Although you may have never heard his name before, Enzo Cavaglion is a hero. The 98-year-old Jewish-Italian helped smuggle his fellow Jews out of Italian-occupied France during World War II.
When it was all said and done, Cavaglion helped over 700 Jews escape internment camps.
He was recently honored by the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews Who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust, who awarded him the Jewish Rescuers Citation at his home in the same village where his heroism took place.
“Enzo was really moved by the award,” Director of B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem, Alan Schneider, said. He even broke down in tears.
“He’s 98 years old — frail in body, but his mind is sharp, and it was an opportunity for him to remember those awful days when he assisted these 1,000 Jews who escaped over the Maritime Alps from France into Italy.”
The Jewish Rescuers Citation was first created in 2011 to bring attention and respect to the Jews who helped hide and rescue other Jews during the war. They’ve already awarded over 200 Jewish heroes in a multitude of countries.
“For decades there’s been a focus on non-Jewish rescuers, such as the recognition as Righteous Among the Nations — an outstanding program spearheaded by Yad Vashem,” Schneider said.
“But there is also a huge focus on it by European countries who want to showcase their rescuers, and they often have a much broader expression of this than Yad Vashem.
“All of this has helped to create a brand of righteous among the nations,” he continued.
“And now all these decades later, we’re trying to play catch up and recognize Jews who went beyond the call of duty and put themselves in even greater danger in Germany and allied countries.”
Cavaglion was particularly prolific when it came to the resistance movement. He fought Nazis and saved Jews, something that not many people were able to do.
“In many cases, you couldn’t do both,” Schneider said. “Saving Jews and fighting Nazis, so a lot of resistance movements had to choose between fighting and rescue.”
Cavaglion and his brother established the Italia Libera group to resist the German invasion. They simultaneously helped those who were fleeing France in search of safety.
Finally, after 75 years, Cavaglion was given recognition for his sacrifice and heroism. He put himself and his family in harm’s way to do what was right.
“This is the first recognition that he had from a Jewish organization for endangering himself,” Schneider said.
“Beyond that, he was already in danger for being a Jew in an area where the Nazis were roaming, he put himself in the line of fire and put himself in danger to rescue these Jews.”
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