In the 1940s, Giovanni Palatucci was police chief in the small town of Fiume in Northern Italy, forging documents and visas in an effort that helped save 5,000 Jewish lives. His life was cut short after he was captured and taken to the Dachau concentration camp, where he perished in 1944.
Palatucci was honored on Oct. 20 with the Jan Zwartendijk Humanitarian Award presented by the Boy's Town Jerusalem Foundation of America's Mid-Atlantic Region. During the ceremony at the National Liberty Museum, Palatucci's nephew, Gene DeSimone, owner of several local car dealerships, received the award in his uncle's honor.
He got a high from saving lives, explained DeSimone after the event. "People have highs about drinking and drugs and tobacco – his high was saving lives."
Palatucci was also honored by the Anti-Defamation League this past May with its "Courage to Care" award.
During the Holocaust, Palatucci arranged for Jews to be deported to Campania, where he had a family member who offered them assistance. He also notified Jews of planned raids to get them beyond harm's way.
After a while, however, the Nazis caught onto Palatucci's methods, and in 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo.
He was then sent to Dachau, where he died a brutal death at age 36.
"I met with the family in Italy. I've been going back and forth to Italy every year, and there's a lot of stuff there," said DeSimone. "In Israel, they have a street named after him. He's in museums. But there's nothing here in America."