“We must never forget,” said Rosanna Scotto , FOX 5 News co-anchor and emcee of the May 18 Anti-Defamation League Courage to Care Award dinner, which honored Giovanni Palatucci, Fiume, Italy’s chief of police, who, by forging visas and other documents, saved the lives of nearly 5,000 Jews destined for Nazi death camps. Before he was arrested in September 1944 and deported to Dachau (where he died at 36), Palatucci sent his Jewish fiancée to Switzerland. She later moved to Israel. “What makes [him] more remarkable,” said keynote speaker Mario Cuomo, “is that the police was part of the system!”
The dinner, which was held at The Pierre, began with the presentation of colors by members of the New York City Police Department’s Shomrim Society (a fraternal organization of Jewish officers), followed by an invocation by Archbishop Celestino Migliore , apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, and a benediction by Rabbi Alvin Kass , chief chaplain of New York City’s police department.
Italy’s national police chief, Giovanni De Genarro , who accepted the award on Palatucci’s behalf, said: “On February 10, 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the death of Giovanni Palatucci, Italian and Israeli police officers gathered in Jerusalem… in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, to honor [his memory]…. The [chairman of the] Yad Vashem [council], Professor [Szewach] Weiss , handed me the parchment ratifying the official induction of [Palatucci] among ‘The Righteous Among the Nations,’ and told me he was giving the award to me because Palatucci didn’t leave any relative or progeny behind… [I told him]: ‘We law enforcement officers from all over the world are his progeny because we belong to one great family… of hundreds of thousands of men and women that in Italy, like in Israel, in the U.S. and the rest of the world, put their lives on the line every day to protect the freedom and security of every citizen from serious threats posed by crime and terrorism.’”
“History is made by those who are in the right place at the right time and use their wisdom… to do the right thing,” said ADL national director Abraham Foxman in his introduction of Sergio Vento , Italy’s ambassador to the United States. “When I first met him, he was Italy’s ambassador to the United Nations and [shortly] assumed presidency of the European Union.… A resurgence of antisemitism exploded in Europe more virulent than at any time in six decades. We were blessed… that Italy led the European Union.… We were fortunate that Italy had an ambassador who understood this… menace… and worked with our government… to counter the… poisoning of the atmosphere of the continent.”
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At the May 16 American Friends of the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum and the Yad Layeled Children’s Museum dinner, held at The Pierre, “Nazi hunters” Serge and Beate Klarsfeld were presented with the Janusz Korczak Award by New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi . The award was established in memory of the Polish-Jewish educator who accompanied the children from his Warsaw orphanage to the death camps. Best known for their role in the capture of Klaus Barbie, “the Butcher of Lyon,” the Klarsfelds have set a goal to restore an identity to each of the 11,000 Jewish children deported from France.
“Sixty-five years ago my father was in the Wehrmacht,” said Beate Klarsfeld, who expounded on bridge building between Jews and Germans. “The victims of the Nazis could expect that Nazis not play an active role in postwar Germany.” Serge Klarsfeld added, “My wife spoke to you as a German… whom I’ve loved since I set eyes on her…. France, home of enlightenment, broke her word and delivered the people they were supposed to protect to their executioners…. More than pursuing Nazis, we pursue Jewish names. By retrieving the name, we restore the victims from anonymity. Before we had a name, we had a number, extermination [date]…. Now, 11,400 children have full identities.” Plaques have been placed on the houses from which these children were deported.
After touting Serge Klarsfeld’s “contribution to the history of French Jewry during World War II as “remarkable,” Jean-David Levitte , France’s ambassador to the United States, said: “My grandparents died in Auschwitz, and I saw the name of my uncle, Eduard Levitte [who died there], appear on the screen tonight.” He praised the Ghetto Fighters’ and Children’s museums for their innovative education programs, such as their International Book-Sharing Project, as a means to teach the universal values of tolerance and respect for human dignity.
Levitte, whose grandparents came to France from Russia, told me: “At 19, my father joined the resistance… organized a network to get Jewish children from non-occupied France… to live with Catholic families…. All survived. My father then dedicated his life to the reconstruction of the French Jewish community.”
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At the 40 Years Diplomatic Relations Between Germany and Israel celebration, held May 17 at German House and hosted jointly by the consuls general of Germany and Israel, Arye Mekel , Israel’s consul general in New York, praised Germany for being “a strong supporter of Israel.” Mekel, whose grandparents were murdered in a ghetto in Ukraine and who lived until the age of 3 in a displaced-persons camp, said, “Our past is complicated, our future is good.” Former German ambassador to Israel Klaus Schutz recalled the historic May 14, 1960, meeting of David Ben-Gurion and Konrad Adenauer at The Waldorf-Astoria. “Because these two extraordinary men found a way… nobody ever would forget what had happened in the past…. The two countries were able to establish a political relationship both fruitful and important for either side.” While posted in Israel, Schutz said, “My daughter Christiane studied at The Hebrew University. At the house of Gershom Scholem, the great Jewish philosopher, she met her husband. Neither she, nor my son, Sebastian, who graduated from Herzliya Gymnasia, experienced any hostility.” Schutz later told me, “My daughter’s husband is a Texan Jew…. She converted and is now called Chanah . She will not answer to Christiane.”
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At last month’s book party, hosted by Mira and John Van Doren , I met Michael Good , the author of the recent work, “The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi Who Saved Jews” (Fordham University Press). Plagge, a German officer, saved some 250 Jews in Vilna, Lithuania. One of them was Good’s mother. This year, along with Oskar Schindler and 380 other Germans, Plagge is one of thousands honored by the State of Israel as “Righteous Among the Nations” heroes, for protecting and saving Jews during the Holocaust.