Seder at the Parish
Don Gaetano Tantalo
A small piece of paper with hand written numbers displayed in the Yad Vashem Museum of Holocaust History tells the extraordinary story of the celebration of Passover at the home of an Italian parish priest during the German occupation of Italy in 1944. It is the page on which Don Tantalo did his calculation to determine the exact date of Passover. He not only saved seven Jews from deportation and murder, but manifested deep respect for their religious identity and went out of his way to enable them to perform the Jewish rituals
Don Gaetano Tantalo of Tagliacozzo Alto, Italy, not only hid seven members of the Orvieto and Pacifici families, but went out of his way to enable them to perform the Jewish rituals.
Don Gaetano Tantalo, born in 1905, in Villavallelonga, L’Aquila province, met the members of the Orvieto and Pacifici families, in Magliano dei Marsi (L’Aquila) in August 1940. They were at a summer resort where the families usually vacationed, and they developed friendly relations with the local inhabitants, including the local priest. The latter introduced them to his friend, Don Gaetano Tantalo, the priest in the Church of St. Pietro in Tagliacozzo Alto. They met him again in the summer of 1941, and in 1942. Enrico Orvieto and Tantalo became friends. Life changed after the Italian surrender on September 8, 1943, and the Orvieto-Pacifici families escaped to Magliano dei Marsi. When they did not feel safe there any longer, they moved to a neighboring village, Poggio Filippo. This was just 12 hours before the German troops entered the area, establishing their headquarters at the former house of the two Jewish families in Magliano de Marsi. Thus, it also seemed risky to remain in Poggio Filippo. Enrico therefore decided to seek the help of his friend, Don Tantalo in Tagliacozzo Alto. When he arrived, however, his friend was not there, and he turned to Don Tantalo’s sister, Domenica, and her husband, Adolfo d’Angelo, who put him up overnight. The next day Tantalo returned, and was pleased to find his friend with his family. He offered to shelter the Orvieto-Pacifici families – including Mario Pacifici, his wife, Gilda Borghi Pacifici, Enrico Orvieto, Giuditta Orvieto, and their children Gualtiero, Giuliano, and Natan Orvieto – at the parish house, despite the danger. Tantalo introduced them to his neighbors as relatives. During the nine months they were harbored in the church Tantalo exhibited genuine friendship. As a devout Catholic, he was also sensitive to their religious requirements. He supplied them with Bibles; greeted them with “Shabbat Shalom” every Friday evening; and helped them determine the dates of the Jewish holidays, especially Passover, according to the Jewish calendar. For the Seder, he supplied them with brand new dishes and helped organize all the necessary ingredients. A small piece of baked matzah (unleavened bread) from that auspicious Passover remained hidden among his belongings. In July 1944, the Orvieto-Pacifici families left the Church of St. Pietro, in Tagliacozzo Alto, and returned to Rome. They remained in close contacts with their rescuer. When Father Tantalo suffered from lung disease, The Orvieto family helped him get the best medical care. He died in 1947.
Nicolino Sarale wrote a book about Don Gaetano Tantalo:
Don Gaetano Tantalo, Un sacerdote amico, umile, eroico, esemplare,
Milano, Edizioni San Paolo, 1995.
On May 31, 1978, Yad Vashem recognized Don Gaetano Tantalo as Righteous Among the Nations.