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Illinois Holocaust Museum,  Jewish escapees honor rescuers

Sisters GittFajerstein-Walchirk (left) ChayRoth Holocaust Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut unwrap plaque honoring Father Francesco Brondello Sunday museum.  Brondello

Sisters Gitta Fajerstein-Walchirk (left), Chaya Roth and Holocaust Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut unwrap a plaque honoring Father Francesco Brondello Sunday at the museum. Brondello, an Italian priest, helped Jews during World War II. | Shaun

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Updated: December 8, 2011 8:15AM

Chaya Roth and Gitta Fajerstein-Walchirk have a close bond with a 90-year-old Catholic priest living in a nursing home in Cuneo, Italy.

Father Francesco Brondello was just 23 when he risked his life to help Jews escape Nazis. Roth and Fajerstein-Walchirk, who are sisters, were among them.

Brondello and six other “upstanders” were honored Sunday at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie. Their names were added to the Ferro Fountain of the Righteous. “There is not a role more hallowed than the rescuers,” said museum director Rick Hirschhaut. “They stood and said no to the Nazi juggernaut.”

Roth and Fajerstein-Walchirk were just 9 and 12 when the Nazis forced their family to leave their home in Berlin. After hiding in the Netherlands, the family made its way through the Alps and hid in a mountain town where a “young, red-haired priest on skis” helped save their lives.

“We are honored to know him,” said Fajerstein-Walchirk of Wilmette. “In the winter of 1943-44, he brought us food, clothes, and helped forge our papers, even though it was very dangerous.

Another Italian honored was Dr. Giovanni Palatucci, who headed the office for foeigners in Croatia. “It’s time to celebrate these acts that led to life, not death,” said Alessandro Motta, Consul General of Italy.

Also honored were a Lithuanian family — Benediktas Sindikaitis, Kazimiera Mozurkiene and Stase Sindikaityte-Minelgiene — who hid Jews when the Nazis invaded Lithuania in 1941. Polish honorees were Kazimierz Stanislaw Stawski and Wanda Antonina Stawski who were remembered for aiding Jews despite the danger this presented to themselves and their family.

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