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Italian Righteous among the Nations

they helped the Jews by disobeying "racial laws"

The "Righteous Among the Nations”, recognized by Yad Vashem, are over 20,000. Among them the Italian Righteous have now reached the threshold of 500 names.

Many of their stories are told in the book Good people of Italy. Non-Jews who saved Jews. 1943-1945, edited, for the Italian version, by Liliana Picciotto, historian at the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Center in Milan.

The book highlights that "the percentage of survivors in Italy was high because of the great wave of solidarity and active participation of the Italian population to the rescue actions. Many Italian opposed to the persecutions by the occupants and did many acts of generosity by saving the Jews in different ways: from the spontaneous hospitality given by farmers and ordinary people to the creation of clandestine rescue networks ".

The figures listed by Liliana Picciotto for the period after 8 September 1943 are already significant: about 43 million Italians in the regions remained under the regime of the German occupation and of the Italian Social Republic, compared to 32,300 Jews trapped in same regions. Of these, about 8,000 were arrested and nearly all deported. The remaining 23,500 escaped the raids. The Italian Jews, completely assimilated to the rest of the population, did not distinguished themselves in any way and could therefore easily “camouflaged themselves". In those years they added to the number of those who, for a thousand reasons, needed help: deserters soldiers after the armistice, partisans, allied prisoners fled from internment camps.

Without the help of the Italians who lived a normal life, all these clandestine groups could have not survived: it was necessary to obtain ration cards for food, documents to move freely, shelters to hide, money for daily needs.

The help to the deprived and the opponents can be counted into the category of "civil resistance", understood primarily as "moral resistance", declined in the various forms of militant civil opposition, dissent or hostility to the occupiers, or even of humanitarian relief or attempt to escape forced labor recruitment.

The stories of the Righteous tell us the extremely precarious conditions in which the actions of concealment and rescue of the Jews took place and the tools needed to implement them; they describe the different levels of intervention of the social actors involved; they indicate the mechanisms that favor the mobilization of various forces driven by a common moral feeling and the political implications arising therefrom.

The narrative of the Righteous thus becomes a form of historical, political, social and moral in-depth analysis particularly suited to youth sensitivity, able to hit emotionally and catch the attention for educational and cognitive purposes. An exercise of educational memory of great civic thickness.

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Righteous among the Nations in the Holocaust

remembered in Yad Vashem's Garden of the Righteous

In the 50es, the State of Israel established Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's Mausoleum to remember the victims of the "final solution" planned by Hitler. At the beginning of the 60es, the "Righteous Commission" was established, with the task of bestowing the title of "Righteous among the Nations" on the non Jews who rescued Jews during Nazi persecution. Inside Yad Vashem the "Garden of the Righteous" with an avenue in which every tree is dedicated to a different Righteous, was set up. Over the past year, due to a lack of room, the trees were replaced with the carving of the Righteous' names into the walls enclosing the garden.
The Commission, chaired for nearly 30 years by the judge of the Constitutional Court Moshe Bejski, has recognized and documented until now about 20,000 Righteous. Out of them we picked some.
Nonetheless, as Bejski used to recall, the Righteous are many more than that and the duty of the Commission is that of identifying and awarding them before the passing of time makes the pieces of testimony and the other documental evidence of their rescue deeds vanish. The Italian case shows that this concern of Bejsky was well-founded: the high number of Jews who escaped the "final solution" is not compatible with the few Righteous recognized in Jerusalem (nearly 500 at the end of 2011). 

This is why it is important to identify the cases that have remained unknown and activate the proceeding at the Commission to start the inquiry leading to more assignments of the title of "Righteous among the nations".

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