Christian, Jewish rescuers honored for saving Italian Jews during Holocaust

They risked their lives during Holocaust to arrange hideouts for hundreds in Catholic institutions.

Posthumous awards given at a ceremony in Jerusalem to members of Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Matilda Cassin family, who saved Italian Jews during the Holocaust (photo credit: MOSHE MIZRAHI)
Posthumous awards given at a ceremony in Jerusalem to members of Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Matilda Cassin family, who saved Italian Jews during the Holocaust
(photo credit: MOSHE MIZRAHI)
Seventy-six years after the SS arrested Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Matilda Cassin, Jewish Rescuers Citations were posthumously presented to their families this week in a ceremony in Jerusalem by The Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews.
Cassuto and Cassin were members of the anti-Nazi underground in Florence, set up by the city’s chief rabbi together with Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, the archbishop of the city.
Together with other members of their resistance network, they saved hundreds of persecuted Jews from deportation to concentration camps by hiding them in Catholic institutions and with Italian families. The citations were presented to Cassin’s son Asher Varadi Cassin, and Cassuto’s son David.
“Cassuto... and other members of their [Jewish-Christian] rescue group were arrested by the SS at the Azione Cattolica headquarters in Florence while planning future rescue activities, due to an informant,” B’nai B’rith World explained. “Cassuto was deported to Auschwitz, where he died. Cassin gave herself up to the police in order to free her family that had been arrested, remaining in custody until January 1944, when she was released, escaping later to Switzerland.”
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said he was grateful for the opportunity to be speaking at the event, “as it is not usual that a representative of the Catholic Church is invited to speak at an event in memory of the Holocaust.
“When we approach the Holocaust, we Europeans of Catholic origin cannot but feel discomfort,” he said. “The issue of the Church and the Holocaust – and more generally, the Church and Judaism – was never an easy topic, but a topic full of hurt and deep wounds.”
The archbishop explained that the Church has not yet completed “its reading of what happened during the Holocaust.
“Even if it is discussed less today, that period remains like a stone in the relationship between us,” Pizzaballa continued. “While some Christians – among them Catholics, including clergy – cooperated with Jews to rescue Jews from deportation, we must recognize the silence of many other Catholics.”
He stressed that although the Church was not directly responsible for the Holocaust, “we must recognize that the ‘teaching of contempt’ that emanated over hundreds of years was also from the Church, and influenced the mentality of the European populations – which contributed, unfortunately, to what happened.”
Pizzaballa explained that unlike in the past, “there is now the opportunity to see that the way the Church has come since Nostra Aetate is real and reliable.”
Nostra Aetate, issued in 1965, is the historic Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council.
“The Church today is not at the center of the formation of public discourse in the West, but it is still an important voice,” he said. “We must work together to promote a mentality of acceptance and mutual respect.”
He emphasized the importance of teaching that differences do not pose a danger.
“Different cultures and beliefs can exist in society and at the same time to live in harmony and friendship,” Pizzaballa said. “Rabbi Cassuto cooperated with a few Christians to rescue Jews, but now this joint effort must be the responsibility not of a few, like then, but a foundation of our religious and communal lives.
“The heroism of those we commemorate today should light the path to be taken,” he added.
Italian ambassador to Israel Gianluigi Benedetti told attendees that, “it is time to correct the common misconception that Jews did not significantly help rescue other Jews during the Holocaust.
“The actions of Rabbi Cassuto and Matilde Cassin were lights in the darkness that will never be forgotten,” he said.