There are institutions and monuments all over the world devoted to Giovanni Palatucci, an Italian police official known for helping thousands of Jews escape during the Second World War.
But Palatucci’s story is being questioned following a study by New York University’s Centro Primo Levi. Research looking at the lack of evidence behind Palatucci’s claim to fame suggests his story might be more myth than fact.
In Montreal, the former Wagar High School was renamed the Giovanni Palatucci Facility several years ago to honour the so-called hero.
Michael Cohen, spokesman for Montreal’s English school board, said the allegations come as a complete surprise.
"It's shocking, absolutely shocking that these allegations could even be out there,” Cohen said.
“There are a lot of things around the world named after Palatucci. He was treated like Oscar Schindler.”
But David Trip, a Holocaust survivor, told CBC’s Emily Brass he wasn’t surprised to hear the revelations. Trip said few people were willing to risk their lives to help the Jews.
“A very small percentage wanted to save us. They didn’t care,” he said.
'It is a sting'
As scholars re-examine the story of Palatucci, Montreal Rabbi Michael Whitman says the case should not overshadow true stories of kindness from the war.
“It is a sting, but here’s what’s important: there were many non-Jews who did risk their lives to save Jews during the Second World War,” Whitman said. “That’s an amazing thing.”
The school board is waiting for more conclusive evidence before deciding whether the school, which is in a Jewish neighbourhood of Montreal, should be renamed.