Italian Officer Saved 300 Jews from Extermination in 1943

Priest Commissioned by Pius XII Had a Key Role

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ROME, NOV. 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Leonardo Marinelli, an Italian officer of the customs service, did his utmost in September 1943 to save 300 Jews from Nazi persecution.



The rescue was carried out thanks to the intervention of Father Giuseppe Carrozzi, a priest "commissioned by the Pope to help Yugoslavian Jews," according to file documents collected by customs officials Lieutenant Riccardo Chieco and Colonel Luciano Carta.

Lieutenant Chieco told ZENIT that "for over 50 years, [Marinelli´s] gesture remained secret, dictated by his conscience and his enormous sense of humanity. He only mentioned it to his two children. He said that he had evidence that Pius XII helped the Jews, but he never gave many details."


The story came to light in 1999 when Marialuisa Marinelli, the officer´s daughter, found her father´s diary. In it, he recorded the stormy affairs of the Italian political situation as well as the events occurring on the country´s borders.

"The importance of this diary for the question of relations between Jews and Pius XII during the persecution was immediately seen as self-evident, to the point that a copy of the diary is kept at the center of Jewish Documentation in Milan," Chieco said.

A diary entry dated Sept. 12, 1943, states: "A priest arrived around 10 o´clock; he is the parish priest of Aprica. He said he was asked by the Holy See to protect the Yugoslavian Jews interned in Aprica.

"He asked me to allow these unhappy souls to go to Switzerland. I was happy to give my consent.

"As for the rest, since Sept. 8 my guards have let all those go who wished to do so: They might even have carried the fugitives´ baggage. Many British war prisoners have gone to Switzerland this way."

Among the 300 Jews that Father Carrozzi recommended to Marinelli to let leave, were women and children, the rabbi of Sarajevo, and Countess Horn of Vienna.

Marinelli took a great risk, because he had received strict orders from the Germans about border crossings: No Jews, prisoners of war, or Italian troops were allowed out of the country.