Published on 25 January 2021

A Stolperstein by artist Gunter Demnig placed in front of the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua remembers Father Placido Cortese, director of the Messenger of Saint Anthony during the Second World War

A martyr of charity, Father Cortese saved hundreds of Jewish people and other political refugees from Nazi-Fascist persecution, and paid for his spiritual and social commitment with his life

On 21 January a Stolperstein by artist Gunter Demnig was placed in front of the Basilica of Saint Anthony, precisely on the corner between Piazza del Santo and Via Orto Botanico. The Stolperstein was placed there in memory of Father Placido Cortese, the friar of the Basilica and director of the Messenger of Saint Anthony during the Second World War.

The Franciscan Servant of God, whose canonization is pending, secretly coordinated from his confessional inside the Basilica the salvage operations, in connection with the Paduan resistance movement, of hundreds of Jewish people, allied soldiers and civilians persecuted by the Nazis and the Fascists.

The stone was placed on the spot where, on 8 October 1944, the friar was abducted by two emissaries of the Nazi secret police and transferred to the Gestapo bunker in Trieste, where he was first barbarically tortured in the attempt to extract the names of his collaborators, and then killed. His body was never recovered; it was cremated in the Risiera San Sabba Nazi lager in Trieste, and the Germans left no trace of his name in the vain attempt to wipe away all traces of his story.

Those present on the occasion of the laying of the Stolperstein dedicated to Father Cortese in the days leading up to the 27th of January, the Day of Remembrance, which recalls the breaking down of the gates of Auschwitz, were: Father Oliviero Svanera, Rector of the Basilica; Father Giorgio Laggioni, Vice Rector and Vice Postulator of the Cause of Canonization; Sergio Giordani, the Mayor of Padua; Gianni Parenzo, President of the Jewish Community of Padua, and Giuliano Pisani, Vice President of the Scientific Committee of the Padua Garden of the Just in the World.

In the same ceremony, besides the Stolperstein dedicated to Father Cortese, three other Stolperstein were laid in Padua; they were laid in memory of Celina Trieste, Guido Usigli and Ester Giovanna Colombo. With these last three, the total number of Stolperstein laid in Padua in memory of those deported to the death camps is now 28.

Originally from the island of Cres in current-day Croatia, Father Cortese posthumously received a Gold Medal for Civil Valor in 2018 from Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic. Father Cortese was tortured to death for refusing to betray the names of his comrades, with whom he shared his charitable activities. They placed their lives in danger every day in order to save those of others, in this way bearing witness to the values of love, solidarity, fraternity and peace.

He is a martyr of charity, just like his fellow Franciscan brother, the Polish friar Father Maximilian Kolbe who, in the hell of Auschwitz, offered his life in place of that of a family man. The two Franciscan martyrs are now remembered in the same location just next to the Basilica.