In my last On the Square column, I took exception to a New York Times piece which assailed Giovanni Palatucci, an Italian policeman honored by Yad Vashem for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, and also under consideration for sainthood. Relying on highly questionable allegations, the Times left the impression that Palatucci’s widely honored heroism was a manufactured “myth;” and that, far from being a savior of Jews, he actually helped persecute them. I commented:
The Times article was not original, but a repackaging of an earlier piece by the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, which had aggressively attacked Palatucci. What the Times did not reveal, however, is that the Corriere’s sensational charges were immediately and severely criticized by a host of historians and experts; and this criticism has only grown since.
To its credit, the Times has now acknowledged that criticism, and evidence in Palatucci’s favor. In a follow-up piece by Patricia Cohen (author of the original article), the Times noted:
The Rev. Angelo Maria Oddi, president of the Giovanni Palatucci Association in Italy, wrote a defense of Palatucci on the group’s Web site and said the association had documentation from people whose lives he had saved.
Among them is Edna Selan Epstein, a Holocaust survivor now living in Chicago, who wrote Yad Vashem to reinforce her support for Palatucci’s status as a Righteous Gentile:
My parents both independently told me on a number of occasions that we survived in large part thanks to the help of Giovanni Palatucci. My mother also told me that Giovanni Palatucci was perfectly aware that the Germans “would get him” as a result of his actions in that regard.
Cohen’s new Times piece also cited an article in the L’Osservatore Romano by historian Anna Foa, a leading authority on Italian Jewish history, which strongly defended Palatucci.
The Times even quoted from my own column on the subject:
In the United States, First Things, a conservative journal about religion and public life, published an article last week condemning the new reports about Palatucci as an attempt to use the “alleged ‘discovery’ as a platform from which to make sweeping and unfair allegations against Italians, the papacy, and even parts of the Jewish community itself.”
Putting aside that I wasn’t “condemning” anyone—only asking for basic fairness—I’m grateful for the citation. But I still have three objections to the Times latest piece:
- The original article was prominently displayed on the front page of the official print version, while this follow-up article, though far more accurate and balanced, was relegated to page C-3 of the Arts section.
- The title of the new article, “Discredited Wartime Hero’s Backers Rebut Charges,” should not have used the word “discredited” in its headline, since the whole point of the discussion, as the Times itself now concedes, is that Palatucci’s life-saving efforts have not been conclusively “discredited”—quite the contrary—even if the exact number of Jews he saved remains in question.
- The organization that has taken the lead in the movement against Palatucci is the Primo Levi Center in New York, which the Times continues to treat as a non-partisan institution devoted to dispassionate historical research. But as I pointed out in my column, the Levi Center’s website assails Pius XII—and in one case, links that criticism to their campaign against Palatucci—without giving any substantial evidence in their defense.
That said, it is welcome to see the New York Times improve and partially self-correct their reporting on this subject. One hopes that trend continues in the future.