Cavaglion helped more than 1,000 Jewish refugees who had sought refuge after fleeing the remote Italian-occupied French Alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vesubie in the face of the German army that invaded the area following the announcement of the armistice signed between Italy and the Allies.
The Jewish Rescuers Citation, which he received on January 21 from B'nai B'rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust, has been presented in an effort to correct the public misconception that Jews did not rescue fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
Cavaglion, who was in his 20s at the time, was one of the 14 founding members of partisan group “Italia Libera” (Free Italy), led by anti-Fascist lawyer Duccio Galimberti, which was established on September 12, 1943—the same day that Cuneo, Italy was occupied by the German First SS Panzer Division.
They group members ensconced themselves in the sanctuary of the Madonna del Colletto, 18 kilometers to the west of Cuneo. Enzo and his younger brother, Riccardo Cavaglion, stayed with the group until October 1943, when they had to leave to help their own families escape arrest in Cuneo.
A daring theft of identity cards from mayor’s office
In addition to the combat they waged against the Germans and Italian fascists, Enzo and Riccardo also helped Jews who sought refuge in villages around Cuneo, putting their own lives at risk.
Men, women, children, the elderly and disabled scaled the Maritime Alps over the international border into Italy in a harrowing ordeal, only to find the Germans already roaming the area. About 300 people were captured and sent to Auschwitz. The remaining 700 found refuge among the welcoming local peasant population. Enzo and Riccardo found hiding places for them, furnished them with the necessary documents and hid them in the mountains in order to evade the Nazis.
Holocaust Survivor Harry Burger credited Enzo and Riccardo with saving his life and his mother’s life by warning them that the Nazis were hunting for them.
Survivor Alfred Feldman wrote in his memoir, “One Step Ahead: A Jewish Fugitive in Hitler’s Europe,” that he witnessed a daring theft of identity cards by Enzo and Riccardo from the mayor’s office in Vignolo, Italy, that were then falsified and distributed to some of the refugees. Enzo performed all of these activities despite the additional danger he faced as a result.
Nearly 200 Jews have been honored
The citation was presented to Cavaglion in his home, and the event was followed by a ceremony at the Cuneo synagogue. Speakers included Enzo’s son, Dr. Alberto Cavaglion, and B'nai B'rith World Center Director Alan Schneider.
“It’s a privilege to award you with the Jewish Rescuers Citation, continuing our 20-year effort to correct the historical narrative that Jews did not work to rescue other Jews during the Holocaust,” Schneider told Cavaglion.
Enzo said he was proud and excited to receive the citation. He had tears in his eyes as he remembered the Jews he had met and helped on the Italian side. After the war, Cavaglion remained in Italy, where he and his brother Riccardo owned a carpet store for many years.
Since its establishment in 2011, nearly 200 heroes have been honored with the Jewish Rescuers Citation for rescue activities in Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland and now Italy.