It is 149 pages (230 x 152 mm) and includes a list of all the refugees, eight images of relevant documents, 187 passport size photographs of most of the refugees and a full list of all of those who escaped. There are also 30 photographs (colour and black and white).


From the preamble:-

‘Escape of one person from death is always something to celebrate. For more than 200 people to flee successfully from almost certain annihilation is that much more wonderful. This happened over a few days in the autumn of 1943 in the mountains close by my grandfather’s birthplace, Villa di Tirano. It is this story I am going to tell.’

A visit to don Cirillo Vitalini with Giacomo Ganza: information on a certain Domenico Moratti?

Don Cirillo quickly found the information I was asking for, but:-

‘After we had left, Giacomo told me a little about him: a keen mountaineer, he had been the priest at a place called Bratta for 18 years from 1939. Giacomo then mentioned that don Cirillo had helped Jews to flee to Switzerland during the war and when the parish funds ran low, would smuggle goods into Italy over those high mountains. More effective than a cake stall. No ordinary priest. A further priest’s name was mentioned by Giacomo: don Giuseppe Carozzi who had also helped many people to find salvation in Switzerland in September 1943. They had been interned at a place called Aprica. As well as this Carozzi had been born in Villa di Tirano – a native son. That is where things remained. Being retired is a serious business and we had many other things to do.’

Most of the internees were Jewish and were from Croatia. One of them was Edo Neufeld. An extract from the memoir he wrote shortly after gaining Switzerland explains why they fled to Fascist Italy with its own severe anti-Semitic laws:

‘The Poglavnik, head of state of the new government, was shameless enough to make all the newspapers publish an ‘appeal’ to the Jews and Serbs in which he threatened to have us all interned, without consideration of age or gender, in open air concentration camps in the high mountains, unless we were loyal to the new state. This appeal is, surely, in the history of warfare, one of the most dishonourable documents of 20th century civilization.’

‘Without waiting to see if this appeal would produce any results or how the Jews and Serbs would react to it, the hunt in Zagreb began: men, women and children were rounded up and deported to the large concentration camps of Gospić, Jadovno (a forsaken, uninhabited mountain top) and the island of Pag.’

A month after most of the others were safely in Switzerland, Miro Vilcek and his mother only just escaped:-

‘At midday of 26 October 1943, the Germans came to Aprica to look for us. Apparently some fascists informed on us. The Germans first went to the police station to get information. Our carabiniere sent his little son to warn us.  The Pollaks and the rest of us, got up from the dinner table and immediately left the house through the back door and found shelter in the forest.  The Germans arrived very soon after, but we were gone.’

The path of death

‘A contrabbandiere from Villa di Tirano described it as a path on the steep, rocky slopes [on the side of the Poschiavo valley and below Lughina] and considered it to be the most dangerous: ‘some have fallen from it and others have lost their lives’. One of these was Vittoria Ascoli-Liebman who was Jewish and who fell to her death on 2 December 1943 shortly after she had already crossed the border with her husband and two children.

It was this path that Miro Vilcek and his mother, guided by passatori, used on a pitch dark night in late October.’


After graduating from the University of Auckland with a Master’s degree in Physics in 1961, a scholarship took Alan Poletti to the University of Oxford, England. Here he carried out research in nuclear physics for his D. Phil. Degree. Following post doctoral research in Oxford and then at Brookhaven National Laboratory, he became a Staff Scientist at the Lockheed Palo Alto Laboratory before returning to the University of Auckland to take up the Chair in Nuclear Physics which he held for thirty years until his retirement in 1999.

During those years as well as experimental research carried out at Auckland he carried out research with collaborators in several other countries, among them Australia, USA, UK and Italy. He was one of the first New Zealand scientists to carry out such collaborative research. It is now very much encouraged.

He was a member of the Special Committee which enquired into the safety of nuclear powered warships. Their report to the New Zealand Government published in 1992 concluded that they were indeed safe. Nearly 20 years after, that conclusion is still valid. In common with the other fundamental sciences, the training given by a research degree in physics equips a graduate with the general skills needed in many other disciplines. It is this training and the general research methods that underpin the present book which is of course, an academic historical account. But more than that, he hopes that for the general reader the informal style will retain their interest to the end.