Giovanni Palatucci (May 31, 1909 – February 10, 1945) was an Italian police official who between 1940 and 1944 may have saved thousands of Jews in Fiume (current Rijeka in Croatia) from being deported to Nazi extermination camps. In 2013 a research panel of historians led by the Centro Primo Levi reviewed almost 700 documents and concluded that Palatucci had actually been a willing Nazi collaborator and that of the 500 Jews living in Fiume, 412 were deported to Auschwitz, a higher percentage than in any Italian city. The matter is currently the topic of scholarly debate.
Palatucci was born in Montella, Avellino, Italy. He graduated from the University of Turin, Faculty of Law in 1932. In 1936 he entered police service in Genoa and the following year he was assigned to Fiume.
After the promulgation of racial laws against Jews in 1938 and at the beginning of World War II in 1940, Palatucci was chief of the Foreigners' Office. Palatucci edited the necessary residence papers requested by law for refugees. It was believed that he began falsifying documents and visas. Supposedly, when Palatucci "officially deported" Jews, he instead arranged for them to be sent to Campania, telling them to contact his uncle, the Catholic Bishop of Campania Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, who would offer them the greatest assistance possible. Purportedly, he managed to destroy all documented records of some 10,000 Jewish refugees living in the town, issuing them false papers and providing them with funds.
Following the 1943 capitulation of Italy, Fiume was occupied by Nazis. Purportedly, he continued to clandestinely help Jews and maintain contact with the Resistance, until his activities were discovered by the Gestapo. Instead, documentation shows that Herbert Kappler had Palatucci arrested for reasons of treason against Germany, for having transmitted to Britain official documents requesting negotiations for Fiume’s independence.
Palatucci was arrested on September 13, 1944. He was condemned to death, but the sentence was later commuted to deportation to the Dachau concentration camp, where he died on February 10, 1945, before the camp was liberated by the Allies on April 29, 1945. Some say that he died of malnutrition and others declared that he was shot.
He was officially honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in 1990 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, for saving one Jewish woman. The Institute of the Righteous commission in 1990 found no evidence that he might have assisted anyone outside of this case. In October 2002, the Pope's vicar in Rome opened a beatification case for Palatucci, but in June 2013 the Vatican announced that it had asked a historian to review the new findings.
Allegations of collaboration
According to the 2013 research, the story surrounding Palatucci was a myth instigated by his uncle, Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, who allegedly used the story in 1952 to secure a war pension for his brother and sister-in-law (Palatucci's parents). Michael Day asked in The Independent newspaper how Palatucci helped "more than 5,000 Jews to escape in a region where officially, the Jewish population was half that". Anna Pizzuti, editor of the database of foreign Jewish internees in Italy, told Corriere Della Sera that it was impossible that Palatucci could have rerouted thousands of Jews to Campagna when "no more than 40 Fiume residents were interned in Campagna; and a third of these ended up in Auschwitz".
The Giovanni Palatucci Foundation, which campaigns for Palatucci's beatification, criticized what it called "revisionist historians", and cites on its website individual cases where Jews claim relatives were saved by Palatucci’s direct intervention. It also said that critics who claim it is untenable to suggest he saved 5,000 Jews in an area with a Jewish population of just half that number, have failed to take into account the huge number of migrant Jews from eastern or central Europe who may have been present.
The Jewish-Italian historian Anna Foa of Sapienza University of Rome wrote in a June, 2013 article for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the decision to re-classify Palatucci, a Catholic, as a collaborator was at best hasty, and that more study was needed. She asserted that the target of the move against Palatucci was the papacy of Pope Pius XII, and wrote that "in targeting Palatucci the desire was essentially to hit a Catholic involved in rescuing Jews in support of the idea that the Church spared no effort to help the Jews — a person whose cause of beatification was under way. ... But this is ideology and not history." Foa argued that the evidence presented by the Primo Levi Center's historians can reduce the number of Jews Palatucci is credited with saving, but "it can certainly not transform him from a saviour into a persecutor of the Jews." She agreed that Palatucci's achievements have at times been exaggerated based on the limited evidence, but noted that scholars should be cautious about jumping to conclusions given the paucity of evidence. Foa concluded that before a definitive determination can be made about Palatucci's role in the Holocaust, the documentation used by the Primo Levi Center would have to be made available for other historians to review.
Fr. Murray K. Watson, vice-rector and assistant professor of Sacred Scripture and Ecumenism at St. Peter's Seminary in Ontario, said in June 2013 "I think a judicious patience as regards this question is probably wise, since even the scholars familiar with this material disagree about its meaning and interpretation."
- Patricia Cohen, An Italian Saint in the Making or a Collaborator With Nazis, The New York Times, 19 June 2013
- Tenembaum, Baruch. "Giovanni Palatucci, an Italian hero in the Holocaust", The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
- Alessandra Farkas, Shadows cast on the heroism of ‘Italian Schindler’, The Times of Israel, June 14, 2013
- "Giovanni Palatucci, an Italian policeman on the road of beatification". International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. 2004-06-09.
- "Downfall: How the Italian 'Schindler' was exposed as a Nazi collaborator". The Independent. 2013-06-20.
- "Vatican paper contests study on alleged Nazi collaborator". Reuters. 2013-06-22.
- "Vatican newspaper defends 'Italian Schindler'". The Times of Israel. 2013-06-23.
- Official website
- Biography of Giovanni Palatucci (Italian)
- Biography of Giovanni Palatucci and documents (Italian)