The Testimony of Bianca Schlesinger in Yad Vashem
We left Zagreb, Yugoslavia, on a night in Autumn 1941, when somebody informed us that we were on the list of Jews that were to be taken on the next day. We traveled by horse-driven cart, train, boat, until we passed the frontier and came to Ljubljana which was at the time under Italian rule. Since the Italians were known to be more human than the (Germans, many Croatian Jews chose to seek shelter here.
We were recognized as War Refugees and sent to a small town, Bra, in the province of Cuneo, (at that time 30.000 habitants), where we had to live under strict supervision by the local authorities. We had to register daily with the police, our movements, actions, mail, and our lives in general, were restricted.
With the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, the Nazis took over. They immediately issued a decree calling on all Jews to register until September 18. It was clear that our lives were in danger.
Near our house there was a convent that kept also a Kindergarten for small children. One of the sisters , Suor Lorenzina (died years ago), came to our home and offered to keep us for a short time in the convent. We had to lay down quietly during the day, and she brought us to eat and drink, in darkness, during the night.
She had a brother, Luigi Oberto, who lived in a small village of approximately 10 houses, Borgata Rossi, Rivalta, and she asked him to take us in, since the present arrangement could not continue for more then a few days.
It was known that hiding Jews was dangerous, and punished by the Germans with immediate death of the person and his whole family. Furthermore, Luigi was the poorest farmer in the village. She appealed to his Christian duty, and he agreed to take us in.
Our group consisted of my father and mother, Hessel Leon and Mira, four children aged between 1 and 10 years, Nada, myself Bianca Lijerka and Simon. Furthermore my old and sickly Grandmother Rothschtein Johanna was with us, my aunt Zora Berger with a small son Ari. We had no means of support, as were not allowed to work while in Bra.
Luigi Oberto, whose family comprised his wife Maria, his mother in law Agnese, his six children aged between 1 and 12 years, Mario, Giovanni, Agnese, Amelia, Rita, Luciano, took us in into his house of two bedrooms, living room and a kitchen. Part of his family later transferred to a barn next door, where there was one room, kitchen and a cow shed, where we passed the long winter hours as it was the only warm place.
We stayed with the Oberto family until the end of the war. He provided us with the little food he could afford which was never less then what his family had. He convinced the neighbors to keep the secret, in spite of their well funded fear for their own lives, since it was known that the Germans were extremely cruel with people who kept Jews.
The village, while small and rather isolated, was continually raided both by the Germans, looking for food and for young men suspected to cooperate with the partisans, as well as by the partisans who were searching also for food and for people suspected of spying; during these raids some villagers were often taken to the main square and shot.
Whenever there was an advance notice that such a raid was coming, we had to run to the fields and hide. Sometimes this happened during the day, and sometimes during the night.
After a certain period, the Germans issued regulations that every house must attach to the entrance door a list of its inhabitants. Regular controls were being carried out and identity cards were being controlled against the list. Any person found in the house and not appearing on the list would be shot without questions.
Luigi organized an incursion into the offices of the Municipality, with all the danger involved, and provided us with false documents, as Italians by the family name of Malossi. The danger still existed since my parents hardly spoke Italian, and my German-speaking Grandmother was not clear minded enough to understand the situation and avoid speaking during the controls.
Luigi was the poorest villager, and out of his own human compassion took us in, endangering himself and his whole family. He had hardly food enough for his family, but shared the little he had with us. "As long as my children eat bread, your children will eat bread too" he used to say to my father.
Luigi died a few years ago, but Mrs. Maria Oberto still lives in the same small village of Borgata Rossi, Rivalta. She is now 85 years old, she lives alone since all her children have married and left the place.
They never requested anything for their outstanding deed, and were never compensated.
As a small note and in order to better understand the heart of these people, I wish to add that during the Gulf war, their daughter Borsieri Agnese, who lives in Bologna, called me by phone offering me to host my entire family as long as the war was on.
On February 3, 1999, the State of Israel formally recognized Maria and the defunct Luigi Oberto as the 'Just among the Nations" .חסיד אומות עולם They were honored in a ceremony in the city of Alba, near Rivalta, in the presence of their family, a representative of the Israel Embassy, the Mayor of Alba, representatives of the local "resistance" and other dignitaries; Yad Vashem presented them with a parchment and a medal as symbols of such recognition.
The children of the Hessel and Oberto families in Borgata Rossi di Rivalta (Piemonte, summer of 1944). Bianca Schlesinger is the second from the right in the last row.
The Speech of Bianca Schlesinger in the Ceremony
Dear Dottore Enzo Demaria, Mayor of Alba, dear Mr. Schlosser, (of the Israel Embassy), dearest Mrs. Maria, distinguished guests,
The cruelties perpetrated by men toward his fellow men during the various periods of human history, pale when compared to the atrocities perpetuated by the Nazi regime toward the Jewish people and towards the various minorities which they considered as undesirable.
At the same time, the heroic deeds on the part of single individuals, who endangered their own lives and the lives of their families in order to save people who were to them complete strangers, are also without comparison.
In the autumn of 1943 the lives of my family, which included my parents and four children, as well as an elderly grandmother, and aunt and a cousin, was in immediate danger. Without hesitation and without asking questions, the deceased Luigi Oberto and his wife Maria, came to our help and took us in their home. Since they said - and here I take the liberty of paraphrasing the famous verse from the Bible - they said "YES, I AM my brother's keeper."
I was recently telling this incredible story to a friend of mine, and she made the following observations: "If we stop for a moment to think - she told me - how many of us can sincerely confirm to themselves that in a similar situation they would act in the same way?"
And as a matter of fact, how many of us can confirm, with a hundred percent certainty, that in a similar situation they would have the courage and the magnanimity to act in the same way?
It is a disquieting question and the difficulty in answering it is one more proof of how marvelous was the act made by the couple Oberto, of Maria and the deceased Luigi, whose absence we mourn even more today, in this particular moment when we are formalizing humbly our eternal gratefulness.
Bianca Schlesinger: Con i lupi alle spalle
Women in the Holocaust - Click "PERSONAL REFLECTIONS" and then "IN HIDING"
RIGHTEOUS OF THE WORLD
by Chaim Chefer
I hear this title and it makes me think
About the people who saved me.
I ask and ask "Oh, my dear God,
Could I have done the same thing?
In a sea of hate stood my home,
Could I shelter a foreign son in my home?
Would I be willing along with my family
Constantly be threatened by certain evil?
Sleepless dark nights watching our for noise
Hearing footsteps of certain evil.
Would I be able to understand every sign,
Would I be ready for this, could I walk like this
Among those who would betray
Not one day, not one week, but so many years!
There a suspicious neighbour, there a look, and here a sound -
For that one - warm - brotherly clasping of my hand...
Not having any pension - not having anything for this.
Because a person to person must be a human being.
Because a human being comes at this time through -
So I ask you and ask you once more -
Could I have done the same if I was in their place?
It was they who went to war every day,
It was they who made the world a place for me.
It was they, the pillars, the Righteous brother,
Who this day this world is founded by.
For your courage, and for your warm extended hand
In front of you the Righteous I bow.
Last updated April 23rd, 2005