"Giusto tra le Nazioni"
Da un articolo uscito sul sito www.expage.com/page/assisi
di CANDICE HUGHES,
Associated Press Writer
January 11, 1999
ASSISI – For more than 700 years, pilgrims have made their way to Assisi, drawn by a tender promise of compassion. On a cold October day in 1943, Graziella Viterbi, a 17-year-old Jewish girl, found herself among them.
The city of St. Francis did not disappoint her.
Viterbi, her parents and her younger sister, were among the Jewes saved from the ravages of the Holocaust by the Assisi underground, a network of Roman Catholic priests, nuns and lay people.
“It was the only place where they saved everyone”, Viterbi says. “Not a single person was deported”.
The underground, now a nearly forgotten chapter of World War II, hid around 200 Jews in Assisi, secreting them in convents and monasteries and providing them with false documents, ration books, gentile names.
The bishof of Assisi presided over the underground and his right-hand man was a young priest named Aldo Brunacci. Now 84, Brunacci looks back on those days as a golden, God-given change to do the right thing.
“Why did we do it? We did it because we had to”, says Brunacci, who was later named by Israel as one of the “Righteous Among Nations”, an honor bestowed on gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.
Jews started arriving in Assisi in the fall of 1943, after the German army seized control of Italy when its Axis ally dropped out of the war.
“That’s when the real persecution began”, Viterbi recalls. “The hunt for Jews was on.”
The Viterbi family lived in Padua in northern Italy. They were vacationing in the mountains of northern Italy when the occupation began. “We couldn’t go home. We were known there”, Viterbi says.
They decided to seek refuge in an out-the-way place, making their way toward Assisi by car, by train and, finally, on foot. Shortly after they arrived, they ran some people they knew from Padua, who put them in touch with Brunacci.
“It was a journey guided by good fortune”, Viterbi says.
The priest provided them with a new identity: They became the Vitelli family from Puglia, a province in southern Italy in the hands of Allied forces. They learned how to make the sign of the cross. They invented a new family history. They boned up on Puglia’s geography and customs.
And They kept suitcases under their beds – just in case.
“Anything could be dangerous”, Viterbi says. “The stupidest little thing could betray you”.
On may 15, 1944, the Nazis stormed into Brunacci’s house while Viterbi’s parents were there trying to arrange for other family members to escape. He managed to hide the couple before the Germans hauled him off to a detention camp.
The archbishop interceded on his behalf and Brunacci was released to Vatican custody on the condition he stay away from Assisi. But by June, the war was over amd Brunacci was back home.
The Viterbis never went to Padua.
There wasn’t much to return to, even though the family had lived there for generations. More than 20 relatives had been deported to their deaths in German concentration camps. The ancient palazzo was in ruins, and there was no money to restore it.
After seven years in Assisi, the family moved to Rome, where Viterbi’s father resumed his career as a university professor. She got a law degree, them met married a Catholic. They raised two sons, the eldest now a prominent rabbi.
Then, when her husband died six years ago, Viterbi decided she’s had enough of big-city life. She moved back to Assisi, into the same apartment where her family hid during the war. She is the town’s only Jewish resident.
Now 72, Viterbi says she might have to move because the building needs major structural work. But she hopes to remain in the city that saved her, the city she loves.
“Assisi has always given me a sense of security”.