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Achille Castelli (1883 - 1957)

the National Councilor of the PNF who saved the persecuted and refused to hand over his employees

Achille Castelli was born in Milan in 1883. He studied abroad and returned to Italy at the age of 21, where he was hired in the Luigi and Felice Castelli family business. He was a successful entrepreneur and had numerous prestigious positions. During the Great War he was an infantry and liaison officer of Major Fiorello La Guardia, mayor of New York, and commander of the American air force in Italy.

In 1921 he received the position of Director of the Milan Chamber of Commerce and two years later he joined the trade unions and the Fascist party. For 9 years, despite some disagreements with the party, he was also president of the merchants union of Milan.

He was National Councilor of the PNF,
following his appointment as President of the National Federation of Textile Traders in Rome, but he declared that he had never dealt with politics in the first person and claimed a strong antipathy to the rhetoric of the regime. He decidedly distanced himself from the latter when collusion with Nazism became more evident and racial laws were promulgated.

This detachment from the fascist regime and its ruling class was definitive during the Italian Social Republic, until the arrest of Castelli by the republican militia in April 1945. Castelli, as he allegedly told in a memorial written for the Milan police headquarters in 1946, was taken from his home by two Blackshirts and brought to Saronno officially to be interrogated for an investigation by a captain of the Militia. In reality, he discovered when he arrived at the barracks, his was already an arrest warrant, in fact for some time he had no longer enjoyed the party's trust (he refused to join the Fascist Republican Party, he refused various positions...).

Achille Castelli had also tightened his relations with the fascist trade unions for refusing to provide lists of the workers who were not working in his plant and whom the unions wanted to transfer to Germany - lacking fuel and raw materials, production was very limited. Castelli knew that those lists would put them in danger and so he kept them all in his employ (he bought some logs to split to justify the workers' need).

Castelli passed from the Saronno prison to the Busto Arsizio prison and was released from prison on the eve of the Liberation. Investigations were conducted on his work. From this collection of information emerged first the testimonies of his employees, who had understood what Castelli did to prevent their transfer to Germany, and then there were other authoritative voices who spoke of his actions to save several Jews, some of them exponents of the partisan struggle.

Among them, Matilde Steiner Covo, Jewish partisan daughter of Mario Covo, killed by the Nazi-fascists, who found refuge with her daughter for a few months in the house of Castelli, saving her life, and the Jewish family Esckenasi, wanted for racial reasons, hidden in own home from Castelli. Castelli also gave refuge to the relatives of the anti-fascist Roberto Lepetit who died in Ebensee in '45.

Castelli emerged unscathed from the purge process thanks to these investigations and the letters written by witnesses in his defense, that are still preserved today in the family archives.

Achille Castelli died a few years later, in 1957. His nephews Duccio, Curzio and Guido Castelli have an indelible memory of him.

Reported by the Castelli family and Maria Teresa Cometto

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