26 November 2012
Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence, has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Cardinal Dalla Costa was recognized for spearheading the rescue of hundreds of Jews in Florence during the Holocaust. The Cardinal’s name will be engraved on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem.
The rescue story:
During the Holocaust, Florence became the scene of a major rescue endeavor. Initiated by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Raffaele Cantoni, it became a joint effort of Church people, guided by Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence, and Jewish personalities. This Jewish-Christian network, set up following the German occupation of Italy and the onset of deportation of Jews, saved hundreds of local Jews and Jewish refugees from territories which had previously been under Italian control, mostly in France and Yugoslavia.
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. 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, following a denunciation, most of the Jewish activists were arrested. From that time on, it was the Church people who bore most of the responsibility for maintaining and upholding the rescue effort, even though some of the Church clergy too were arrested and in some cases even tortured.
There are a number of testimonies testifying to Della Costa’s personal involvement in rescue activities.
Lya Quitt testified that she fled from France to Florence in the beginning of September 1943 and was brought to the Archbishop's palace where she spent the night with other Jews who were being sheltered there. The following day they were taken to different convents in the city.
Giorgio La Pira described Dalla Costa as "the soul of this ‘activity of love’ aimed to save so many brothers,” and 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."
Earlier this year, Yad Vashem recognized Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa as Righteous Among the Nations. Despite many efforts, Yad Vashem has been unable to identify any next of kin for the Archbishop, and so the medal and certificate of honor will remain at Yad Vashem.
Thus far, over 24,000 individuals have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. For information, stories and statistics, please see: http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/index.asp