BOOK: The Assissi Underground

Very interesting book about how the Franciscans, Poor Clares and other religious hid Jews and other refugees in monasteries & convents, &c. in and around Assisi.

It's an "as told to" based on the testimony of Padre Ruffino Niccacci written by Alexander Ramati, a refugee & survivor. Fr Niccacci is memoralised as a "Righteous Gentile" at Yad Vashem.

There is a movie based on the book which I'm looking forward to seeing. The rescue operations might not have been possible except for the German officer who took command, a Catholic and medical officer who declared Assisi a hospital city for German wounded.

Btw, I think this answers the question about whether it's a sin to the Nazis about whether you have Jews hidden in your attic.

I have this book. It's the first-hand account of Padre Rufino Nicacci, who was the Father Guardian of San Damiano in Assisi, when the Germans took it over on the evening of October 3rd, 1943 (they snuck into the town as the citizens were commemorating St. Francis' death in the 'Transitus' service in the Lower Basilica of St. Francis).

A movie was made in 1983, shot on location in Assisi, directed by Alexander Ramatti (the book's author). It starred Ben Cross 'Chariots of Fire'] as Padre Rufino, James Mason as Bishop Nicolini [the Bishop of Assisi during the wartime years-this was Mason's last role before his death], Maxmilian Schell as Colonel Robert Mueller [the Catholic German doctor and commandant of the German occupying force-he was not a Nazi party member], and Irene Pappas as Madre Giuseppina [the Mother Abbess of San Querico Monastery in Assisi, which hid the Jewish refugees in the early weeks of the underground operation].

I was in Assisi in June 1983 and knew about the filming. A friar from South America whom I met near San Damiano told me that it was going to start in the fall of that year.

I have this movie on VHS video. It means a lot to me because I recognized many of the sites from my four visits to Assisi.

I also have another film about the underground operation to save Jewish refugees. It's called 'Assisi in Silence', and it shows several scenes from the "Assisi Underground' movie.

I might also add that Colonel Mueller received a message (forged by one of the Jewish refugees who spoke German, and who got a job with the German Army) 'signed' by Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, Commander of Northern Italy, that declared Assisi an 'open city', and thus spared it from destruction as the Allies [the British in this case] drew closer. He had no idea that the document was a forgery. The SS had already placed sapper mines around the important public buildings in Assisi, ready to blow everything up and make a 'scorched earth' of the city. And at his order, the mines were dismantled and all Germans 'bugged out' of Assisi in advance of the liberation by the Brits in August 1944.

The SS man, a thoroughly nasty Nazi, demanded of Colonel Mueller, 'Are you a German, or are you a Catholic?' The Colonel said calmly, 'Both...'

In the 1950s Colonel Mueller came back to Assisi with his family. The citizens, aside from a few Communists, hailed him as a hero and welcomed him with open arms. Padre Rufino was still at San Damiano, and he showed the Mueller family all around the sites connected with St. Francis. Sadly, a few months after his return to his Bavarian hometown, Colonel Mueller died of a brain tumor at the age of sixty. On his tomb there is an outline map of Assisi, in memory of his love for the city of St. Francis.

As the OP noted, Padre Rufino received the title of 'Righteous Gentile' from the government of Israel. Bishop Nicolini also received the honor, though posthumously. His successor received it in his name. There was also recognition for Don Aldo Brunacci, the Archpriest of San Rufino Cathedral in Assisi, Madre Giuseppina of San Quirico Monastery, and others who were involved in the underground operation.

My first trip to Assisi (and to Italy and Europe, for that matter) was in October 1977. The following month Padre Rufino died in his hometown of Deruta, which is not far from Assisi. May he rest in peace!

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