Local bar associations get a lesson on Holocaust-era Italian history
Brooklyn has its own roots that grew partially out of Italian and Jewish culture, but not many know about the history of Italians protecting Jewish people during the Holocaust. Three local bar associations got a history lesson in this from film producer Vincent Marmorale during a showing of his documentary “My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes” at St. Francis College on Nov. 29.
The Brooklyn Brandeis Society, the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn and the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kings County held the joint event to watch the documentary and to participate in a question and answer session with Marmorale afterward.
“This event is part of a continuing effort by these three organizations that will produce events and programs that will deal with our common values,” said Andrew Fallek, president of the Brooklyn Brandeis Society.
“We are living at a time where generalizations about nationality, ethnicity and religion are coming from the highest quarters — all Mexicans are this, all Muslims are that,” Fallek continued. “So it’s important to tell stories that debunk stereotypes whenever we can.”
Justice Katherine Levine first got the idea to arrange the event when she saw an excerpt of the documentary during a Holocaust Remembrance Day event last April. She said she immediately contacted Marmorale.
“I was blown away by the secretive and ingenious tactics employed by the Italians to save 80 percent of the Jewish population there,” Levine said.
The documentary tells the story of Gino Bartali, a famous cyclist in the 1930s who defied the fascist government to help Jews during World War II. The film also followed Jewish survivors as they returned to Italy later in life.
“In 1995, a wonderful man named Walter Wolf called me up, and when I asked him about his life, he said, ‘I was born in Germany, I went to Italy and then I came to the United States,’ and then he proceeded to tell me a story that was so incredible that I helped him write a book,” Marmorale said. “Then he told me he knows six other people with similar stories and that’s when I knew I had a documentary.”
Marmorale would travel many times to Italy and Germany, meeting survivors and those who assisted them. He explained that it wasn’t always easy getting the Italians to tell their stories because, to them, they hadn’t done anything important. He often had to explain that he didn’t want the story to die with them.
“They questioned me why was I asking these questions,” he said. “This is an imperfect story, but there is no holocaust story that is perfect. The fact that anyone did anything, we have to know who they are. Just remember, in Italy if you harbored a Jew, you died.”
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