Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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Giovanni Barbareschi 1922

founder of OSCAR

Giovanni Barbareschi was born on February 11th, 1922, to a wealthy family in Milano. After completing his studies, he entered the Seminary.  Always faithful yet rebellious, he decided to support the Resistance after the Armistice of Cassibile. With other Catholic friends, he was an editor of the underground journal, “The Rebel”. Barbareschi and three other friends in the Clergy, Enrico Bigatti, Andrea Ghetti and Natale Motta, started OSCAR (Organizzazione Soccorso Cattolico Antifascisti Ricercati), a Catholic antifascist organization, and had their first meetings at the College of San Carlo of Milano. In Switzerland, this organization managed to rescue thousands of people by providing false documents, among them the antifascists, the Jews and other imprisoned allies who were left behind the lines. They also collaborated with the secret resistance efforts of the “Aquile Randagie” (Stray Eagles), a local scout group.

On August 10th, 1944, 15 partisans were shot in Piazza Loreto by operatives of the Brigata Muti, a fascist police organization. Their bodies were left in the square. The deacon Barbareschi proposed a procession on the site of the shooting to Cardinal Schuster which was rejected for security reasons. However, he was invited by the Archbishop to bless and collect the personal effects and messages of the victims for their surviving friends and family. Three days later, he was ordained a priest. Two days after this, he was arrested and condemned to San Vittore where he was tortured by the Republicans and the SS. He resisted until the Cardinal intervened for his liberation.

He continued his partisan activities in Valcamonica as a chaplain with the Fiamme Verdi (Green Flames), another Catholic resistance organization. With this group, Barbareschi was arrested again and ended up in the Gries concentration camp, near Bolzano. During a transfer to another camp, he managed to escape. In the following days, he returned to Milano and strived to make sure the torturers of the SS and the fascists who had tortured and killed mercilessly for 20 months were not killed or lynched in revenge. Instead, he wanted them sent to the Allies to be processed in a just fashion.After the war, Barbareschi worked with Don Gnocchi to assist the maimed.  He was a teacher beloved by colleagues and students at the Liceo Classico Manzoni di Milano (The Manzoni Classics School of Milano) and also for years directed the religious house of Motta di Madesimo in the Alps. With the cardinal Carlo Martini, he was the architect of the “Cathedral of the Nonbelievers” at the University of Milan to provide an open and frank discourse between different religions and philosophical beliefs.

Despite his advanced age, he strives to retell these parts of our history, emphasizing his love for freedom and intervention for the salvation and respect of other lives.

He has received many awards, both civil and religious, including the Silver Medal of the Resistance, the certificate of merit of the Israeli Community of Milano in 1955 and more recently in 2011, the prestigious Ambrogino d’Oro by the Municipality of Milano.