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Brother Alessandro Di Pietro’s ‘Vital Space’



Theater play in honor of a Righteous Among the Nations Marist Brother

05/02/2015: Italy

Lebensraum/Vital Space is a play written and performed by the students of San Leone Magno Institute in Rome to revisit the story of Brother Alessandro Di Pietro, Righteous Among the Nations. He was Director of this school during World War II. When the tragic roundups of Jews took place across the city, he assumed the heavy responsibility of hosting and hiding around twenty Jewish children and a number of adults.

Vital Space – said Brother Daniele Pardo, current Director of San Leone Magno, as he introduced the show – is the place where a person lives, moves, reflects, freely loves, communicates, gives him or herself to others, and learns by interacting with them, a space that the Nazi madness deliberately contracted and abolished for millions of Jews, a madness that is still writing new tragic pages of our history.

Fortunately, there are men and women who committed their lives, often putting them at risk, so that others could recover or increase their “living space”. One of them is certainly Brother Alessandro Di Pietro, remembered by the Marist Brothers as the long-standing Postulator General to whom they owe, among other things, the beatification of Marcellin Champagnat in 1955.

Between 1943 and 1944, Brother Alessandro, risking his own life and that of the Brothers in his community, took the responsibility of accommodating and hiding a number of Jewish teenagers and adults in the premises of San Leone Magno Institute, which was then located in Via Montebello, near Termini Central Station.

This is how he told the story himself in an Italian Marist magazine:

“The anti-Jewish laws brought some Jewish boys to our school; we received around twenty, Italians and foreigners, with fake identity cards issued in complicity with some officials in the registry office of Rome. The only condition to receive them was that, for obvious safety reasons, Jews would behave as Catholics, a rule which their parents thought was reasonable and willingly accepted: so prayer, Rosary, Holy Mass, like everyone else. One of the families later converted to Christianity. Perhaps this was the reason why, when the war was over, the Director was accused before Monsignor Traglia of having forced Jewish boys to convert to Christianity. It all ended with a compassionate smile. We also received eight to ten adults: a Rabbi from Poland, two German professionals, an Italian General and others, which were a cause of concern for us, much more than the boys.

On one occasion, we were secretly warned that there would be an SS inspection. We made arrangements and took precautions with the adults, but thank God, the inspection never took place. However, it happened instead that one of the refugees was stopped by the Italian police when he was taking a short walk, for he did not want to be always locked up in the house. He was a German professor, and told the police where he had taken refuge. Luckily enough, the police officer in charge was our friend and brought the person back to our house, warning the Director that it should not happen again.

Fr.Getting food was our main problem: the ration cards assigned too little and poor quality foodstuff, so we had to resort to subterfuge. We used the vouchers for tobacco: we found the way to exchange them for pasta, sugar, oil, butter, salt, etc. We took action in a thousand ways to find potatoes, flour and beans. Brothers Angelo Oreggia and Graziano were the best in this regard, and also in buying gas and coal in the black market for a not-too-high price and bringing it home by truck”.

One of the Jewish boys later remembered our brother, and thanks to him, the Israeli Government proclaimed Brother Alessandro Di Pietro Righteous Among the Nations in a ceremony held on July 16, 2001. Today his name is written in the Garden of the Righteous in Yad Vashem Park, Jerusalem.

Lebensraum was a very original show, well written (by Andrea Castagnetta, a young former student) and very well performed by the theatrical group led by Letizia Gorga, a renowned actress, and also a former student of San Leone. It was an opportunity to honor Brother Alessandro and the Marist Brothers who, in that occasion and many other times, have proven to be not only good teachers, but true educators, fathers and mothers for many children in need. The date chosen for the performance was also meaningful: January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, celebrated by the Italian Republic with the purpose of preventing Italian citizens from forgetting the madness of war and the horror of the Shoah.

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