Assisi in World War II: Convents Shelter the Jewish Refugees
In 1943- 1944 when 300 Jewish refugees were hidden in German-occupied Assisi, many a convent became a place of safe haven. One was the Monastero di San Quirico.
Traveling all the way to Umbria from the northern Italy town of Fiume (part of Croatia as of 1947), Lea Baruch and her sisters Mira and Hella and their parents found refuge in Assisi in another convent – and you can see the three young girls here in the above photo of 1934 taken in their hometown of Fiume:
The Baruch family stayed in the Monastero di Santa Croce, a convent of cloistered German-speaking Clarisse Cappuccine (Capuchin Poor Clares), an order founded by four German sisters in the 18th-century.
The nuns in this convent – even today – are from Austria, Germany or Alto Adige.
Lea Baruch has recorded some of her childhood memories as a refugee hidden in an Assisi cloistered convent. She remembers the kindness of the Sisters “who followed very severe rules of cloister….we could have contact only with the nuns who had not yet taken their final vow of cloister. One of them Suora Fidele, took care of all of our needs.” Without the false identity cards they would soon have, they were unable to have ration cards – but the Clarisse took good care of them. Lea remembers fondly the delicious zuppa di pane (a bread pudding) one of the sisters made for their breakfast.
She remembers, too, the invitation of the Sisters to join them for Christmas Midnight Mass in their chapel.
Lea remembers that German soldiers filled the first row. She recounts that “we had no idea how to behave during the service…so we just copied those opposite us.”
The Baruch family soon had their false carte d’identita, thanks to Don Aldo Brunacci – the priest assisting Assisi’s Bishop Placido Nicolini in the tasks necessary to successfully hide the 300 Jewish refugees that Assisi saved.
Here’s Don Aldo walking the Assisi backstreets…..about that time:
Don Aldo entrusted all the falsification of documents work to the skilled printers, Trento and Luigi Brizi.
The Baruch became the Bartoli family from Campobasso, a town in the southern Italian region of Molise as southern Italy had been liberated and therefore, the Germans would be unable to do any checking if suspicious.
Lea became “Ileana Bartoli,” while Mira would be “Mirella Bartoli” and Hella, “Raffaella Bartoli.”
With their false ID cards, they were thus able to procur ration cards – and to exit the Monastero di Santa Croce. The older of the Baruch girls, Mira, went some afternoons to study Latin with Don Aldo in his library.
The Baruch family soon moved to a small apartment adjacent to a convent. Assisi was liberated in June of 1944 and the Bartoli family again became “Baruch”…but they stayed on in Assisi until January, 1945 when they moved to Jerusalem.
Leah remembers her excitement at the adventures ahead but “I was also sad to leave all those who had helped us escape “un terribile destino.”
Her memories may be read in a display in Assisi’s Museo della Memoria.
Lea’s testimony ends with these words: “During our Assisi stay, no one made any attempt to convert us to Catholicism. Bishop Nicolini, Don Aldo, …..and all the others, helped us at risk of their own lives. They did it believing it was their duty as men and as religious.”
She and her sister Mira were able to thank Don Aldo once again, years later. In Jerusalem in 1977. In the Garden of the Righteous:
A reunion of joy: Don Aldo was there to receive recognition from Yad Vashem – along with Assisi’s Bishop Nicolini (who had died in 1973) – as “Righteous Among the Nations.”
For Don Aldo Brunacci, I’m sure that the connection with the young girls he had helped decades prior was the most memorable moment of that Israel trip.
(The kitchen of the Monastero di Santa Croce – photo by Pepi Merisio, 1971)