In a dramatic reversal of historic fortunes, Giovanni Palatucci will shift from righteous gentile to possible Nazi collaborator as the Anti-Defamation League reconsiders an annual award in his honor.
“We know now what we did not know then, which is that Giovanni Palatucci was not the rescuer he was made out to be,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor in a statement. “We thank the historians for their efforts to bring the truth to light, and as a result of their research we have decided to disassociate our law enforcement award from his name.”
The decision comes after a research panel covened by the Primo Levi Center at the Center for Jewish History found, after examining nearly 700 documents, that the police official in Fiume was a willing collaborator loyal to Benito Mussolini and the Nazis, according to the New York Times. Researchers believe accounts that Palatucci was an Italian Oskar Schindler who stuck his neck out to save Jews was wishful thinking as Italy tried to rebuild its image after the fall of the Axis powers. The report, however, does say it is possible Patalucci saved some Jews, perhaps on orders from higher officials.
According to a web site started by one of his descendants, Palatucci “refused to cooperate with the Germans and saved over 5,000 Jews,” and was sent to Dachau. He died as a young man of 36 ten weeks after the camp was liberated of unknown natural causes.
Natalia Indrimi, director of the Primo Levi Center in New York, told The Jewish Week her center has long encouraged research by scholars about post-fascist Italy, particularly regarding the northern border with what was then Yugoslavia, where Fiume is located.
“We asked a panel of historians to shed light on the discrepancies between the history of mass rescue told in [Palatucci’s] biography and the fact that the Jewish community in Fiume was particularly destroyed,” she said.
“How did he save 5,000 Jews in an area where there were only 1,000 to begin with. In 1943 there were only about 398 Jews and 243 of them were deported to Auschwitz. We pretty much know what happened.” She said it appears he was sent to Dachau for embezzlement and later died of typhus.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum also reacted to the report, removing Patalucci’s name from an exhibition of heroes, the Times said Thursday.
“Palatucci was recognized with ADL’s Courage to Care Award in 2005 and, since 2007, the League has bestowed the ADL Giovanni Palatucci Courageous Leadership Award in honor of Italian and American law enforcement officials who have exemplified leadership in the fight against extremism, bigotry and terrorism,” the ADL said.
The organization will continue issuing awards for exemplary law enforcers, but will rename the honor.