Heroes of Italy: Mount talk explores Italian defiance of the Holocaust

October 23, 2019

Vincent Marmorale, a producer of the film My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes, spoke to a packed audience after a screening at Mount Saint Mary College on Sunday, October 20.

As one of the last safe-havens in World War II Europe, Italy played a crucial role in saving the lives of countless Jews, partisans, and other refugees. Even after their country fell to Nazi forces, many Italians continued to risk everything to help their compatriots. 

The stories of these brave men and women are highlighted in the film My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes, which was screened at Mount Saint Mary College on Sunday, October 20.

A question and answer session with Vincent Marmorale, one of the film’s producers, followed the film. Marmorale, who is president of the Italy and the Holocaust Foundation, emphasized the importance that Italian culture played in the staggering number of Holocaust rescues that took place in World War II Italy.

“Italians are a regional people,” said Marmorale. This means that their identities are tied strongly to regions within their country, rather than the country as a whole. Because of this, Marmorale explained, neither Mussolini nor the Nazis could fully win over the Italian people: “They had nothing but suspicion for this central authority,” he said.

Italy’s vast mountain ranges, which serve as notable geographic barriers, are often attributed to the development of the country’s regional pride. But these mountains also aided greatly in hiding and rescuing Jewish refugees during the war, Marmorale explained. 

My Italian Secret illustrated how militant anti-fascist groups, Ally soldiers, and everyday citizens all used Italy’s mountainous terrain to travel and hide outside of Nazi visibility. These groups also often brought refugees into the mountains to hide, escape from raids, or to help them flee the country.

Marmorale taught social studies for 33 years and helped implement prejudice reduction and Holocaust workshops on the state and national levels. In 1986, he was awarded the Louis E. Yavner Award for his outstanding contributions in the fields of Holocaust studies and other violations of human rights. He currently holds positions as chair of the New York State Council for the Social Studies Human Rights Committee and as chair of the Commission for Social Justice Holocaust Memorial Committee.