Emanuel Segre Amar, a member of a prominent Jewish family in Turin, buttonholed a Jewish visitor from the U.S. during the recent Winter Olympics with questions about a certain New York Jewish family he wants to contact.
Segre Amar doesn’t know their name, or when they left Italy, their homeland. All he knows is they live (or lived) here, and owe their lives to Attilio Francesetti.
Francesetti is an 81-year-old smuggler/peasant/wood cutter who lives alone in a cabin in the Alps and risked his life to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. A partisan who took endangered Jews over the mountains to safety in France in 1944-45, he was largely forgotten after World War II by the people he saved. Then Segre Amar discovered the heroic story two years ago and the Jewish community of Turin decided to honor Francesetti: he will receive a scroll on April 26. "We think it is correct not to forget these persons," Segre Amar says. He wants to invite the Americans, if he can find them and he wants to document Francesetti’s deeds for official recognition as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust museum.
Locating even the still-in-Italy survivors saved by Francesetti has been difficult, Segre Amar tells The Jewish Week. (He can be reached at email@example.com; 011-39-348-412-6261.) Segre Amar, who paid a visit to Francesetti’s mountain home last week, says the Italian offered few details about the putative New Yorkers: they were in the jewelry business, the father died in an automobile accident, they gave Francesetti a watch several years ago, then lost touch with him."
He had letters from them, but he does not know where they can be," Segre Amar says. Segre Amar says Francesetti is in "perfect health … thanks to the wine, the cognac: and the pipe he is lighting all the time."
Francesetti said he carried a pistol during his rescue missions, but never had to use it. He is estranged from the Catholic Church in which he was raised.
Why did he jeopardize himself for strangers? "It was just the right thing to do," he told Segre Amar.