By John Dunkelgrün
It isn’t usual for a columnist to write about his own family, but then, this isn’t a usual case. Pacifico Marchesini came from a distinguished Italian family. His father, the Cavaliere Libero Marchesini was honored with high decorations both by the Italian and Dutch governments.
Pacifico, who was brought up in the Netherlands, worked at the Italian embassy as a local-staff member when the war started. He had many friends, quite a few of them Jewish, and he was particularly close to my father, Jopi Dunkelgrün.
While originally pro-Mussolini his family, like many Italians, abhorred the nazi racial theories. When his friend Jopi asked him in June 1942 for help with papers that would enable him and his family to escape, he immediately offered to drive them from The Hague to Antwerp. This was one of the most dangerous parts of the journey to safety, as the big rivers that cross the South of the country, had only a few bridges at the time, bridges that were strictly and easily controlled.
Eleven people from my father’s family, as well as my cousin’s fiancé with his parents and sister, decided to try to escape. This was too many to take at one time. Pacifico, with the help of the ambassador’s chauffeur and his father (who also worked at the embassy), arranged to ‘borrow’ the ambassador’s official car on Saturdays. He would try to get back the same day, but if there would be some delay, he would have the Sunday as a margin. On Monday morning the car was always needed by the ambassador.
To be on the safe side Pacifico decided to make a trial run with his brother Lorenzo on June 27th, 1942. When this went without a hitch, on the following three Saturdays and then on Sunday, July 26th, he took parts of the group to Antwerp. Or rather, he took them to a quiet place on the Belgian border, where they crossed on foot, while he went through the official border crossing and then picked them up again on the Belgian side.
Once a German guard, who didn’t recognize the diplomatic signs on the car, challenged him and after showing the man various Dutch and Italian official-looking documents, he got through on … his Dutch driver’s license. All fifteen made it safely to Antwerp, but sadly four did not reach the safety of Switzerland. They were arrested and murdered a Auschwitz.
On September 16th, 1943 the Marchesini family together with other embassy and consulate personnel who refused to take a loyalty oath were interned in a hotel in Baarn and in December taken to Italy in horrible conditions.
The Marchesini sat out the war in Budrio, the birthplace of Libero Marchesini. After the war Pacifico returned to the Netherland, he started work at the Italian embassy again, married, and had two sons. His friendship with my father lasted until Pacifico died in 1968.
On October 4th, 2021 Pacifico Marchesini posthumously received the Yad Vashem award of ’Righteous among the Nations’, the highest award of the State of Israel, given to non-Jews who during the Shoa saved or tried to save their Jewish fellow-men.
The ceremony was held in the beautiful early 18th-century synagogue of the Liberal Jewish community in The Hague, which was originally the Portuguese Jewish ‘Esnoga’. There were many moving speeches by the two still living survivors, and by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of survivors. The combined offspring of the eleven survivors, living on three continents, would have more than filled the synagogue, had they all come.
The ambassador of Italy, H.E. Sr. Giorgio Novello gave a particularly moving speech, recalling a very nasty incident not too long ago, when he was verbally abused and physically molested, by some hoodlums, just because he is heavily challenged in his body movements and needs a wheelchair. He was shocked to the bone by this temporary loss of security, of his dignity, but realized now how much less this personal drama was as compared to the situation where on account of nothing more than discrimination, people were and are faced every day with a worse loss of dignity and safety than befell him.
The award was presented to the son of Pacifico, Mr. Bino Marchesini, and the ceremony lightened by the bewitching voice of Anna Trombetta. It was a fitting tribute to a man through whose courage and initiative, well over one hundred people are alive today.
Photography by Mr. Ido Menco