by Richard Caifano
During the middle of the 20th century, 20 percent of the Jews located in Italy lost their lives to the Nazi campaign of annihilation; throughout the remainder of Europe, 80 percent of the Jewish population was lost. This remarkable difference came from the ethic of the Italian people, and its importance is being noted throughout the world.
It was an undertaking that required the ingenuity and dedication of countless Italians who were under the rule of a regime aligned with the campaign of its Axis partner Germany, whose quest was the destruction of the Jewish race. At last, the bravery of the Italians during the World War II gained public attention through the study, research and publication of Elizabeth Bettina, as documented by her book “It Happened In Italy” (Thomas Nelson Press, 2009).
In March 2010, Illinois UNICO members Anthony Fornelli, Paul Domico and Michael Veselka attended a presentation by Bettina as a part of the UNICO National Board of Directors meeting in Kansas City. The presentation was remarkable in that it included testimonies from individuals who had been saved from almost certain death with the help of Italians from communities throughout Italy during World War II.
The presentation was impressive, engaging and emotional. Following the reception, Fornelli extended an invitation to Bettina to present her documentary to audiences in Chicago. The author accepted, and a plan was formed.
Following his return to Chicago, Fornelli became aware of the interest of the Consul General of Italy in publicizing the brave undertakings of the Italians. Fornelli set out to make it happen through the support of Chicago’s Italian-American community and the Italian Consulate.
On Nov. 7, 2011, Casa Italia hosted the joint undertaking of the Consul General of Italy in Chicago, UNICO National, the National Italian American Foundation and the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. More than 100 members of the Italian-American and Jewish communities gathered to hear testimony of bravery of the people of Italy from Jewish survivors who now live in the Chicago area.
As the sons and daughters of Italian immigrants who sadly saw the need to part company with the politics of the Italian regime during World War II, it was heartwarming to hear the story told of the people of Italy in their defiance of the horrors of the Holocaust. The story, as documented in Bettina’s book, has made its way into the hearts and minds of our community thanks to the leadership of Fornelli and UNICO National.