Assemb. Anthony D’Urso (D-Port Washington) said he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday and told the pontiff of his family’s role in saving Jewish families during the Holocaust.
D’Urso said he was a 5-year-old boy in a town near Naples, Italy, when his father hid two Jewish families from the Nazis in an animal shed.
D'Urso said he spoke to the pope in Italian during a brief Vatican meeting and gave Francis a diary from a Holocaust survivor that mentions the help from the assemblyman's father.
“He gave me sufficient time to tell him briefly what happened during the war,” D’Urso said, speaking on the phone from Rome. He told the pope “what my father's role was to make sure . . . these Jews were taken care of instead of, as like people did, turn them over to the Nazis for money.”
Pope Francis thanked D'Urso and blessed him and his wife Maria, he said.
D’Urso, 79, has sought recognition from Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, for his family’s role. The organization honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the war as the “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Though D’Urso remembered it from his childhood, he had no evidence until the recent discovery of diaries written by relatives of the family hidden by his father that described the D'Urso family's efforts. D’Urso’s father hid the family of Emilo Ascarelli, a Jewish textile manufacturer from Naples for whom he had worked, for nine months in mountain huts used to shelter animals.
“We hope that Yad Vashem will add my father to that list of the Righteous Nation,” D’Urso said. But even if it doesn’t happen, “We know what we did is recognized by many people in the town.”
The meeting with the pope was organized by Wantagh-based Pave the Way Foundation, he said. The foundation works to “improve cooperation, tolerance and understanding” between different religions, according to its website.