Former Archbishop of Florence Recognized as Righteous Among Nations
Acknowledged By Yad Vashem for Spearheading Rescue of Jews during World War II
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JERUSALEM, NOV. 29, 2012 (Zenit.org). - Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence, has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem organization.
Cardinal Dalla Costa was recognized for his role in spearheading the rescue of hundreds of Jews in Florence. His name will be engraved on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous.
Yad Vashem was established in 1953 in Jerusalem as a center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.
The title of Righteous Among the Nations is awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. It is awarded by a special commission headed by a Supreme Court Justice
According to the organization’s Web site the title of the Righteous "is reserved for the smaller group of those who actively risked their lives or their liberty for the express purpose of saving Jews from persecution and murder."
The organization’s press release explained that during the Holocaust, Florence became the scene of a major rescue endeavor. It was headed by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Raffaele Cantoni. It was also supported by many people from the Catholic Church people, guided by Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence.
This Jewish-Christian network saved hundreds of local Jews and Jewish refugees from other nations.
"Cardinal Dalla Costa initiated and encouraged the participation and activity in the rescue activity of the clergy, and appointed his secretary, Father Meneghello, to be in charge of these dangerous life-saving operations," according to Yad Vashem.
As well, Cardinal Dalla Costa played a central role in the organization and operation of a widespread rescue network, recruited rescuers from among the clergy, supplied letters to his activists so that they could go to heads of monasteries and convents entreating them to shelter Jews, and sheltered fleeing Jews in his own palace for short periods until they were taken to safe places.
In December 1943, most of the Jewish activists were arrested. From that time on, it was the members of the Catholic Church who bore most of the responsibility for maintaining and upholding the rescue effort, Yad Vashem noted.
Father Cipriano Ricotti wrote: "I don't know about other cities, but in Florence a real organization to help Jews was set up by the wish of Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa. I remember being summoned to the Archbishop's office – it was September 20, 1943 at the latest. "
"I presented myself, accompanied by the Provincial Superior, Father Raffaele Cai. The Archbishop asked me (in the presence of Monsignor Meneghello) if I believed that I could devote myself to helping Jews. He immediately gave me a letter of introduction he had written, so that I would have the authority to turn to monasteries – many of which may not have opened their gates, had I not such a letter in my possession – so as to find shelter for the numerous suffering persons."
According to the press release, despite many efforts Yad Vashem has been unable to identify any next of kin for Cardinal Dalla Costa so the medal and certificate of honor will remain at Yad Vashem.