Nella Molinari and Luigi Cortile

They saved some families in Milan from Nazi persecution by helping them flee to Switzerland

Luigi Cortile

Luigi Cortile

The story follows of how Nella Molinari and Luigi Cortile rescued many families. Such story is told by Elena Colonna, belonging to one of the families they saved, who was a child back then.

In October 1943, my family, a Jewish family of ten, and the Ghedalia family, a family of five, started to be saved from Nazi persecution as a woman, Nella Molinari, and a Marshal of Italian Finance Police from Clivio (Varese), Luigi Cortile, helped them flee to Switzerland.

Mrs. Molinari, for security reasons, helped us flee three at a time, always on a Monday (it was the day when the marshal was free from his military duties): crossing of the Swiss border continued for five weeks. We spent part of the night at Molinari’s house, then, before dawn, Mrs. Molinari accompanied us for a while to the nearby border and we met the marshal (whose name and rank were unknown to us at the time), who let us pass under the fence, giving us instructions on how to reach the first Swiss village.

The first group on the run towards freedom included my mother, Pia Orefice, my sister Ersilia (18) and me, five at the time. The second group included my sisters Graziella and Nella (16 and 14) and my aunt Gilda Colonna. The third group included my brother Ugo Jr., 15, and my aunts Amalfi and Marta Colonna. The fourth group included the entire Ghedalia family, which my father wanted to help, composed of the mother, Ester, and four children, Giovanna, Luna, Flora and Mosè. The last one to cross the border, alone, was my father, Ugo Colonna.

I am sure, even if I do not know their names, that many other people, including some Jews and even Italian soldiers who did not want to join the Republic of Salò, were saved by Nella Molinari and Luigi Cortile. Unfortunately the Marshal was discovered and arrested and died in Mauthausen, paying his generous humanity with his life. Nella Molinari was also arrested and beaten; fortunately she was released later. She was pregnant with her third child, Alberto. A gold medal was awarded to Marshal Cortile and Guardia di Finanza barracks in Gallarate bear his name. A book was also published about him, by Guardia di Finanza, and a small monument was erected in his memory in Clivio, Varese.

The spouses received the Righteous Among the Nations medal from Yad Vashem in 2022.

Candidacy proposed by Alessandra Secco

Gardens that honour Nella Molinari and Luigi Cortile

You can find a tree in the Virtual Garden Monte Stella's Stories.

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