NEW YORK – An Italian police chief long celebrated for saving 5,000 Jews during World War II was in fact a Nazi collaborator, a New York-based institute that studies Italian Jewry said Thursday.
Giovanni Palatucci, who died in the Dachau concentration camp in February 1945 at age 36, was regarded as Italy’s equivalent to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved thousands of Jewish workers during the Holocaust.
Over the years, he was honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, and declared a martyr by Pope John Paul II, putting him on the path for beatification and sainthood.
But the Primo Levi Center said fresh research it had coordinated revealed that “Palatucci continued to work under the Germans and to provide information on the few Jews” in Fiume, where he was chief of police. Fiume today is the Croatian city of Rijeka, on the Adriatic Sea.
Responding to the center’s findings, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has started taking down references to Palatucci.
In a June 7 letter to the museum, the Primo Levi Center said Palatucci was never police chief in Fiume, where there were in fact barely 500 Jews — far fewer than the 5,000 previously stated. Of them, 80 percent ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
“Palatucci did not send hundreds of Jews to Campagna to be protected by his uncle,” said the center’s director, Natalia Indrimi, who wrote the letter to the museum.
The Primo Levi Center also rejected the notion that Palatucci destroyed documents concerning Jews in Fiume to ensure that they were not sent to concentration camps.
Overall, Indrimi said, Palatucci — whose name is honored in piazzas and promenades all over Italy — “continued to work under the Germans and to provide information on the few Jews who were still in the area.”
“He was one of many government clerks who worked in the persecutory machine as if it were any other job,” doing nothing to ease the persecution of Jews, she said.
On the website of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, he is remembered as “an Italian hero in the Holocaust” who was arrested by the Gestapo, accused of conspiracy and sent off to Dachau.