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Italian Printer Honored for Saving Jews from Holocaust

May 24, 1989

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A nervous, white-haired printer from Italy was honored Wednesday for having the courage to stand up to the Nazi Holocaust and save thousands of Jews from death by printing false documents for them.

Trento Brizi and his town of Assisi are examples of what ordinary people can do in the face of tyranny, said Harry Waldman, chairman of the Graphic Arts Association, in a wreath-laying ceremony at the city’s Holocaust Memorial.

The association invited Brizi to Philadelphia to receive its third annual Freedom of the Press Award. The award, for demonstrating commitment to a free and uncensored press and to the basic human rights of all people, has gone to The Wall Street Journal and Knight-Ridder newspapers in the past.

With Brizi, 80, came the Rev. Aldo Brunacci and Mayor Edo Romoli, representing the clergy and townspeople of Assisi.

Assisi became an underground haven in 1943 as the Nazis were intensifying their campaign to round up Jews in territories they controlled.

Assisi, the centuries-old home of St. Francis, had no Jewish population of its own but became a haven for the hunted people. At one point, according to Waldman, nearly half the people of Assisi were hiding Jews sought for the concentration camps.

Brizi, wounded in the war, came home to help his father, Luigi, in the family print shop. The Rev. Ruffino Niccaci, an underground leader, asked them to print false identity papers and transit visas that would allow those in hiding to escape to safe lands.

The father and son team used names from the Rome telephone book and designed fake city seals as they thought they might look. They counterfeited seals of cities under Allied control, making it difficult for the Nazis to check them.

They ran their printing shop by day and worked on the documents by night, eventually printing documents for more than 5,000 Jewish and political refugees. No one was ever captured with their false documents, according to the printers’ association.

Brunacci helped distribute the fake papers, hiding them inside the frame of his bicycle. The Assisi underground eventually involved almost 500 priests, half the townspeople and the cloistered nuns of the Convent of San Quirico.

The nuns broke a 700-year-old tradition of not allowing men inside the convent to hide Jewish refugees.

″Eighty to 85 percent of the Italian Jews survived because this kind of thing was happening all over Italy,″ Waldman said. ″In the rest of Europe, 80 percent of the Jews were killed.″

Brunacci and Rabbi Max Hausen placed the floral wreath bearing the message ″Assisi Remembers,″ at the foot of the 20-foot statue of twisted, intertwined arms and legs.

Luigi Brizi died in 1969, his deeds never officially recognized. Trento Brizi, who still operates the family business, accepted a plaque but didn’t speak at the morning ceremony.

″I was nervous when I got up this morning, but I’m all right, now,″ he said through an interpreter as television cameras bustled around him and city traffic roared by.

He said he clearly remembers working in the night, hiding what he and his father were doing from the Nazi occupiers.

″At that time, none of us was really sure how it would all come out,″ he said.

Why did he and the people of Assisi take such a great risk to save the Jews?

″We felt we had to do something,″ he said.

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