A man considered the Italian Schindler may not have been so saintly, officials at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have learned, casting doubt on the merit of his many commendations since the end of the Second World War, The New York Times reports.
Giovanni Palatucci, a wartime police official, has been honored by Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations and by the Pope, but the Centro Primo Levi at the Center for Jewish Studies in New York stated that a research panel of more than a dozen scholars has concluded that for six years, Palatucci was “a willing executor of the racial legislation and — after taking the oath to Mussolini’s Social Republic, collaborated with the Nazis.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has responded by removing an exhibition celebrating Palatucci and an official at Yad Vashem told the Times they had “commenced the process of thoroughly examining the documents.”
Palatucci had been credited with saving thousands of Jews between 1940 and 1944 while he was police chief in Fiume, an Adriatic port city (now called Rijeka and part of Croatia).
According to the Times, how the account of Palatucci’s heroics took hold is questionable, but some experts say it was perpetuated because of the flattering light it shed on Italy after the war. When the Nazis occupied the city in 1943, for example, Palatucci was said to have destroyed records to prevent the Germans from sending Fiume’s Jews to concentration camps. His own death at age 35 in a camp at Dachau also didn’t hurt his heroic reputation.
Natalia Indrimi, the executive director of the Centro Primo Levi, told the Times that the “the myth” surrounding Palatucci started in 1952 when his uncle Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci used the story to persuade the Italian government to provide a pension for Giovanni Palatucci’s parents. The account, she said, gained momentum because it seemed to bolster the reputation of Pope Pius XII, who has been criticized for his apparent indifference to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.
But upon further inspection, the documents show that Fiume, far from being a haven for Jews, had sent about 80 percent of its Jewish population to Auschwitz by 1943, a higher percentage than in any other Italian city.
“If anything, Giovanni Palatucci represents the silence, self-righteousness and compliance of many young Italian officers who enthusiastically embraced Mussolini in his last disastrous steps,” Dr. Indrimi wrote in her letter to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.