Police Psychology | Catholic, Police Officer, and Possibly a “Saint”?
Fr. Joseph D’Angelo, Catholic Priest, Police Chaplain
Witness the unknown story of one such individual who risked his life amidst grave danger to save over five thousand perfect strangers. The following narrative is an inspiring story about keeping faith in the midst of tribulation, even to the point of sacrificing his own life to martyrdom.
GIOVANNI PALATUCCI, POLICEMAN AND MAN OF GOD
Between 1938 and 1944, Giovanni Palatucci, who was in charge of the Italian Government’s Foreigners Office, and later Chief of Police in Fiume, northern Italy, saved the lives of 5,000 Jews, destined to extermination camps. Palatucci obtained false documents and safe-conducts for individuals persecuted by Nazism. He carried out this endeavor with the help of his uncle, Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci of Campagna.
Palatucci was born in Montella, Italy, in 1909. He worked in Genoa’s public security administration until 1937, when he moved to Fiume. Following the promulgation of racist laws in Italy, he began forging documents and visas for thousands of Jews, sending them to internment camps, “protected” with the added help of his uncle, the Bishop. At that time Palatucci was engaged to a young Jewish woman, and saw her safely in Switzerland before returning to his work.
In 1938 Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had promulgated anti-Jewish laws, which included the confinement of foreign Jews sheltered in camps for internees. One of the largest of these camps was located in Campagna. “They want to make us believe that the heart is only a muscle, to hinder us from doing what our hearts and religion tell us,” Palatucci said, referring to these laws. Palatucci’s work consisted in editing the necessary residence papers required by the law for refugees. He began silently to falsify documents and visas. When Palatucci “deported” Jews “officially”, he handled it in such a way that they were sent to Campagna, instructing his refugees to contact his uncle, who would give them the most help possible.
After Mussolini’s imprisonment in 1943, the German forces occupied the north of Italy, making the situation in Fiume increasingly dangerous for Palatucci, and for the 3,500 Jews there. In February 1943, Palatucci became Fiume’s Chief of Police, and was thus able to continue his secret work. Instead of giving the Germans information on “foreigners” to be deported, he destroyed the records. When he learned about the Nazis’ plans, he alerted people in time, often providing them with false documents and money to escape.”
In June 1943, high German officials searched Palatucci’s apartment, looking for information on resident Jews, the only lists they found corresponded to people who had left Italy long ago. From then on, Palatucci’s relationship with his superiors became very dangerous. A close friend, the Swiss ambassador in Trieste, offered Palatucci safe passage to Switzerland. He accepted his friend’s generous offer but, instead of using it himself, he sent his fiancée, a young Jewish woman. She spent the war there and today lives in Israel.
On September 13, 1944, he was arrested by German security police, the Gestapo, accused of conspiracy, and condemned to death in the prison at Trieste. His sentence was later “commuted” to deportation to Dachau on October 22nd. He was taken to the Dachau extermination camp, his prison number was 117826.
“He died on February 10, 1945, in the very place from which he had saved so many,
a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the Allies on April 29, 1945. Some say he died of undernourishment. Other witnesses said he was shot. He was only 36.”
Giovanni Palatucci’s cause of beatification is already under way. Fr. Gianfranco Zuncheddu, postulator of Palatucci’s Cause of Beatification, said that since “June 17 of last year, the beginning of the diocesan investigation for the beatification and canonization of the Servant of God as a martyr for the faith. Now we await the response and judgment of the consultant theologians on his writings.”
Being a good Catholic police officer shouldn’t be about a doctrine but about actions and the “heart” behind those actions. We too often hinder when our hearts tell us to do something that is right. A good Catholic police officer should not hinder his heart or his religion to follow the letter of the law. The heart of the police officer should be to help others in their time of need like Giovanni Palatucci. That is how we become human and that is how we become a Saint.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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