Improbable Heroes: The True Story of How Clergy and Ordinary Citizens Risked Their Lives to Save Jews In Italy
Improbable Heroes is the true story of how Jews were saved by extraordinary acts of bravery by ordinary Italians and the clergy.
The vain and often delusional Mussolini sought to ingratiate himself with Hitler by adopting Germany’s anti-Semitic programs and laws. Following the Italian leader’s overthrow and a German takeover of Italy, some Jewish leaders worked feverishly with the Catholic clergy and partisans to hide, disguise and spirit Jews out of the harm’s way. Catholic and Jewish artisans counterfeited false papers, baptismal certificates and ration cards; Jews were dressed as priests and nuns and hidden in convents, churches and abbeys—some even in the Vatican.
The Germans, harassed by Christian and Jewish partisans, and furious at being unable to round up significant numbers of Jews, committed unspeakable atrocities against Italian citizens and clergy. Improbable Heroes traces the terrifying experiences of Jewish families, Italian and non-Italian, who dodged the Gestapo, traveled under false papers and disguise, and were hidden by brave priests, nuns and citizens, some right under the noses of the SS. Others were escorted as “pilgrims”—Jews dressed as priests—through German lines to safety by the gentle monks of St. Francis of Assisi.
Improbable Heroes also explores how the plans of Pope Pius XI to condemn the Nazi persecution of the Jews were derailed by his untimely death and the ambivalence of his successor, Pope Pius XII, to condemn the Germans, but balanced by the aggressive efforts of some cardinals and bishops, when they ordered, sometimes in the pope’s name, Catholic clergy to assist Jews, and Catholic churches and convents to hide them.
As a result of acts of improbable heroes, over 85% of the Jews in Italy survived, a rate unmatched in any other German-occupied European country. This is their proud story.