Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director
Remarks (as prepared)
Chief Giovanni Palatucci Courageous Leadership Award
Presentation To Chief of Police James McDonnell, L.A.P.D.
Los Angeles, CA
November 14, 2008
|I have spent my life bearing witness to the bravery of my Catholic nanny who hid me for more than four years and saved my life when so many of my family members perished in the horror that was Nazi Europe.
This was a monstrous time that paralyzed the hearts and minds, and the moral will, of decent people.
Even so, there were a few brave souls who became, against all odds, their brother’s keeper.
Giovanni Palatucci, Chief of Police in the Italian port city of Fiume, was such a person. He made it possible for as many as 5,000 Jews destined for the Nazi death camps to survive when millions of others did not. Yet in giving life to others, he sacrificed his own.
An attorney, a Police Chief, and a Catholic, Palatucci was sworn to uphold the laws of the state he served, even though the laws had been perverted.
True to his own humanity and sense of decency, Palatucci issued false identity papers and visas to escaping Jews. He delivered food and money to Jews in hiding. He officially “deported” the Jews of Fiume to an internment camp near Rome, where his uncle Giuseppe, Bishop of Campagna, could ensure their safety and well-being.
In 1939, he warned a ship of Jewish refugees seeking refuge in Palestine not to dock in Fiume since Nazi collaborators were plotting to stop it and return the passengers to Germany.
In response to Italy’s anti-Jewish “racial laws,” Palatucci once said, “They want to make us believe that the heart is just a muscle, to prevent us from doing what our hearts and faith tell us to do.”
In all of his actions to protect Jewish men, women, and children, Giovanni Palatucci obeyed a higher authority, knowing that he properly upheld the only law a man of moral courage should … the law that says I am my brother’s keeper.
Although he had the opportunity to save himself when the Germans grew suspicious, he passed on the exit visa he was given by the Swiss Ambassador to his fiancée, who was Jewish.
He was eventually arrested by the Gestapo, charged with treason and conspiracy, and sentenced to death. Thanks to the plea of the Swiss Consul, his sentence was commuted to exile in Dachau, where he died in 1944. He was all of thirty-six years old.
Giovanni Palatucci was a “lamed vovnik,” a beacon in the dark nightmare of the Nazi Holocaust.
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.
The core values of the law enforcement profession are the core values of America that demand that each person be treated with respect and dignity and that each guardian of the law perform his and her duties without bias and with compassion.
Few in our society are invested with as much trust as the law enforcement professional. And perhaps more than any other representative of government, members of law enforcement can on a grassroots level and in every interaction with a citizen reaffirm our nation’s ideals and values.
Thus, we have established the ADL Chief Giovanni Palatucci Courageous Leadership Award to raise awareness of Giovanni Palatucci and to recognize the role law enforcement can undertake in combating hate and bigotry.
The award especially recognizes Italian and American police officers who have exemplified leadership in the fight against terrorism, hate crimes, bigotry, and extremism.
This year’s recipient has served the Los Angeles Police Department for 27 years, holding a variety of positions throughout the department. He is Assistant Chief of Police James McDonnell, second in command to Chief Bill Bratton.
Jim McDonnell was appointed to his post in 2002 and serves the third largest Police Department in the United States.
His dedication to his profession and to the rich multi-ethnic mosaic that is the community of Los Angeles has been exemplary.
With a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and a Master’s in public administration, Jim McDonnell has worked his way up through the ranks in a wide variety of assignments and has managed diverse commands within the department which, in his present role, includes responsibility for the divisions of media, governmental, and community relations, all areas that demand great person-to-person skills and a real sense of diplomacy.
Jim is widely recognized as an advocate for community policing and the effective management and leadership of public safety initiatives.
He regularly lectures at departmental schools and has trained criminal justice professionals in leadership, community policing, sensitively handling line of duty deaths, and ethics.
Yes, I said ethics. In an age when civics is no longer part of the classroom, it strikes me as crucial that civilians as well as guardians of the law understand what so many have forgotten: that the harmony and peace of society depends on the compact for honesty and fairness and mutual trust that we have in our day-to-day relations with one another.
This is as true for the police as for the man and woman on the street – but the police will always be held to a higher standard as they set the example for the rest of us.
And Jim McDonnell’s concern for ethics extends to the next generation. He serves on numerous boards of organizations that focus on furthering the interests of local youth.
Interested in maintaining the highest professional standards, he is an active member in international, state, and local law enforcement organizations.
In June 20006, he joined a delegation of 11 high-ranking American law enforcement officials for one of ADL’s ongoing missions exploring Israeli Police counterterrorism strategies and tactics, touring Jerusalem’s holy sites, the Dead Sea area, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Haifa and Tel Aviv.
Jim McDonnell discussed that experience with enthusiasm before ADL leaders who gathered in Atlanta for our 2006 National Commission Meeting.
In his remarks he said, “The police community tends to be parochial … we know that in today’s world, there is no room for being parochial. What happens elsewhere in the world today, could well happen here tomorrow.”
He spoke movingly of a female police officer from Jerusalem that the delegation met, a mother of an infant who had been gravely wounded by a suicide bomber. Though she had been near death after the bombing, she had survived.
Jim remembered her as “a fighter, a warrior, a model police officer! She is alive because of her will to live. She has since had another child, which she views as a demonstration of her triumphing over the bomber … good over evil!”
Jim has forged a strong connection to ADL in recent years, chairing the ADL Pacific Southwest Region’s Law Enforcement Advisory Committee.
The committee consists of senior officers from key law enforcement agencies throughout the region, including representatives from the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the California Highway Patrol.
It works to improve and enhance ADL’s relationship and visibility with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and to provide better, more relevant programs and resources to law enforcement in a timely manner.
Jim McDonnell is himself a graduate of ADL’s Advanced Training School on Extremist and Terrorist Threats, and his participation in this training may be taken as a measure of how seriously the top brass of the L.A.P.D. take the possibility of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.
Jim always steps up to the plate when asked to work with ADL. For example, he sits on the Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize selection committee and has been a champion of this ADL program made possible through the Sherwood family in Los Angeles.
Initiated years ago in L.A. and now extending to most of Central and Southern California, the Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for combating hate recognizes those individuals in law enforcement who are so committed to combating extremism, bigotry and hatred, and educating to reduce hate crimes and bias activities, that they make a significant difference in their community and serve as role models for their department.
Jim McDonnell is a distinguished member of the selection committee, believing strongly in commending law enforcement professionals whose work encourages respect for this region’s diversity, and he brings to his work on the selection committee the experience, seriousness and dedication he brings to all of his law enforcement duties.
I am pleased and honored to recognize Chief James McDonnell with this year’s ADL Chief Giovanni Palatucci Courageous Leadership Award.