"Women of Valor"

Stories of Women Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

A little over half of the Righteous Among the Nations recognized by Yad Vashem are women. While many of them acted in cooperation with other family members, some of these courageous women were the initiators of the rescue and acted independently to save Jews. Here are some of their stories.

Maria Agnese Tribbioli

(Italy)

Maria Agnese Tribbioli

Simone Sacerdoti, his wife Marcella (née Belgrado) and their children Cesare-David (b. 1938) and Vittorio (b. 1941) lived in Florence. Simone was the community cantor, and family life revolved around the synagogue and the Jewish community. The 1938 race laws made life more difficult for the family, but Simone continued to work as a cantor. When the Germans entered the city in 1943, they remained in their homes. However, on November 6, 1943, the Germans and Fascists raided the community offices and synagogue, and created such chaos and destruction that the family decided to flee .

Simone had become involved in rescue activities, and helped the well-known Rabbi Nathan Cassuto save other Jews, aided by Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa and many other clergy members. Cardinal Dalla Costa headed one of the most active networks rescuing Jews from Nazi persecution in Italy. Through the mediation of the cardinal’s secretary, Giacomo Meneghello, Marcella and her two sons were transferred to Maria Tribbioli, the founder of the Pie Operaie di S. Giuseppe Order, and Mother Superior at the Firenze Convent on Ferragli Street. Simone took shelter in a number of other places, including with members of the clergy .

Cesare-David remembers being welcomed by Maria as they arrived at the convent, where they met other Jewish families hiding there with their children. All the Jews lived in one hall, and a nun slept there with them. To the best recollection of Cesare-David, his family paid nothing to the convent, and Cardinal Dalla Costa asked the convent to help, but never ordered it. It was the decision of the Mother Superior, Maria, to host and help the endangered Jews, even though it put herself in great peril. She never informed the other nuns of the real identities of their guests, just calling them "homeless refugees ."

Cesare-David and Vittorio joined the convent kindergarten, which was led by the Mother Superior. For most of the day, the children were in the company of the nuns, as the Jewish women remained hidden in the hall. Cesare-David, who was five years old at the time, remembers Maria, a short but energetic lady, stroking his head without saying a word .

In recent years, Cesare-David and Vittorio have gone back to visit the convent many times, learning more about the wartime events, checking the facts of those they remembered, meeting the nuns, and visiting their former hiding places .

One nun told him that she and another nun were often on duty at the convent gate. They saw Simone visiting every now and then. The nuns also told him that German soldiers tried to break into the convent and search for Jews, but Maria was able to convince them not to breach the sanctity of the institution .

In later years, a nun recalled an event that was also deeply engraved in his own memory. He and his two-year-old brother Vittorio were brought to Mass one day by Sister Caterina. On entering the chapel, Vittorio recognized the surroundings as very similar to their family's synagogue, and when he noticed a priest in front of him, he thought it was his father and shouted, “Father! Father!” to the delight of the nuns. The nun also told Cesare-David that he had been a very disciplined boy, but that he refused to learn how to cross himself. When taken to the Mother Superior to ask her advice, she asked the nun to be patient with the child, and explained away the boy’s refusal by the trauma of having to leave his home .

Cesare-David remembers the night their father came to pick them up. It was November 27, 1943, and the Germans had just raided a nearby convent and arrested many Jewish women with their children. Simone and other rescue activists felt that the convent was no longer a safe place, and that the women and children had to move to a new hiding place .

That day, the Mother Superior ordered all the nuns to stay locked in their quarters until all the guests left. Only when the nuns came out and saw that they had all fled, did they comprehend their true identity .

The family left the convent quickly and started to walk along the streets. Suddenly, Simone saw a German army truck. He jumped on his bike and cycled away, attracting the attention of the German soldiers to him and allowing his wife and children to flee and hide. He was caught in the vicinity, but was able to escape. From then on, the family hid in different places, all religious institutions, with the help of Christian clergy .

The children were finally sent to an orphanage in the town of Montecatini, headed by Father Facibeni. They stayed there until liberation, and were then reunited with their parents .

On June 16, 2009, Yad Vashem recognized Maria Agnese (Mother Superior) Tribbioli as Righteous Among the Nations