Israel Zolli

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Israel Zolli
Izrael Zolli.jpg
Dr. Israel Zolli
Born Israel Anton Zoller
September 27, 1881
Brody, Austria-Hungary
Died March 2, 1956
Rome, Italy
Other names Eugenio Maria Zolli
Occupation Chief rabbi in Rome, Italy (1940–1945); Catholic university professor; author

Israel Zolli (September 27, 1881 ‒ March 2, 1956), born Israel Anton Zoller, so was an Austro-Hungarian by birth, and an Italian doctorate professor of philosophy and author. Until converting from Judaism to Catholicism in February 1945, Zolli was the chief rabbi in Rome, Italy's Jewish community from 1940 to 1945.[1] After the war, he taught philosophy at a number of institutions throughout Rome including the Sapienza University of Rome and Pontifical Biblical Institute.

Zolli is noted for his defense of the Catholic Church's pope during World War II, Pius XII, who gave support and shelter to Zolli and other Jews during Nazi Germany's occupation of Italy from 1943 to 1944. It was later revealed that Zolli hid in a number of places in both Rome and Vatican City State.

Early years/rabbinate[edit]

Zoller was born in the city of Brody in then-Austria-Hungary, which from 1918-1945 was in eastern Poland, and currently is in western Ukraine. His father was a formerly wealthy factory owner, and his mother came from a family dynasty of rabbis. He earned a doctorate degree in philosophy from the University of Florence in Italy. At the same time, he prepared for the rabbinate at a nearby yeshiva.

In 1918, he was appointed rabbi of the Italian city of Trieste whose territory had just been transferred from Austria-Hungary to Italy. He changed his surname to "Zolli" to make it sound more Italian. In 1939, Zolli was named as chief rabbi of Rome, Italy.[2]

Holocaust of Rome: 1943–1944[edit]

After Zolli moved to Rome in 1940, he attempted to convince Ugo Foa, President of the Jewish Community in Rome, and Dante Almansi, President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, that German Nazis were a significant threat to the Roman Jewish community, and citing American researcher, Daniel T. Murphy, Zolli "recommended the total suppression of public Jewish functions, the closing of administrative offices, the elimination of donor lists, the dispersion of all members of the Jewish community, the distribution of financial aid, and the reduction of the community treasury."[3]

In 1944, after Zolli emerged from hiding in the house of Amadeo Pierantoni, a Catholic member of Rome's anti-fascist resistance party, Giustizia e Libertà, his position as chief rabbi was restored by Charles Poletti, although the Jewish community rebuffed him, as seen in Rabbi Louis Israel Newman's article, A Chief Rabbil of Rome becomes a Catholic.[4] On July 9, 1944, Zolli gave an interview describing how two Italian families had given him hiding but making no mention that he had in reality been given shelter for a majority of this time within Vatican City State.

Zolli later described his wartime experiences as follows:

"It was from my father that I learned the great art of praying with tears. During the Nazi persecution, long years afterward, I lived near the center of Rome in a small room. There, in the dark, in hunger and cold, I would pray weeping: 'O, Thou keeper of Israel, protect the remnants of Israel; do not allow this remnant of Israel to perish!'"[5]

Conversion to Christianity[edit]

In his autobiography, Before the Dawn: Autobiographical Reflections by Eugenio Zolli, Former Chief Rabbi of Rome, Zolli said that while presiding over the religious service in the synagogue on the holy day of Yom Kippur in 1944, he experienced a vision of Jesus.[6]

On February 13, 1945, Zolli, his second wife, and daughter converted to Catholicism (his first wife having died years earlier). He was baptized at Gregorian University by Mgr. Luigi Traglia in the presence of Father Paolo Dezza; his godfather was Augustin Bea. Zolli was christened "Eugenio Maria Zolli" in homage to Pope Pius XII who was born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli.

Later years and death[edit]

After Zolli and his wife converted to Catholicism, he was employed at the Sapienza University of Rome and Pontifical Biblical Institute. In 1956, he became seriously ill and entered the hospital where he reportedly revealed to a nun that he would die on the first Friday of the month at 3:00 in the afternoon.

On March 2, 1956, Israel Zolli received Holy Communion in the morning, eventually drifted into coma, and died as he predicted at 3:00 P.M.[7] He was 74. He is buried at Campo Verano cemetery in Rome, Italy.[7]


  • "Conversion consists in responding to a call from God. A man is not converted at the time he chooses, but at the hour when he receives God's call. When the call is heard, he who receives it has only one thing to do: obey. Paul is 'converted'. Did he abandon the God of Israel? Did he cease to love Israel? It would be absurd to think so. But then? The convert is one who feels impelled by an irresistible force to leave a pre-established order and seek his own proper way. It would be easier to continue along the road he was on."[8]
  • "In the Old Testament, Justice is carried out by one man towards another...We do good for good received; we do harm for harm we have suffered at the hands of another. Not to do injury for injury is, in a certain fashion, to fall short of justice.' What a contrast with the Gospel: Love your enemies...pray for them, or even Jesus' last words on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing! 'All this stupefied me. The New Testament is, in fact, an altogether new Testament". (Eugenio Zolli)


  1. ^ "Rome's Chief Rabbi during World War II converts to Catholicism on February 13, 1945". Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Eugenio Zolli Path to Rome; Stephen Sparrow". September 5, 2005. Retrieved June 11, 2014. 
  3. ^ "An account of the anti-Nazi resistance efforts of Chief Rabbi Israel Zolli in Rome, Italy, during World War II". Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ A chief Rabbi of Rome Becomes a Catholic, Louis I. Newman, NY 1945, The Renascence Press, p. 135
  5. ^ Eugenio Zolli, Before the Dawn as quoted in Sweet Honey from the Rock (edited by Roy Shoeman), p. 73
  6. ^ Before the Dawn, E. Zolli, p. 190
  7. ^ a b "Biography, cemetery, and grave marker details for Israel Zolli". Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  8. ^ Eugenio Zolli, Before the Dawn, quoted in Sweet Honey from the Rock, edited by Roy Shoeman, p. 79


  • Weisbord, Robert G., and Sillanpoa, Wallace P. 1991. The Chief Rabbi, the Pope, and the Holocaust: An Era in Vatican-Jewish Relations. Transaction Publishers; ISBN 0-88738-416-1.

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