eastern city, the population of which swelled from 3,000 to nearly 6,000. The concert is Germany’s largest neo-Nazi affiliated event, although the number of similar types of events appears to be growing. German media reported last year that in the first half of 2016, Germany had already been host to nearly 100 far-right wing cultural events like this weekend’s concert. During the same time period the year before, only 63 similar events had taken place.

Concert attendees donned t-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “I Love Hitler” and “Hakenkreuz,” the German term for swastika. While it is legal to write the word for the infamous symbol, it is illegal to show, wear, or otherwise publicly present Nazi symbols.

A Different Kind of Holocaust Museum

Other visitors might have been surprised to see me, a Reform-turned-secular alumna of a pluralistic Jewish day school in Texas, showing up in Brooklyn—wearing a modest black shell top and ankle-length skirt, fresh out of the packaging—at a Holocaust museum created by Orthodox Jews in an Orthodox community. But I was the one who was surprised when I left the museum having found it more resonant for me than any number of other Holocaust museums I’d visited.

I was 11 years old when I began learning about the Holocaust in school. It seemed like we studied the Holocaust in a different class every year, approaching the terrifying events from a new angle each time.

Not only was the Holocaust a part of my intellectual life through school, it was a part of my ritual life through synagogue. In some Reform communities, there is an organization that pairs bar mitzvah boys and bat mitzvah girls with individual children who were killed during the Holocaust, to shine a light on the child’s memory by personalizing ritual objects or leaving a chair empty during the ceremony. I participated in this program because everyone in my synagogue participated. When I think back to my bat mitzvah, I still remember Fani Volf, a young girl from Berlin who was killed in Auschwitz when she was 12.

In a 2013 Pew Report, 73 percent of American Jews said that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish. But this notion of a sort of “Holocaust Judaism” leaves out an important group of Jews: ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities like the ones based in Brooklyn, for whom the Holocaust is but one part of a much larger history of persecution including the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms.

The Orthodox community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, is in the midst of establishing its own Holocaust museum, the Amud Aish Memorial Museum and Kleinman Holocaust Education Center, opening within the next year. Located in the heart of one of the largest Orthodox communities outside of Israel, this new museum will offer a different narrative from the standard ones put forth by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in which the Holocaust is a unique and defining event of the 20th century.

When I came across an article about Jews who wouldn’t step foot in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum—a place that had always seemed, in my mind, sacred to Jews in America—I had to know more. It’s not that these Orthodox Jews won’t go to the museum because they refuse to interact with members outside of their community. Instead, it has to do with the ways that the museum in D.C. is out of sync with their ideology and their interpretation of Jewish law. For them, in other words, the D.C. museum is not kosher, and therefore not an appropriate place for them to visit.


When I visited the Amud Aish Memorial Museum’s temporary space in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, earlier this year—the actual museum is set to open in the next year—I had the opportunity to shadow a school group. And from the very beginning of the tour, when Director of Education Julie Golding introduced the students to the exhibit, I was puzzled because it was the opposite of the Holocaust learning I had been so immersed in for many years. They’re not looking to scare or to disturb visitors, as Golding explained to me. She has been asked more than once, “When are we going to see the dead bodies?” She proudly answers that they won’t be seeing any of that there.

In her lighthearted introduction, which contained fleeting words in Yiddish, she explained to the students: “This is a museum about life.” In this moment, I realized that these Orthodox students had ahead of them an entirely different Holocaust education from the one I had received. How could teaching about the Holocaust—and, by extension for this Reform-educated writer, Judaism—revolve around anything other than death?

As the tour guide brought the students through the exhibit, we stopped along the way at ritual Jewish items like a challah cover. The woman who made it died in Bergen-Belsen but as our guide explained, “She could have used this fabric to make a blanket, but look—she made a challah cover and kept mitzvot.” Students were being asked to understand the Holocaust through sacrifices made and religious obligations kept.

The most popular artifact among the students and teachers on the tour was a Nazi receipt book that had been used as a lesson-plan book written entirely in Yiddish. The guide dwelled on this book as representative of Jewish religious resistance during the war. The Amud Aish museum focuses on religious and spiritual resistance, while the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum focuses on military resistance by Jews against Nazi soldiers. For instance, in the D.C. museum, there are multiple displays of guns used in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. But when a young boy asked Golding before his Amud Aish tour, “Will we see guns?” she replied, “No, you won’t see guns or anything scary because this is a museum about life, not death.” Amud Aish is a Jewish museum focused on the lives of Jews during the Holocaust—not the weapons used to kill them.

After the tour, I interviewed Miryam Gordon, the program coordinator for school visits. She told me that the tours are designed to emphasize resilience and religion. The Orthodox community’s kids grow up “just knowing” about the Holocaust, she explained, meaning that they grow up hearing stories of what happened from the elders in their community, many of whom are Holocaust survivors. As a result, the museum does not need or want to focus on Hitler and the perpetrators because the students already know about them. They don’t want to see a million pictures of murdered Jews—they want the stories of people who continued living in spite of this. Traditional Orthodox Jewish communities have a perspective on Jewish history outside of the mainstream secular Jewish world. As Rabbi Sholom Freidmann, the museum director, explained to me, “We’re not so concerned with what persecution occurred and what the perpetrators were doing as much as how was the Jewish community responding in that point in history.”

Formal Holocaust education is a relatively new phenomenon in Orthodox communities. After the war, according to Rabbi Sholom Friedmann, the museum’s director, the focus was on rebuilding, not rehashing the tragic history that had taken place. During our conversation, Freidmann stressed the fact that the Orthodox community did not need the Holocaust to identify as Jewish. “The Holocaust played a big role in nonaffiliated communities as far as their actually identifying as a community,” he said, “But the Orthodox community never needed that.”

The question that tour guides leave all their tour groups with is: “What are you going to do for klal yisrael—for the community, the people of Israel?” This is in direct contrast to the way the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum visit ends. The featured take-away slogans in D.C. are: “Think about what you saw,” or “What you do matters,” or “Never again.”

These museums aren’t just presenting different versions of the Holocaust or emphasizing different aspects of it. They are ultimately teaching different lessons. The dominant lesson of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is fear. Fear that something like this will happen again. Fear for the security of ethnic and religious groups. A disturbing call to action. And the other lesson, at the Amud Aish Memorial Museum, is one of continuity and survival and religious rebirth.

To some, the Holocaust is the defining event of modern Jewish history; there are people like the Jewish-studies teacher at my former day school who said the purpose of taking students to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is “Jewish identity-building.” But then there are people for whom the Holocaust is just one instance of persecution in a long history of similar events—like Gordon, program coordinator at Amud Aish, who said to me: “The Holocaust is not my Judaism.”

To me, the value in considering these questions and approaches and these museums is that we’re engaging with what I would argue is the defining Jewish issue of our time. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is the 11th-most-visited museum in the country, with over 41 million visitors—90 percent of whom are not Jewish—since it opened in 1993.

So many Americans are interacting with all things Jewish through the lens of the Holocaust. And so too are many American Jews interacting with all things Jewish through the lens of the Holocaust. By the time I got to college, I knew far more about the intricacies of the annihilation of European Jewry than I knew about the Tanakh. I could distinguish the Einsatzgruppen from the Gestapo, yet distinguishing Ruth from Naomi was beyond my scope.

For many years, I had been asked to align my Jewish identity with the death of other Jews. From remembering Fani Volf at my bat mitzvah, to school trips that revolved around visiting Holocaust museums and sites—from L.A. to D.C. to Poland—as opposed to thriving areas of Jewish life and culture. Amud Aish showed me how different an education can be—and it’s sticking with me.

Amud Aish will be the first Holocaust museum to open in Brooklyn, which is the area of the country with the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll put a dent in the 73 percent of American Jews who say the Holocaust is the most essential part of being Jewish.

Did the Great Italian Cyclist Gino Bartali Actually Save Jews During the Holocaust? An Investigation.

An exhibition at the Italian American Museum in New York recently celebrated Gino Bartali, whose fame as a cycling champion has been amplified in recent years by his alleged participation in the rescue of Jews during World War II. Films and a theater play accompanied Yad Vashem’s recognition of Bartali as a righteous gentile in 2013.

Bartali never claimed to have been a rescuer, nor did any of the organizers of the Italian rescue networks mention him. Historians have kept silent on the matter: None of the scholars in the field have so far endorsed it.

In the absence of reliable research, curators and institutions who present portrayals of Bartali as a rescuer of Jews to their audience, have little to rely on except for the enthusiasm of the press and the endorsement of colleagues.

Regardless of what research may uncover in the future, how does Bartali’s story fit in with what we know of the rescue of Jews? A recent article by Michele Sarfatti, one of the most respected authorities on the history of the Shoah in Italy, offers an overview of existing historical evidence and testimonies. His dispassionate analysis may provide tools to ask relevant questions and ponder on humanity and myths.


After Sept. 8, 1943, all Jews in Italy under the Italian Social Republic and German occupation were at risk of arrest and deportation. Their survival depended on, among many factors, their ability to go into hiding with fake names and falsified identity cards.

Because of frequent police checks, all Italians needed identity cards to move within cities as well as to reside in pensions and boarding houses. They also needed identity documents to obtain ration cards to purchase food.

Italian Jews needed false identity cards for these same reasons. This was especially the case in Florence, the only city in Italy where Jews who went to register for ration cards exhibiting their “true” identities were arrested.

Gino Bartali bicycle promotional postcard, 1950-55. (Image courtesy Michael Haddad, Guest Curator, Italian American Museum)
Foreign Jewish refugees—particularly numerous in Florence—needed false identity cards primarily to reside in pensions or boarding houses, because, given their limited knowledge of Italian, they generally avoided roaming the streets.

Typically, false identity cards bore addresses from areas of southern Italy that had already been freed by the Allies, thus rendering verification impossible. However, this was also a source of danger, since the carriers of false documents might have cards from Puglia or Sicily but speak with strong Venetian or Florentine accents. Or, in the course of police checks, they might meet people who purposely engaged in conversations that required knowledge of details about those municipalities.

The fabrication of false identity cards occurred in several phases that could be carried out at the same time or in separate places. First, original blank forms were either stolen by anti-fascist city clerks or printed clandestinely. Next, personal data had to be filled in on each card. Finally, photographs and falsified municipal stamps, with the city name and seal, had to be affixed on cards. After this final stage, the cards needed to be distributed.

It should be noted that in Italy under the Italian Social Republic and German occupation, the first individuals to seek false identity cards were anti-Fascists who had been particularly exposed during the “45 days” between the deposition of Mussolini and the armistice.

In 1978, Alexander Ramati, a Polish-American journalist who had been a reporter during World War II, published a volume in English on the Nazi occupation of Assisi and the hiding of Jews, which was translated into Italian in 1981. The book’s U.S. edition was titled The Assisi Underground: The Priests Who Rescued Jews: as Told By Padre Rufino Niccacci. Ramati’s examination of the Nazi occupation of Assisi story was based on the account of Father Rufino Niccacci. According to the Ramati-Niccacci account, the latter, on Nov. 23, 1943, went to Archbishop of Florence Elia Dalla Costa to talk about Jews hidden in Assisi. Dalla Costa told Niccacci that he had seen the false identity cards that had been fabricated in Assisi, and asked him to produce some for the Jews hidden in Florence as well.

The book continues stating that Dalla Costa enlisted as courier the cyclist Gino Bartali (the name used by Ramati in both the U.S. and British editions is “Gino Battaglia.” In the Italian translation, it was replaced with “Gino Bartali”), who reached Assisi on a bicycle “bringing photographs and then returning with identity cards a day or two later.” The material was concealed in the bicycle. Ramati declared, “As usual, he [Bartali/Battaglia] pulled the grips off his handlebars and unscrewed his seat to take out the photographs and papers hidden inside the bicycle frame.”

Ramati-Niccacci also writes that the bishop of Assisi “had a meeting in Perugia with Cardinal della Costa’s [sic] emissary Giorgio La Pira.” A few pages later he states that documents were fabricated “for those whose photographs were carried to Assisi by Gino Battaglia or Giorgio La Pira.”

The narrative of Ramati-Niccacci contains many errors and inventions. For example, the book argues that on the day of Niccacci’s arrival in Florence, Nov. 23, 1943, the press reported the Italian government’s order to arrest all Jews present on Italian territory. Further, according to the book, on the same day, the Nazis raided Florentine convents searching for Jews in hiding there.

Ramati has Father Nicacci state: “I saw a whole family lined up against a wall and machine-gunned because a revolver had been found on one of them.”

In reality, the order of the Italian Social Republic was announced by the radio Nov. 30 and published by the press Dec. 1. The Nazi raid was carried out Nov. 26-27, and no one was shot.

Similarly, the courier activity between Florence and Assisi attributed by Ramati-Niccacci to the Florentine Catholic anti-Fascist Giorgio La Pira is not consistent with historical evidence. In fact, La Pira lived in the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence.

On Sept. 29, 1943, that religious house was searched and La Pira, sensing danger, moved to the home of friends at Fonterutoli, near Castellina in the Chianti region. On November 17, the monastery received an arrest warrant for La Pira. The Dominican Father Cipriano Ricotti brought La Pira the news, and consequently, La Pira went into hiding in the nearby village of Tregole. On Dec. 8, he moved to Rome, where he remained until the liberation of the city.

It is clear that the undoubtedly brave anti-Fascist Giorgio La Pira was not in the position to be a courier, nor did he ever claim to have been one.

Likewise, the courier activity between Florence and Assisi attributed by Ramati-Niccacci to Gino Bartali is not mentioned either in the testimonies of Florentine rescue organizers nor in Bartali’s private writings or public statements. All publications that describe it are based more or less explicitly on Ramati’s book.

In addition, Bartali’s role as a courier is explicitly contradicted by Don Aldo Brunacci, a presbyter of the Assisi Cathedral, who had been charged by his bishop to organize assistance for the Jews who had taken refuge there. Don Brunacci was, therefore, the main organizer of assistance in Assisi. As such he coordinated the fabrication of false identity cards and was informed of the existence of “ties” with the clergy of Florence and Genoa.

One of Brunacci’s valued associates was, in fact, Father Rufino Niccacci, who joined the group at a later time, giving, according to Brunacci, “a remarkable help because of his courageous entrepreneurship.” Brunacci added that “through his many contacts and courageous entrepreneurship he brought a great contribution to the whole organization” (Brunacci 1985, 12, 24). Brunacci further commented the entire book by Ramati: “This is nothing but a novel. The author certainly had in mind a script for a movie and could not find a person more suitable for this intent and above all with a more fervent imagination than Father Rufino.” After writing that he himself had gone several times to Perugia by bicycle for some “delicate mission,” Brunacci added, “Maybe this detail that Ramati learned through my articles gave him the idea of introducing Bartali among the characters of his novel!”

In short, Ramati-Niccacci invented Bartali’s role as a courier. But then, who produced and carried identity cards for Florentine Jews? Here the testimonies by the protagonists abound, even if they may not be enough to reconstruct the full picture of the facts. It is best then to present them separately.

The main actors were members of the Florentine Catholic Church; Tuscan Jews and those from Emilia-Romagna, some of whom were members of the Action Party; Catholic young women partisans also affiliated with the Florentine Action Party; perhaps a Bolognese Communist; and probably others. Many others collaborated with these principal actors, including an official at the Florence police station.

In October 1943, Don Leto Casini, a parish priest in Florence, was asked by Dalla Costa to work for a relief committee for foreign Jews, who needed “identity cards — of course, false.” In charge of the printing “was a clandestine typography in Bologna. I collected passport-size photographs and I handed them over to a young Jew from Bologna who was traveling almost every day between my location and the printing company. … The truly exceptional courier I am referring to was Mario Finzi.” Mario Finzi was arrested in Bologna in April 1944, deported to Auschwitz and killed.

Don Leto Casini was arrested in Florence on Nov. 26, 1943. In his pocket at the time, he had “25 photos delivered two minutes before, that I was supposed to send to Bologna on that same evening, to be attached to the same number of identity cards.” He was subsequently released.

A Jew from Pisa, Giorgio Nissim, was the organizer of the relief for the Jews in the area of Lucca. Initially, he obtained false identity cards in Genoa, where he went by train. In his memoirs, he wrote that once Father Ricotti had given him 30 photographs of Jewish women in hiding “to fabricate false cards” and that he returned from Genoa to Florence with counterfeit documents a few hours after the roundup of Nov. 26-27, 1943 in which most of those women had been arrested.

Later, Nissim arranged to manufacture the cards in Lucca. Because it was difficult for him to obtain blank ration cards, he organized exchanges of blank documents in unusual ways. For example, he later recorded that on one occasion, “In Florence I was in contact with Maria Enriquez Agnoletti [Anna Maria Enriques Agnoletti], whom I met in a church where the friendly exchange took place: blank identity cards on which photos were affixed with stamps that I carried in my pockets, for ration cards,” Nissim continued. “I remember the last time I saw her, she gave me a big pack of ration cards, while both of us were kneeling at an altar in the church of Santa Maria del Fiore.”

Anna Maria Enriques Agnoletti, daughter of a “mixed” marriage and nominally exempted from anti-Jewish persecution, had joined the Christian Social Movement (MCS). She worked with the Action Party in Florence, during the war. She was arrested for anti-Fascist activities in May 1944 and killed.

Anna Maria Enriques Agnoletti’s role in Nissim’s and other ID distribution networks is corroborated by many testimonies. On Nov. 20, 1943, Don Giuseppe Spaggiari, chaplain of the Cathedral of Livorno, one of Giorgio Nissim’s contacts, recorded a meeting with her. The anti-Fascist Emilio Angeli, father of Father Roberto Angeli, a parish priest in Livorno, and rescuer of Jews—later arrested and deported to Mauthausen, where he survived—recalled that Anna Maria Enriques Agnoletti and two municipal clerks from that city who were members of the MCS distributed identity and ration cards to local Jews. Speaking of her, Action Party member Maria Luigia Guaita wrote, “she helped and saved a great many Jews.”

Guaita herself fabricated false identity cards in Florence. It is not known whether those cards were for Jews or partisans, or both. She later wrote, “I remember that once I made a large number of identity cards with the stamp of the Municipality of Caltanissetta spelled with only one ‘S,’ and it was hard to track them down and replace them with correct ones.” Guaita also provided ration cards.

With regard to the actions of the Resistance, we should also recall that on Oct. 24, 1943, Leonardo Tarozzi, Communist of Bologna, brought to Florence a group of blank identity cards. But it is not known whether they were used for clandestine Jews.

Finally, two historians, Pandolfi and Cavarocchi, wrote: “Father Ricotti and Giancarlo Zoli [young Florentine Catholic anti-fascist] managed to obtain valuable documents with the help of members of the Resistance” and “Father Ricotti remembers that a woman partisan who had studied with him handed him a dry stamp of a city occupied by the Allies. It was then possible to start producing identity cards with the collaboration of the police officer [Vincenzo] Attanasio, whom the priest defined as very faithful to the organization.”

On Feb. 9, 1980, Matilde Cassin, a young Florentine Jew heavily involved with rescue efforts, told me that Don Casini and Father Ricotti were autonomous and somewhat in competition with one another. This could explain the duplication of the fabrication of identity cards in November 1943. The whole story indeed requires careful research. However, she stated that most of the Identity Documents she distributed were the work of Giorgio Nissim and of the San Marco monastery, while Casini provided others.

Matilde Cassin also told me that in May 1944, she brought to Milan some identity cards, maybe three, made by Father Ricotti. In fact, she went to Milan from the 26th to the 29th of April and returned on May 16 to then reach Switzerland as a clandestine.

Now that it is unfortunately too late to find any first-hand confirmation, I wonder if one of those three cards was for Giacomino Sarfatti. My father Giacomino had gone to England after the promulgation of anti-Jewish laws in Italy. There, after June 1940, he enlisted in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), who sent him to Italy (before July 25, 1943) as a radio operator.

At the beginning of April 1944, Giacomino Sarfatti met in Milan with the partisan and Action Party member Maria Assunta Lorenzoni, called Tina, who had just escorted a group of clandestine Jews from Florence to Switzerland. The group consisted of Gualtiero Sarfatti, Eloisa Levi, and their son Gianfranco (Giacomino’s brother). Gianfranco then returned to Valle d’Aosta to participate in the Resistance and was killed in combat.

Back in London, Giacomino Sarfatti reported about his meeting in Milan with partisan and Action Party leaders, and added, “later she managed to get him an identity card and some ration cards.” It seems to me, although it is no longer verifiable, that the person who “managed to get him cards” referred to Matilde Cassin.

Tina Lorenzoni was killed during the battle for the liberation of Florence in August 1944. Historian and Action Party member Carlo Francovich wrote that Lorenzoni “provided [the Jews] with false documents and lodging, with help from the clandestine organization of the C.T.L.N.,” the Tuscan National Liberation Committee.

As we can see, these testimonies seem to fit together in part, but also illustrate overlaps and duplications that seem incomprehensible to us today, while they may have made more sense at the time. They present a picture that deserves a much wider and more thorough study than can be done in this essay.

Most important, the history of false identity cards for clandestine Jews in Florence is filled with great humanity and tragic losses which do not need myths and demand the most profound respect.

Israeli student steals artifacts from Auschwitz for art project

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum will reportedly file a criminal complaint against an Israeli granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who admitted to stealing historical objects from the death camp for an art project.

The decision by the museum came two days after the Yedioth Ahronoth daily published an interview with student Rotem Bides, 27, in which she admitted to stealing objects from Auschwitz for her senior project during six trips to the Nazi death camp in Poland.

“This is a painful and scandalous act. This is a protected site and proof of the tragedy of the Holocaust that needs to be preserved for future generations,” Yedioth on Wednesday quoted a spokesperson of the museum as saying.

In addition to the expected move by the museum, Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba, where Bides is an art student, said it will not display the artifacts that she stole from Auschwitz in the exhibition, which opens next week, and will hold a disciplinary hearing.

“I felt that that this was something I have to do,” she said in the interview published Monday. “Millions of people were murdered because of the moral laws of a particular country, under a particular regime. If these are the rules, I can come and act according to my rules.”

Bides, who said a number of her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, including one who survived Auschwitz, added, “I always felt that my raw material was in Poland and not Israel,” and said she had no regrets about taking the objects, which included glass shards, small soup bowls, a screw, and a sign saying that it is forbidden to remove objects from the museum. She also took water from a lake into which the ashes of murdered Jews were thrown.

A friend of Bides’s at Beit Berl told Yedioth that while “she is definitely worried” about the potential consequences of stealing from Auschwitz, where over 1 million Jews are estimated to have been murdered during the Holocaust, from “her perspective this is a sense of mission” and something she deals with in both her life and art.

“To display these objects here in Israel, in particular as the granddaughter of a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, is a continuation of her research. She put this under the title of art and is asking the tough questions,” the unnamed student said.

2014 Israel Prize winner Michal Na’aman, who instructed Bides on the project, described to Yedioth why her student’s art “interested her in such an unusual way.”

“What is interesting is that she is taking this to the most extreme place in which she feels the need to shock herself before she shocks others,” Na’aman said. “She is not manipulative in the uninteresting sense, in that she wants money, success or fame. I am of course referring to to the act of stealing from Auschwitz.”

The decision by Beit Berl to not display Bides’s work and call her to a disciplinary hearing marked a reversal for the college, after the dean of the art faculty, Gabi Klezmer, defended Bides on the grounds of freedom of expression.

“Every time a conflict arises, we return to the point in which the college is obligated to [defend] creative and cultural freedom, different opinions and views, the multiplicity of voices and pluralism,” he told Yedioth. “It is at once rich and complex.”


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the former Nazi concentration camp of Stutthoff, near Gdansk on Tuesday, where 65,000 people were killed during World War II.

Britain’s Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge spoke with Holocaust survivors Manfred Goldberg and Zigi Shipper and signed the visitor book of the former camp. Goldberg and Shipper met in a subcamp of Stutthof and today speak in schools throughout Britain about their experiences.

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Reports said the royal couple were visibly moved by what they saw, including displays with piles of shoes that had belonged to camp inmates and gas chambers where inmates were killed. They placed stones at the camp’s memorial to its victims, a Jewish custom.