Odoardo Focherini was an Italian journalist and devout Catholic who rescued 105 Jews between 1942 and 1944 by obtaining false identity papers for them and transporting them to safety in Switzerland. He was posthumously beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.
Odoardo, known as “Odo,” was born in Modena, Italy in 1907 to a devout Catholic family. At a vacation in Trento in 1925, he met Maria Marchesi, and they fell in love and soon became engaged. Odo was 18 and Maria was 16, so they waited until 1930 to get married. They had seven children.
Odo worked as an insurance agent, but in 1933 he followed his passion and started a new career as a journalist. He became managing director of L’Avvenire d’Italia, a daily newspaper affiliated with the Catholic Church that is still being published today. Odo was such an exceptional journalist that he came to the attention of the highest levels of the Catholic Church, and Pope Pius XI awarded him the Order of Saint Sylvester in 1937.
The situation in Europe grew increasingly darker for the Jews and in 1942, Hitler enacted the genocidal “Final Solution.” Cardinal Pietro Boetta, the archbishop of Genoa, asked the editor-in-chief of L’Avvenire d’Italia, Raimondo Manzini, to help a group of Polish Jews escape from fascist-ruled Italy to safety in Switzerland. Manzini immediately recruited Odo, known for his strong moral compass and devotion to justice, to carry out this lifesaving mission. Odo created a secret network of Catholics who wanted to help persecuted Jews as the Nazi death machine took over Europe. Using contacts he’d met during his work as a journalist, Odo procured a large number of false documents and personally accompanied many Jews over the border to Switzerland. Odo saved the lives of 105 Jews between 1942 and 1944.
Unfortunately, the Nazis found out what Odo was doing when they intercepted a letter in which he wrote that he was helping Jews “not for profit but out of pure Christian charity.” He was arrested by the Gestapo on March 11, 1944 and imprisoned in Bologna. That August Odo was transferred to a work camp in Germany. During his imprisonment Odo sent 166 letters to his beloved wife Maria. Later that year Odo was sent to a concentration camp in Hersbruck, Germany. He developed a leg infection which wasn’t treated and became gangrenous. On December 27, 1944, Odo died from the raging infection. His last words were, “I declare that I die in the purest Roman Catholic faith and in full submission to the will of God.”
Odo was posthumously awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem in 1969. In 1996, Pope John Paul II declared Odo a “Servant of God,” because he was murdered for saving Jews. This began the lengthy beatification process, and in 2012, the decree attesting to Focherini’s martyrdom was finally signed by Pope Benedict XVI. Odoardo Focherini was the first Righteous Gentile to be beatified. Odo’s letters to his family were published as a book in 1994. The Memorial Museum in Carpi displays a large banner with a quotation from Odo that he said to his brother-in-law who visited him in prison: “If you had seen, as I have seen in this prison, how Jews are treated here, your only regrets would be not to have saved more of them.”
For saving 105 Jews, at the cost of his own life, we honor Odoardo Focherini as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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