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Thursday, December 25, 2014

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EMSB awaits Yad Vashem decision on Palatucci

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Giovanni Palatucci

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) says it’s awaiting the advice of Yad Vashem before making a decision on whether to remove the name of Giovanni Palatucci from a building it dedicated in his honour for what was believed to be his heroism in saving Jews during the Holocaust.

Credible evidence came to light in June that the late Italian police official was, in fact, a Nazi collaborator.

In 2006, the EMSB named the former Wagar High School building in Côte St. Luc the Giovanni Palatucci Facility after the man who was revered worldwide for rescuing as many as 5,000 Jews from deportation to Auschwitz.

The public school board has been in contact with Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust authority, and was told that an extensive investigation has begun.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has already withdrawn information on Palatucci’s putative heroism after receiving fresh and startling evidence from the Centro Primo Levi at the Center for Jewish Studies in New York.

Last month, the centre advised the museum that a dozen scholars who researched nearly 700 documents concluded that for six years, Palatucci was “a willing executor of the racial legislation and, after taking the oath to Mussolini’s Social Republic, collaborated with the Nazis.”

They say there’s no evidence that he helped Jews during the war, and that, to the contrary, evidence exists that he assisted the Germans in identifying Jews for deportation.

EMSB officials, however, continue to regard the evidence as “allegations” until they’re proven.

“Palatucci was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1990 based on material then available,” Yad Vashem foreign media liaison Estee Yaari stated in a message sent to the EMSB.

“Recently, a group of historians and activists in Italy and abroad have gathered material that they say shows that Palatucci is unworthy of the title and have brought some of this material to Yad Vashem’s attention.

“Yad Vashem takes seriously the claims now being made in the case of Palatucci, and the information and material being collected. Yad Vashem has commenced the process of thoroughly examining the documents, which will all be presented to the chairman of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, Justice Jacob Turkel [a retired judge of Israel’s Supreme Court.] He will then decide whether to re-submit this case to the commission for deliberation.”

The independent commission is composed of historians, researchers and Holocaust survivors.

EMSB chair Angela Mancini said: “We certainly trust their judgment on such a sensitive file,” affirming that no action will be taken until there is guidance from Yad Vashem.

EMSB commissioner Syd Wise, who urged that the building be named after Palatucci, said, “What we did was in good faith, and we based our decision on the facts as they existed 60 years after the war. This is obviously an unhappy turn of events… We will wait for [Yad Vashem] to complete their work.”

The EMSB isn’t alone in memorializing Palatucci. There are public spaces named for him in Italy, New York and Israel. The Anti-Defamation League posthumously bestowed upon him its Courage to Care Award in 2005. Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr.

The Giovanni Palatucci Facility houses the John Grant High School for students with special needs, the Marymount Adult Education Centre and the EMSB’s book-processing department.

The EMSB hopes to open a regular high school in the building by 2014, if registration is sufficient. It will be called Wallenberg Academy, after the wartime Swedish diplomat whose rescue of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews is not in dispute.

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