The story of a heroic German Catholic and an Italian Jew on their way to the big screen – Catholic World Report

The Franciscan Convent of Beato Sante, near Mombaroccio, Italy. (Picture: YouTube always)

When journalist Roberto Mazzoli discovered the story of Erich Eder and Alfredo Sarano, he immediately thought that the story “sounded like a movie script”. The two protagonists are German military officers sent to fight in Italy during World War II and the secretary of the Jewish community of Milan, Italy’s second city. Mazzoli told the story in the book “Siamo qui, siamo vivi(“We are here, we are alive”, soon translated into English). Now, thanks to producer Arman Julian, the book will become a movie.

“I’ve always been intrigued by human behavior in the circumstances of war,” says Julian, “but until now,” he admits, “I’ve never produced a film about the Second World War.”

The fates of Eder and Sarano intersected under a terrible bombardment in the cellars of a Franciscan convent in Mombaroccio, a small village near Pesaro, an Italian city on the Adriatic Sea.

“I will use the real places where the action took place in the spring and summer of 1944, to make this film a great cinematic experience”, promises Julian Arman.

According to historical records, the convent dates back to when St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was still alive. Today it is called “Beato Healthaccording to Giansante Brancorsini, a friar who lived there most of his life and died in 1394 with a solid reputation for holiness.

At the end of August 1944, the whole region of Pesaro and Mombaroccio was involved in the fighting between the German army and American, Canadian, British and Polish troops which were slowly moving up the Italian peninsula, pushing the Germans north.

Roberto Mazzoli is very passionate about history, lives in Pesaro and knows the “Beato Health” very well. Some time ago, during a visit there, a brother gave him a text written several decades earlier by another brother, about a man who came from Germany to Mombaroccio by bicycle in 1953, to fulfill a wish.

This man was Erich Eder, who in 1944 was only 20 years old and commanded the German soldiers in charge of defending Mombaroccio. Locals still remember that when Italy was occupied by the Nazis, the convent hosted more than 300 people, including many Jewish families, thanks also to the support of the Bishop of Pesaro, Monsignor Porta. But no one remembers the name of the brave German soldier who decided not to denounce them or to harm them, risking his life.

First, Mazzoli decided to search for the rescued families. The search was not easy, but one day he opened the webpage of an Israeli site on the sisters Matilde, Vittoria and Miriam, owners of the restaurant “Il Pastaio” in Tel Aviv and winners of a Italian food. The sisters were talking about the Second World War and the mortal danger they had escaped in the region of Pesaro.

So, he immediately tried to contact the elderly ladies. They were the daughters of Alfredo Sarano, who had moved from Italy to Israel many years earlier. “They gave me their father’s diary, jealously guarded as a family heirloom,” Mazzoli shares.

At this point, there was enough material to write the whole story. But a premise is needed about who Alfredo Sarano was. Born in 1905 in Turkey into a family of Italian Jews, he arrived in Milan in 1926 as a student, then was appointed secretary of the Jewish community of Milan, with 15,000 members, the largest in Italy. But the situation became difficult for all Italian Jews when the leader of Fascism, Mussolini, enacted the so-called Race Laws in 1938, which introduced harsh discrimination into daily life against Italian Jews. And Italy’s alliance with Hitler’s Germany did not bode well.

It was Sarano who hid the registers he had compiled with all the first and last names of the Milanese Jews, so that they would not be found by the Germans who had invaded Italy on September 8, 1943 and started to deport thousands of Italian Jews towards extermination. fields. This decision probably saved the lives of many Jews.

Then, a few days later, Sarano left Milan to take refuge in Pesaro and then in Mombaroccio with his family. Only the farmer who rented them a room and the Franciscan guardian of the convent, Father Raffaelli, knew that they were Jews. The family lived daily in fear of being discovered at any time. Adventures and near-misses abounded, not least because the Saranos continued to celebrate Jewish holidays and observe Jewish rituals and precepts.

In 1944, Erich Eder, born in PfarrKirchen (a small village in Catholic Bavaria), arrived in Mombaroccio with 150 German paratroopers. He immediately understood that he was dealing with Jewish families, primarily the Saranos, but decided not to report anything to his superiors. He assures Father Raffaelli that for him, the Jews “were refugees like the others”.

In other parts of Italy, many German soldiers did not hesitate to kill Jews as soon as they discovered them, when it was not possible to deport them. But there were also gestures of humanity. Mazzoli recounts how a Jewish family of displaced persons in Urbino, not far from Pesaro, were greeted with a cordial “Shalom” by a German who understood who they were, but did them no harm.

At the end of August 1944, the house of the Sarano family was chosen by the Germans as Commander Eder’s headquarters. But on the evening of the 25th, when the bombardment of the area began, everyone had to take refuge in the cellars of the convent. This was the decisive battle for the liberation of Mombaroccio and the surrounding area.

In this cellar, under the bombs, Jews, Germans, displaced persons and brothers met. While the others recited the Our Father, Alfredo Sarano recited the Shema aloud. The bombardment lasted all day, until the evening of the next day, when a German soldier came running and started talking to Eder. Then Eder ordered his soldiers to prepare to leave the convent and retreat immediately, so as not to risk losing contact with the rest of the German army.

At that moment, Alfredo Sarano saw the German commander approach Father Raffaelli to ask for a blessing. In his diary he wrote: “At that time we forgot the tragic situation in which we found ourselves and we were moved by the sight of this soldier who, as a believer, invoked divine salvation through the intermediary of the priest”.

We know Eder’s words to Father Raffaelli from another source, the account of Eder’s visit to Mombaroccio in 1953, after the end of the war: “I don’t know if I will be able to return to my homeland, but if I do, you receive my letters; but if you receive nothing, it means that I will be dead. In this case, I ask you to write to my mother and tell her that her son, before dying, stayed in this sanctuary and remembered, until his last hours, the teachings he received. in his childhood “.

Of the 300 people who found refuge in the cellar of the convent, none died, despite the violence of the bombardments. On August 27, 1944, Mombaroccio was liberated from Nazi occupation.

Several decades after these events, Mazzoli decided to seek information on this unknown German soldier. Even the German Embassy in Italy could not help him. The hope was almost gone when suddenly one of the many letters sent to Germany reached one of Eder’s sons, who immediately replied. The father had died in 1998, after a new return to “Beato Health» in 1990. « Commander Eder’s three sons, says Mazzoli, were completely unaware of their father’s heroic gesture, just as the Sarano family knew nothing, not even the name, of the man who had saved them.

In 2016, thanks to the work of Mazzoli, the Sarano and Eder families met for the first time in Mombaroccio, during a moving public ceremony. “Since then, the descendants of the savior and the saved have met on several occasions, and a solid bond of friendship has been born”, explains Mazzoli, who has meanwhile presented his book at various events. “Everyone is struck by the protagonists who seem straight out of a novel: Alfredo Sarano, secretary of the Jewish Community of Milan who hides the lists of 14,000 Jews, saving them from the Holocaust; the German Catholic officer who made a vow to the ‘Beato Health‘ with his brother friends and after the war returned to dissolve it because miraculously more than 300 civilians were saved after 36 hours of Allied bombardment on the convent… At the end of the story, what remains is the great teaching of the righteous, those who choose to risk their lives to save others.

The last meeting to tell is that between Mazzoli and Julian. “Last spring, I was visiting my dear friend, film composer Michele Mucciacito, in Pesaro, who told me about the book and introduced me to Roberto,” says Julian. “I guess both of us, Roberto and I, got to see the translated story immediately on the big screen,” he adds. “It was amazing how quickly we agreed and fell in love with this project.”

Julian also met Eder’s family: “They welcomed me with open arms in Munich,” he says, “I had planned to visit the Sarano family in Israel, but due to COVID restrictions -19, we will visit them in March 2022”. In any case, “they gave me all their love and blessing for this project”. Shooting on the film will begin in 2023. It will be “a story of the ultimate good of human behavior”, remarks the producer, stressing that these “men and women, guided by faith, were ready to sacrifice their lives to help others stay “. living.”

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