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Wednesday’s Wise Woman … Ginetta Sagan

February 20, 2013

Picture from Peaceful Heroes by Jonah Winter

Ginetta Sagan

Ginetta Sagan (1925-2000) was born Ginetta Moroni in Milan, Italy.  Her Catholic father and Jewish Mother were doctors and active in the Italian resistance movement when World War II began.  Although her parents were able to provide false papers for Ginetta to hide her Jewish roots;  her father was shot by Mussolini’s Black Brigade and her mother died in Auschwitz.
At seventeen Ginetta was an active and  courageous member of the Resistance; Though she was a tiny woman and so called Topolina (Little Mouse),she personally escorted 300 Jews and anti-fascists across the Italian border into Switzerland where they would find protection and freedom. 

In 1945 Ginetta was betrayed by an informer and arrested by the Black Brigade and imprisoned. During the next forty five days she was beaten, raped and tortured and was going to be executed on the 23rd April. Then one day a prison guard threw a loaf of bread into her dark cell; hidden inside was a match box which contained a match and a note.  Using the light from the match Ginetta was able to read the note which said ‘ Courage’ Later on the day she was due to be executed shes was taken from her cell by two armed Nazis.  Ginetta’s captors turned out to be defectors collaborating with her resistance comrades; they took her to the safety of a Catholic hospital.
When Ginetta had recovered she lived in Paris with her godfather where she attended the Sorbonne.She continued to commit herself to the plight of people especially victims of torture and unfair imprisonment.

In 1951 she emigrated to America to study Medicine at the University of Chicago.  Here she met and married Leonard Sagan they remained close companions until his death in 1997.
Meanwhile Ginetta,  helped to build Amnesty International and started their first newsletter called Matchbox in honour the matchbox she had been given.  Her aim was to give unfairly imprisoned people the same hope she had been given years before. Encouraging people to write letters not only to the prisoners but to their captors; requesting their release or at least humane treatment.
The story goes that the symbol of Amnesty International the candle wrapped in barbed wire,  while it was not created by Ginetta, they were her ‘symbols.’  Ginetta always carried a piece of barbed wire that she had cut from the fence that divided Italy and Switzerland..

Not only did Ginetta work with Amnesty International but she also founded the Aurora Foundation which investigates and publicises  incidents of human rights abuse.


2 Comments leave one →
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