Jesuit Honored for Saving 3 Jewish Children

Pair of Brothers, Cousin Hid Among Catholic School Students

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By Anita S. Bourdin

ROME, DEC. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Graziano Sonnino and Marco Pavoncello remember Jesuit Father Raffaele de Ghantuz Cubbe for his courage and goodness. It was that courage and goodness that saved their lives, along with the life of Sonnino's brother Mario.

The Sonninos and Pavoncello, as young Italian Jews, were saved from the Holocaust when Father Cubbe hid the children at his Jesuit school. Their surname was changed to Sbardella, a southern name of the region of Cassino, which had been bombed by the Allies, meaning their identity was impossible to verify.

Father Cubbe (1904-1983) was recognized Tuesday in Rome with the honor of Righteous Among the Nations, the title bestowed by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Mordechay Lewy, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, presented the honor to Father Cubbe's nephew, Francesco de Ghantuz Cubbe.

Pavoncello and Graziano Sonnino took part in Tuesday morning's ceremony; Mario Sonnino died last July, as did his sister Virginia.

Their children and grandchildren were present, as were their nieces and nephews.

Doing their duty

After the War, the brothers and cousin had gone on to finish their education at Father Cubbe's Jesuit school. Only two or three people knew of their true identity during the occupation; they revealed it to their friends after the liberation.

It was Celeste Pavoncello, Marco's daughter, who in 2004 initiated the process to have Father Cubbe recognized as a member of the Righteous Among the Nations.

This came after she discovered a photograph of her father in a document of Berlin private archives at an exhibition at the Victor Emmanuel monument of Rome on the anti-Jewish laws and the Shoa.

When Celeste Pavoncello announced this year to Giovanna de Ghantuz Cubbe that her uncle was going to receive the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations, she discovered a story that was little known.

The "saviors" thought they had done nothing other than their duty, Giovanna de Ghantuz Cubbe said, or they believed that their "right hand should not know what the left hand was doing."

Traces of heroes

The award was given by Lewy in the presence of the president of the Jewish community of Rome, Riccardo Pacifici.
 
Pacifici recalled that his father and his uncle were also saved thanks to Catholic priests. He also pointed out that the Yad Vashem Memorial has recognized some 28,000 "Righteous," 487 in Italy.
 
The community president spoke of a veritable "hunt for the righteous" to find traces of these "heroes" and honor their memory. He also suggested the creation of an Association of "Children of the Righteous."

Rooted in holiness

Raffaele de Ghantuz Cubbe was born in Orciano Pisano, Italy, in 1904. He died in Rome in 1983.
 
He was the fourth child of a profoundly Christian family. His father, the marquis Riccardo, was secret chamberlain of Popes Benedict XV to Pius XII.
 
The family was friendly with Salesian Father Michele Rua (now a blessed), who had a premonition of Raffaele's religious vocation. In fact, Raffaele entered the Society of Jesus when he was very young.
 
He was rector of the prestigious School of Mondragon, near Frascati, south of Rome, from 1942-1947. It was there that Pavoncello and the Sonninos were hidden.

Father Cubbe also served as vice-president of Pius XII's association to support victims of World War II.