Refugees, Rescue Efforts and International Politics: The Case of Angelo Donati
Luca Fenoglio (University of Leicester), is the author of Angelo Donati e la “questione ebraica” nella Francia occupata dall’esercito italiano (Silvio Zamorani, 2013). In this presentation he will analyze the rescue
Luca Fenoglio (University of Leicester), is the author of Angelo Donati e la “questione ebraica” nella Francia occupata dall’esercito italiano (Silvio Zamorani, 2013). In this presentation he will analyze the rescue efforts orchestrated by Angelo Donati, a prominent Jewish lawyer from Modena who tried to find exit pathways for Jewish refugees caught in the Italian-occupied zone of France. His plans were ultimately hindered by conflicting agendas and lack of political interest in the fate of refugees.
Donati’s family history and activity before, during and after World War II offer the opportunity to reflect on such themes as the relation between minorities and the nation-state and the transnational protection of human rights. Since the publication of Hannah Arendt’s We Refugees, 1943 and Raphael Lemkin’s reports, these topics have become integral part of contemporary sensibility and public debate. Yet, in spite of the lesson of history and the circulation of current information, the plight of refugees continues to elude a large section of the international public opinion.
About Angelo Donati
Born in Modena in 1885, Angelo Donati was a Jewish Italian banker, philanthropist, and diplomat of the San Marino Republic in Paris. His family history dated back in the 16th century when his predecessor Donato Donati settled in the Estense Duchy of Modena and Reggio.
After the unification of Italy and the emancipation of the Jews, the Donati family positioned itself in many sectors of the economic, political and cultural life of the new country.
Angelo’s father, Salvatore, was a merchant and had six brothers: Lazzaro a banker, Mandolino a manager of Conceria Pellami, Amedeo, the president of Modena Accountants, Federico a lawyer, Benvenuto a professor of juridic thought, Nino had a factory of straw hats in Florence. Of his cousins, Donato was president of the University of Macerata, Mario a world-famous surgeon, Pio a lawyer and member of Italian Parliament for the Italian Socialist Party. His uncle Lazzaro was a member of the executive board of Cassa di Risparmio delle Province Lombarde, Augusto was a lawyer and president of Pio Albergo Trivulzio and the orphanage of Martinitt and Stelline. His nephew Enrico Donati was an important surrealist artist, who died in New York in 2008.
Angelo Donati graduated in law and practiced banking in Milan and Turin. In 1915, he was drafted and fought in the trenches as an infantry captain of the Italian Army. In 1916 he joined the airforce. He was then sent to France with diplomatic duties between the Italian and French armies.
In 1919 he settled in Paris and became a manager of various companies, both in Italy and France. From 1925 to 1932 he was general Consul of the San Marino Republic. Between 1932 to 1939 he was president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Paris, but he was removed from his position following the fascist anti-Jewish laws.
Donati fled Paris in 1940 and in the following two years moved first to Marseilles and then settled in Nice.
After the Italian troops entered Nice, in 1942, Donati, who had close relations and in Italian military and diplomatic milieus, became engaged in the rescue of local Jews cooperating with the local Jewish relief organization, the Commité d’Aide aux Réfugiés or Comité Dubouchage.
In Nice, Donati was active in negotiating with the consul general of Italy Alberto Calisse and local police officers to contain the efforts of the French authorities to surrender the Jews to the Germans.
In Nice, the Italian government created an Office of Racial Police which was assigned to Inspector Guido Lospinoso. Donati’s efforts to obtain Italian protection for the foreign Jewish refugees stationed in Southern France and Lospinoso’s need to maintain public order converged towards resolutions that for a short while kept the Jews in relative safety from deportation.
In spite of the capture order by the German police, Donati continued his rescue activity: he succeeded in sending 2,500 Jews away from Nice, transferring them, in the “forced residency” of St. Martins Vesubie. However, a large percentage of the Jews of St. Martins Vesubie were eventually deported to Auschwitz.
At the beginning of 1943 Donati prepared an ambitious plan to transfer thousands of Jews from southern France to North Africa hoping in the support of the Italian, British, American authorities as well as of the Vatican (none of which came through). With the help of the French Capuchin Père Marie Benoît and the Italian Jewish relief organization Delasem, he discussed his plan in Rome with the English and American ambassadors, Osborne and Titman, at the beginning af August.
As an interim plan, Donati sought to transfer as many Jewish refugees as possible into Italy and then to North Africa with four ships which were to be paid for by the Joint Distribution Committee. Political motivations and the signing of the armistice between the king of Italy and the Allies, brought the project to an alt.
Donati went into hiding first in Tuscany and then in Lombardy, then he succeeded in taking refuge in Switzerland on October 14, 1943.
After the war, Donati dedicated himself to find out what had happened to deported Jews putting pressure on the International Red Cross and meeting in Bern with the Apostolic Nuncio, as well as with English, American and Italian diplomats. In 1945 the Italian Government invited Donati to go back to France and appointed him as general assistant Delegate of the Red Cross.
He adopted two Jewish children, whose parents had been deported from France and killed in Nazi German concentration camps.
Donati initiated negotiations between the Italian ambassador in Paris Giuseppe Saragat (later President of the Italian Republic) and the French government for assisting and liberating the Italian prisoners. He was also appointed Chargé d’Affaires of San Marino Republic in Paris and, in November 1953, promoted to Plenipotentiary Minister.
Thanks to the good relation with the Apostolic Nuncio in Paris Angelo Roncalli, in 1953 he helped find a solution to the Affaire Finaly, concerning two Jewish children who had resided in a Catholic convent during the war, and whom the nuns refused to return to the surviving family because they had been baptized.
Donati who always refused the role of hero, received declarations and letters of gratitude from the Jewish organizations of Nice and individual Jews.
About the speaker
Luca Fenoglio is Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies of the University of Leicester. He completed his PhD in History at the University of Edinburgh in 2016 under the supervision of Professor Donald Bloxham. Luca Fenoglio’s doctoral thesis investigated the rationale for the Fascist government’s refusal to hand over to the Nazis foreign Jews in the territories occupied the Italian Army. The thesis was awarded jointly the Spadolini-Nuova Antologia Prize in 2017. Luca Fenoglio has been the recipient of numerous scholarships, fellowships and grants both from academic and private institutions, such as a Saul Kagan Claims Conference Fellowship in Advanced Shoah Studies, the Martin and Rhoda Safer Joint Distribution Committee Archive Fellowship and a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research. Luca Fenoglio is author of Angelo Donati e la “questione ebraica” nella Francia occupata dall’esercito italiano (Turin: Silvio Zamorani, 2013), What ‘New Order’? Fascist expansionism and the Jews: the case of south-eastern France, 1942-1943 (forthcoming) and Between Protection and Complicity: Guido Lospinoso, Fascist Italy and the Holocaust in Italian-occupied Southeastern France (Holocaust and Genocide Studies, forthcoming).