A Tribute to Giovanni Palatucci
Recipient of ADL's Courage to Care Award
Speech by Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director
May 18, 2005, New York City
Posted: May 20, 2005
I have spent my life bearing witness and giving testimony to the bravery of the Catholic nanny who hid me for more than four years and saved my life when so many of my family members perished.
Often I am asked to do various things - this is something I volunteered for - insisted on!
I never had the opportunity in my life to express to my nanny - to say thank you, mamusha; thank you for giving me life! And so when I have the opportunity to honor a rescuer, I take it.
When Giovanni Palatucci, an attorney and a police chief, died in Dachau, he was 36 years old. Thirty-six is a special number to Jews. There is the beautiful Jewish legend of the 36 lamed Vov Tzaddikim, men of ultimate righteousness who make it possible for the world to endure. In the 4th century, a Babylonian Talmudic teacher wrote, "In each generation there are in the world not less than 36 righteous. Upon them rests the presence of God. They may be humble workers but within they are illuminated by God's grace." Only when the Jewish people is in danger by its enemies does one of these "lamed-Vov Tzaddikim" appear as the messenger of God to do his will and protect his children.
Giovanni Palatucci was a "lamed vovnik," a shining light in the dark nightmare of the Nazi Holocaust. As a policeman who swore allegiance to uphold the law of the state he served - even though the law was unfit to uphold - he acted as a guardian and of the true elements of justice in an environment where justice had been eroded, distorted and polluted by political hatred. By his actions of rescuing Jews, he disobeyed the law of the land and obeyed a higher law - knowing that the ultimate divine judge of all humankind would deem that he properly upheld the only law a man of personal integrity, a sense of personal justice and moral responsibility could possibly have obeyed.
His life is a shining example of what being a police officer means. Law enforcement is a profession driven by values. Most in society choose to live their lives based on a desire for comfort, ease and safety. Police officers choose a calling involving tremendous sacrifice and danger…motivated by the need to help and protect others and not be bystanders.
The core values of the profession are the core values of our nation: the rule of law, that each person will be treated with respect and dignity, that they will perform their duties without bias and with compassion. Few people in our society are invested with as much trust as law enforcement professional. And more than just about any other representative of government, on a grass roots level, in every interaction with a citizen, they can reaffirm our nation's ideals and values.
We are honored to have with us tonight a witness…one to give testimony to the heroism of
Giovanni Palatucci, who saved this man's life when so many of his family members perished. Vladimir Fiser was born in Croatia, in 1924. He finished grade 11 in 1941 when Germany defeated Yugoslavia and occupied Croatia. His father, a lawyer, was executed in the summer of the same year, along with many other family members. He fled to the Italian occupied zone of Croatia and was interned as a war refugee until 1943 when the Germans invaded Italy.
It is during this period that Giovanni Palatucci saved Mr. Fiser's life, thereby enabling him in 1943 to flee to Switzerland finish grade 12, and after the war return to Yugoslavia where he graduated from the University of Zagreb, faculty of economics in 1949. Vladimir Fiser is joined here tonight by his second wife, Marika Ferber.
Please join me in welcoming Vladimir Fiser to share his story.
Thank you, Vladimir. We are each other's family. I would like to take this moment to welcome and acknowledge members of the Palatucci family who have joined us for this tribute.
In addition to tonight's recognition, Giovanni Palatucci's heroic and selfless efforts are being acknowledged in many ways. The mayor of the City of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has issued a proclamation, declaring today "Giovanni Palatucci Courage to Care Day". ADL is also ensuring Giovanni Palatucci's story is known. As your dinner program shows, we have created a special lesson plan that will teach the legacy of Palatucci's noble actions. We will also draw attention to him as a role model to other law enforcement professionals through the establishment of a law enforcement award for one Italian and one American officer who have gone far and beyond to protect the community and to reduce the scars of hate crimes. Further, Palatucci's actions are reported as part of the curriculum of the ADL's "Law Enforcement and Society" an intensive training program that bring law enforcement officers to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for the purpose of exploring their relationship with the public, as well as issues of personal responsibility and ethical conduct. What better example could there be? And now for the Courage to Care Award.
The Courage to Care Award was established by the Anti-Defamation League to honor and celebrate those who, in the midst of the terrifying nightmare of the Holocaust, risked and often gave their own lives to save Jewish lives.
The Courage to Care Award will be accepted by the Chief of Police of Italy, Giovanni DeGennaro. A much-decorated police officer and an outstanding personality on the international law enforcement scene, Chief DeGennaro, an attorney like Giovanni Palatucci, has devoted his career of more than 30 years to fighting crime. He has developed close ties and cooperation with foreign countries including our own FBI and D.E.A. He has been honored by his own country and others. Italy named him a Knight of the Great Cross to the merit of the Italian Republic. Belgium appointed him Knight Commander of the Order of Leopold II. He is one of the world's most respected and honored professionals in law enforcement today … thus it is so fitting that he accepts the Courage to Care Award for a respected and honored law enforcement professional of yesterday.
(Acceptance by National Police Chief DeGennaro)
Thank you, Chief DeGennaro. You follow in the footsteps of Giovanni Palatucci. You embody all that is fine and honorable in your chosen profession.
In Jewish tradition, it is said that he who saves a life is as if he saved the entire world. In honoring Giovanni Palatucci tonight, we heed the words of the Psalm, "I shall not die. I shall live and I will tell." This hero who had the courage to care made it possible for Vladimir Fiser and 5,000 other Jews he saved to bear witness. It is a priceless inheritance for us to treasure and to remember and to ensure the world never forgets.
Good evening…and thank you for being here.