The Diocese of Rockville Center, which encompasses the majority of Long Island, New York, is hosting an exhibition all the way from the Italian diocese of Assisi. The exhibition is a permanent display at the Museum of Memory in Assisi, but they take it on the road for a tour titled “Assisi 1943-1944.” This traveling show of Italian history highlights the roles that Assisi’s citizens played in saving some 300 of their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis during WWII, as well as similar efforts around Italy, and by the Catholic Church.
The Museum of Memory organized the tour with help from the Pave the Way Foundation and the DeSales Media Group, which previously helped the exhibit tour the US in 2022. Director of the museum Marina Rosati explained that the goal of the show is to spread awareness of the extraordinary page of Italian history in which private citizens banded together to offer hospitality to those in hiding, at great risk to their own safety.
Rosati stated in a press release:
“During the terrible years of the Shoah, there were also rays of light and the story of Assisi is one of these. We are proud that the city, its history, its heritage of values can be known even more, beyond the immense legacy of St. Francis.
“Moreover” Rosati added, “the fact that all the material is also in Italian is a way to spread and popularize our language and culture.”
Panels of the display feature the selfless efforts of several people who went through tremendous efforts to shelter Jews from persecution. One such individual was Don Aldo Brunacci, the Secretary to then Bishop of Assisi, Giuseppe Nicolini. Brunacci organized a committee to ensure the safety of Jews, at the request of Pope Pius XII himself.
Bishop Nicolini has his own panel for his initiative in welcoming Jews to Assisi. His display includes a picture of the bishop with famed Italian cyclist Gino Bartali, who himself is featured in the Museum of Memory’s exhibition. Bartali is known for putting his cyclist skills to work for the effort to save Jews by riding between Assisi and Florence, smuggling forged documents within the pipes of his bike. For his efforts he was given a private chapel by the Cardinal of Florence, Elia Dalla Costa.
Alongside the efforts of Italian citizens, the exhibition highlights the efforts of the Catholic Church to hide Jews from the Nazis across the European continent. It is estimated that the Church saved between 847,000 and 882,000 Jews, whose descendants are estimated to account for around 25% of the entire world’s current Jewish population of 16.1 million. This data was compiled by Israeli historian and diplomat Pinchas E. Lapide, who lived through WWII and had firsthand knowledge of theefforts of the Roman Catholic Church.
The 2023 tour has been ongoing since October 31, when the exhibition visited St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa, and next St. Anthony’s High School in Melville. It is currently on display at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School, where it will remain until November 17. From there it will head to Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, where it will be available to view from January 16 to 25.