As they have for the past four years, prominent people and passers-by joined together outside New York’s Italian Consulate on Wednesday to take turns reading the names of 8,600 Jews rounded up in Italy between 1938 and 1945, never to be seen again.
But this year’s observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day carried an added weight of silence, coming soon after the outbreak of an international, interfaith controversy over the proposed canonization of Pope Pius XII, who presided in Rome during World War II.
None of the readers, including Cardinal Edward M. Egan and several prominent rabbis, made mention of the dispute while standing at microphones planted along Park Avenue, reciting names that included about 1,000 Roman Jews rounded up by German and Italian authorities in a single day, Oct. 16, 1943.
“I would be foolish to say anything beyond what Pope Benedict said last week when he visited the synagogue in Rome,” Cardinal Egan said in an interview before the ceremony.
Benedict XVI visited that city’s Great Synagogue on Jan. 17, a month after setting off protests by signing a decree that initiated the process of making Pius XII a saint. He told assembled Jewish leaders there that he would never forget “the Roman Jews who were snatched from their homes before these very walls,” but provoked further criticism by adding the assertion that the Vatican helped Jews during the Holocaust, “often in a hidden and discreet way.”
Many historians contend that Pius XII did not do enough to save Jews during the Holocaust. The Vatican has long said that Pius, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, helped save many Jews who were hidden in Roman Catholic churches, monasteries and convents.
Natalia Indrimi, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s event and director of the New York office of Centro Primo Levi, a group dedicated to the history of Italian Jews, said the question of Pius’s role during the Holocaust would be settled only when all papal records of the wartime period were unsealed by the Vatican, which so far has released only some.
“It is up to the church to make its own decisions about canonization,” she said. “But any claim that Pius did something or didn’t do something is only a claim until all the records can be studied by the historians.”
The reading of the names took all day. Public officials, clergy members, prominent citizens and scholars came, stood before a bank of four microphones, read about 20 names each, then left.
In the morning, Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn stood next to Matilda Cuomo, the wife of the ex-governor, reading names. In the afternoon, there were ambassadors and businessmen.
Rabbi Avi Weiss, an outspoken leader in the Orthodox Jewish community and director of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, in the Bronx, was on the list of people scheduled to read, but did not show up because the consulate had apparently forgotten to invite him.
“They called me this morning and apologized,” Rabbi Weiss said by telephone later in the day.
“It was a mix-up,” said Maurizio Antonini, the deputy consul general.
For the record, Rabbi Weiss said that if he had been there, “I think I would have found it impossible to remember those mercilessly killed without raising my voice in protest against plans to beatify Pius XII, a world leader who could have raised his voice and did not.”
Past the consulate on Park Avenue and 69th Street went delivery workers, well-dressed people, beautifully coiffed dogs and their walkers, a few passers-by who stopped to read some names, according to the consulate, and quite a few more who just stopped and stared.
“Are these all different people, or are they repeating names?” asked Debbie O’Connor of Hannacroix in Greene County, N.Y., who was at the consulate to help her daughter, Katie, 20, get her student visa for a semester in Milan, starting next month.
She was halted at the curb by the steady roll call of mellifluous Italian names — “Cantoni, Allessandra; Cantoni, Amelia; Cantoni, Carlotta; Cantoni, Ida; Cantoni, Luciano” — most of them clustered in family groups of 5 or 10.
When told they were all different people, she put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God,” she said.