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Italian who helped WWII Jews recognised as martyr

Pope puts Odoardo Focherini on track to sainthood

10 May, 19:50
Italian who helped WWII Jews recognised as martyr (ANSA) - Vatican City, May 10 - Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday recognised as a martyr an Italian who helped about 100 Jews escape the Holocaust, who died in a Nazi concentration camp, and was among the first Italians to be recognised by Israel as 'Righteous Among The Nations'. Odoardo Focherini (1907-1944), from Carpi near Modena, is now on the way to beatification, a step away from sainthood.

An inspector for a Catholic insurance company, in 1936 Focherini became president of the Catholic activist association Azione Cattolica.

In 1939 he was named managing director of L'Avvenire d'Italia, a Catholic newspaper whose head office was in Bologna.

His activity in favour of the Jews started in 1942. The first he saved came from Poland on a train for injured people and arrived in Genoa, where the city's cardinal directed them to Raimondo Manzini, L' Avvenire d'Italia's chairman.

Manzini trusted Focherini and asked him to help them.

His major activity in favour of the persecuted Jews, however, began in September 1943.

With support from his wife, Focherini contacted reliable people who helped him in providing blank identity cards, filling them in with false data and taking the persecuted Jews to the Swiss border.

He and a parish priest near Modena, Father Dante Sala, managed to help about 100 Jews to escape.

Focherini was arrested at Carpi hospital in March 1944, when he was organising the escape of the last Jew he was able to save.

He was taken to a prison in Bologna, then two labour camps in northern Italy, and deported to Germany on September 7, first to the Flossenburg camp and finally to Hersbrueck.

A septic wound on his leg caused his death on December 27, 1944.

Focherini was awarded the Gold Medal of Italy's Jewish Communities in 1955 and the title of Righteous among the Nations from the Yad Vashem Shoah memorial site in Jerusalem in 1969. He received one of Italy's top honours, the Gold Medal to Civil Merit, in 2007.

His canonisation process began in 1996.