As Pope Francis tweeted Jan. 27 to observe the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is worth remembering Bl. Odoardo Focherini, who died a martyr to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution. Tuesday marks the anniverary 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 this morning. When he was arrested over his inolvement in the salvation of 100 Jews from a similar fate, Bl. 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, Bl. 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 who had arrived aboard of 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 Sept. 8, 1943 and the following Nazi occupation of Italy. Bl. 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. Bl. 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. Bl. Focherini was first imprisoned in Bologna, then transferred to the concentration camp in Fossoli, and then in the concentration camps of Gries, near the Austrian border, then Flossemburg and finally in Hersbruck, in Germany. He died there Dec. 27, 1944 of septicemia after a wound in his leg became infected. The most important testimony of his Christian life are 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 seventieth anniversary of his death fell exactly one month before the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. His martyrdom was recognized by Benedict XVI in 2012, and he beatified June 15, 2013 in Modena. On the occasion of the beatification Mass, Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi said that Odoardo’s life proved that “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.”
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