The name of Giovanni Palatucci, a wartime Italian police official whose reputation has swung between hero and villain and back again, will remain – at least for the present time – on an English Montreal School Board (EMSB) building in Côte St. Luc.
The EMSB is taking its cue from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust authority in Jerusalem, which advised the public school board that it is not revoking Palatucci’s inclusion with the Righteous Among the Nation.
The allegations began against Palatucci more than two years ago when a group of scholars associated with the Center for Jewish Studies in New York concluded that for six years Palatucci was really a Nazi collaborator.
In June 2013, the Centro Primo Levi at the Center for Jewish Studies sent a letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington citing evidence that the widely revered Palatucci identified Jews for deportation to Auschwitz. It said a dozen researchers had reviewed nearly 700 documents and found no proof that he helped Jews. A number of historians and activists in Italy also gathered what they regarded as damning material which they sent to Yad Vashem.
In response at the time, the museum withdrew the long-standing information it disseminated about Palatucci.
Yad Vashem: “Giovanni Palatucci is on the list of the Righteous”
The EMSB, however, decided not to take any action until it received advice from Yad Vashem. It referred the matter to the then chair of Yad Vashem’s Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, Jacob Turkel, a retired judge of Israel’s Supreme Court.
In 2006, the EMSB named the former Wagar High School building after Palatucci who was credited with saving as many as 5,000 Jews, mainly while based in Flume, Croatia.
The Giovanni Palatucci Facility houses John Grant High School for students with special needs, Marymount Adult Education Centre and the EMSB’s book processing department.
Irena Steinfeldt, director of the Righteous Among the Nations department, informed the EMSB: “We have not received any documentation that justifies resubmitting the file to the commission. I haven’t heard from the Primo Levi institute, who initiated the story in the New York Times, nor have I received a report from the historians’ commission that was established in Italy.
“As far as we are concerned, Giovanni Palatucci is on the list of the Righteous.”
He was so recognized in 1990. Palatucci was arrested by the Gestapo in September 1944 and died in the Dachau concentration camp in February 1945.
The proposal to honour Palatucci was made by EMSB commissioner Syd Wise, a former Wagar principal, who died in November. The initiative was part of a larger program he introduced to foster exchange between students in Jewish schools and those in the EMSB, especially where there are significant Italian communities.
“What we did was in good faith, and we based our decision on the facts as they existed 60 years after the war,” he said at the time the controversy surfaced.
EMSB chair Angela Mancini stated that it was Wise’s request that Palatucci name not be removed from the building until Yad Vashem came to a decision.
“Now that we have heard from Yad Vashem, I will bring their findings to our council for further discussion. But for now that name will remain attached to the building.
“The fact that Yad Vashem spent over two years on this file shows that they took the allegations seriously.”
The EMSB is not 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.
Yad Vashem’s Commission for the Designation of the Righteous is an independent body composed of historians, researchers and Holocaust survivors.