Pope Francis Honors Blessed Odoardo Focherini on Auschwitz Anniversary

When he was arrested over his involvement in the salvation of 100 Jews from a similar fate, Odoardo Focherini was 37, had been married 14 years and had seven children.

Blessed Odoardo Focherini
Blessed Odoardo Focherini (photo: CNA/ANSA)

ROME — As Pope Francis tweeted Jan. 27 to observe the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is worth remembering Blessed Odoardo Focherini, who died a martyr to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution.

Tuesday marked the anniversary of the 1945 liberation by Soviet troops of the death camp where some 1.1 million people — the vast majority of them Jews — were put to death by the Nazis.

“Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace and encounter among peoples,” Pope Francis tweeted Jan. 27.

When he was arrested over his involvement in the salvation of 100 Jews from a similar fate, Odoardo Focherini was 37, had been married 14 years and had seven children.

Most of his children have only a vague memory of their father. On March 11, 1944, the day of his arrest, his eldest daughter, Olga, was 13.

Born in Carpi in 1907, Blessed Focherini worked with L’Osservatore Romano and was managing director of the Catholic newspaper L’Avvenire d’Italia.

He began his work to help save Jews in 1942. Cardinal Piero Boetto of Genoa told Raimondo Manzini, then-editor of L’Avvenire d’Italia, the story of some Polish Jews had arrived aboard a train of injured people.

Manzini entrusted Focherini with the issue. Focherini thus started an enduring work of assistance to Jewish refugees, and his commitment increased after the armistice the Italian government signed on Sept. 8, 1943, and the following Nazi occupation of Italy.

Blessed Focherini built a network in order to get blank identity cards, which he eventually filled with false data and gave to the persecuted, whom he accompanied to the border with Switzerland.

This network helped 100 Jews to escape Nazi persecution.

On March 11, 1944, he organized the salvage operation of Enrico Donati, a Jewish medical doctor who was imprisoned in the concentration camp of Fossoli, near Carpi, in northern Italy. Focherini took Donati out of the concentration camp with the excuse of an urgent surgery the doctor had to perform, but, once he arrived at the hospital, Focherini was arrested.

Blessed Focherini was first imprisoned in Bologna and then transferred to the concentration camp in Fossoli. After that, he was sent to the concentration camps of Gries, near the Austrian border, and then Flossemburg and, finally, Hersbruck, in Germany.

He died there on Dec. 27, 1944, of septicemia, after a wound in his leg became infected.

The most important testimony of his Christian life: the 166 letters he wrote to his wife, Maria Marchesi. In his testament, Focherini wrote that he died “offering his life in holocaust for his diocese and for Catholic Action.”

His heroism was soon acknowledged: Yad Vashem gave him the title “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1969.

The 70th anniversary of his death fell exactly one month before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

His martyrdom was recognized by Benedict XVI in 2012, and he was beatified June 15, 2013, in Modena, by Pope Francis.

On the occasion of the beatification Mass, Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi said that Odoardo’s life proved that one “who rejoices in the encounter with Christ becomes more human, more real. Odoardo worked hard in all aspects of his life; he also ran the risk not to be understood, but he accepted being a prophet in the world, and this is the mission of every Christian.”