Trustee will bring “My Italian Secret” documentary to campus

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When Joseph Perella, ’64, met Elizabeth Bettina, author of “It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust”, gears clicked into place, wheels began turning, and out spun the documentary My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes.

The film, released earlier this year and produced by Perella, will be screened in Baker Hall on October 22 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.. The screening is free and is presented by Lehigh University Jewish Student Life, The Philip and Muriel Berman Center for Jewish Studies and the Lehigh University Catholic Campus Ministry. A panel discussion will follow the film.

My Italian Secret features the stories of Italians that hid and protected Jews during the Holocaust, paying particular attention to champion cyclist Gino Bartali who cycled great distances to taxi paperwork for Jews. The story is constructed through interviews with survivors of the Holocaust as well as the relatives of the protecting Italians.  

President John Simon, a co-sponsor of the event and who has read Bettina’s book, said the story is about doing right. He hopes that students will take away from the film the idea of having a strong moral compass even when there are pressures pushed on you from society.

Although other universities in the area had requested a screening of the film, Perella, a Lehigh trustee, donor and scholarship provider, chose here.

“I can tell you he loves this place,” said Simon. “Deeply.”

When Perella left a high level position at Morgan Stanley over ethical and policy disputes, he opened up his own financial services firm Perella Weinberg Partners. He is also of Italian descent and according to Simon, is very proud of it. So when Perella was met with this story that is based on Italian soil and has themes revolving around about sticking to your own code of morals, he was on board to help take these words off of pages and put them on the silver screen.

Perella will be returning to campus this week for the screening and Simon hopes the room will become standing room only. He acknowledged though that Lehigh often struggles with attendance at university-sponsored events come nighttime.

“I think you have a lot of choices on how you can spend your time,” Simon said. “Engaging some of that time around societal issues and complex discussions in a worthwhile way to spend it.”

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