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Czech Catholic journalist helped to save hundreds of Jews in Italy

.- Karel Weirich, a Czech journalist whose mother’s last name was coincidentally Schindler—like the famous character of the Steven Spielberg movie—complied a series of lists with hundreds of names of Czechoslovakian Jews captured by the Nazis in Italy who he helped with money, clothing, medicines and eventually escape from their captors.

In an article entitled, “The Schindler of Pius XII,” written by Gaetano Vallini, the L’Osservatore Romano reported that “Weirich, a hidden and unknown hero, can be included among the saviors of the world in one of the darkest periods of history.”

“It’s not for nothing,” Vallini writes, “that the book by Alberto Tronchin about this person is entitled ‘A Re-Found ‘Joy’’, which tells how he saved hundreds of Czechs,” and was published “thanks to his niece Helena, who had access to his precious documents, not only the names, but the letters, identity documents and testimonies of an intense and risky activity.”

His story

Weirich was born in Rome on July 2, 1906, and while he was young his family moved often.  In 1925, after finishing his studies, he began to work as the secretary of the Pontifical Work of St. Paul the Apostle.  “In 1932 he was transferred to a similar post at the National Office of the Pontifical Missionary Works.  That same year he began to write articles about Czechoslovakia for the Vatican daily,” Vallini writes.

After the order by the Nazis to arrest all Jews in June of 1940, Weirich decided to found the Work of St. Wenceslas, together with other Catholics.  The organization was devoted to helping Jews in the concentration camps or those who were in hiding, many of whom were taking refuge in monasteries and convents opened by order of Pope Pius XII.

Because of his clandestine activity he was arrested on April 1, 1944 by the Gestapo.  He was condemned to death, but the Holy See intervened to get his sentence reduced to 18 months of forced labor at the concentration camp of Kolbermoor, where he remained until May 2, 1945.

Many Czechoslovakians who survived until the liberation of the concentration camps on September 14, 1943 attributed their survival to the work of Weirich, who saved the hundreds of letters he received thanking him for his efforts.

His niece, Helena, recalled that “every time her uncle was asked why he did not say anything about what he had done, he replied: ‘because that is the past.’  When they wanted to give him a medal, he said: ‘I accept it, but you should also bestow it on the cloistered brothers and sisters who hid people,’” Vallini wrote.


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July 29, 2014

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