Assemblyman Anthony D’urso and attorney Michael Weinstock were invited to the Vatican
Pope Francis met with New York State Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso at the Vatican on Feb. 20 to recognize him and his family for the heroism they demonstrated when rescuing a large Jewish family from the Nazis. The pontiff also welcomed Michael Weinstock, a former Brooklyn prosecutor and current Great Neck attorney, who discovered the Holocaust diary that confirms the story of bravery.
In 1944, Durso’s father, Giuseppe, brought a large group of Jews into hiding on the side of a rugged mountain in Italy. He moved his Jewish friends from place to place, protecting them from German soldiers and saving their lives.
“I am thrilled that my father is finally getting recognition,” said D’Urso. “He did the right thing when the rest of the world went absolutely crazy.”
Although D’Urso was just a young boy, he acted as a lookout and called out to his mother, in Italian, when he saw the German soldiers approaching.
In 2017, the year after D’Urso was first elected to represent Long Island in the New York State legislature, he asked for Weinstock’s help locating the Jewish family and proving his father’s story of heroism.
Weinstock discovered a Holocaust diary in the National Archives of Italy, which was written by a member of the Ascarelli family, identifying the members of the D’Urso family by name. The diary describes the incredible risks and sacrifices that the D’Ursos undertook to save the lives of their Jewish friends.
“I was just doing a mitzvah for a friend,” said Weinstock, who admitted he was having a little trouble absorbing recent events. “I never imagined anything like this.”
The diary also confirmed the important role that the Vatican played in rescuing the patriarch of the Jewish family and his wife. According to the diary, the Vatican sent a truck, with the Vatican seal clearly visible on the side, to the base of the mountain to collect the couple, who survived the war, thanks to the combined effort of the D’Urso family and the Vatican.
After locating the diary, Weinstock used Facebook to locate the grandchildren of the Holocaust survivors.
An emotional reunion of both families was organized last year in Naples, Italy. Holocaust survivor Mariella Sinagallia finally had the opportunity to meet D’Urso in person and thank him for his role in rescuing her father and grandfather.
The Vatican also invited Esther Sinagallia, who initially accepted an invitation, but was unable to attend.
D’Urso and Weinstock presented the Pope with a bound copy of the Holocaust diary on behalf of the Jewish family.
“Pope Francis has an enthusiasm that’s really positive and infectious. You can see from the photos, we were having a wonderful time,” said Weinstock, after leaving the Vatican.
“Meeting with Pope Francis and sharing my father’s experience was an honor I never imagined,” said D’Urso, who is hopeful that his family will be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. “Meeting the Pope was quite meaningful, and I am hopeful that this experience will encourage Yad Vashem to make a decision shortly.”