By Tom Chang
Cesare Frustaci, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, feels the need to speak out.
It’s not to share the horrid conditions of Nazi, and then communist rule. It’s because he still sees people embracing anti-Semitism.
Frustaci, a Port Charlotte resident, will speak Sunday at Hope Lutheran Church in Gulf Cove during the jazz Mass Sunday at 7 p.m.
“For 60 years, I didn’t have any desire of speaking until in 2004, when I learned there was a movement growing who deny the existence of the Holocaust,” Frustaci said. “Their influence grew so much that the Archbishop of England ordered the parishes not to talk about it.”
Frustaci recalled Pope John Paul II’s response.
“‘Wait a minute,’” he said. “‘I was a teenager at the time. I know what was going on. You can’t say that this never happened. If you insist on your statement, I will excommunicate you.’ So he did.”
Frustaci said later Pope Benedict XVI, who succeeded John Paul II following his death, reinstated him.
“So all the events you know that the Holocaust was an American invention and it’s something that bothered me so much that I decided to speak to those who were interested to hear my stories,” he said.
Frustaci was detained in a juvenile camp during the war while his mother, Margit Wolf, a Hungarian Jew and ballerina, was detained in a German concentration camp. His father was Italian composer and Roman Catholic Pasquale Frustaci.
Frustaci was reunited with his mother after the war. She had searched for him throughout 183 villages after the International Red Cross placed him at a Hungarian pig farm. He would endure more torture at the hands of the communist-controlled Hungarian government, which he called “worse than the Nazis” while applying for an exit visa to attend college in Italy. It wasn’t until a chance meeting between Wolf and an old childhood friend that led to the intervention from Monsignor Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the Cardinal of Venice, who helped secure his release to Italy. Roncalli would later become Pope John XXIII.
Frustaci’s family’s exploits in World War II have been documented in the book “You, Fascinating You” by Germaine Shames with Frustaci’s help. Frustaci penned his own book called “I Believe in Miracles” about his life, with the foreword written by Shames. The release is scheduled for the fall.
Wes Runk, pastor at Hope Lutheran Church, heard Frustaci speak at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County.
“When he told us the first part of his story, you can almost hear a pin drop,” Runk said. “There was total silence in the church. He’s seen the miracles throughout his life. He emphasizes on hope. He made quite an impression on the congregation.”
Frustaci said when he and his mother were allowed to move to Italy, he was reunited with his father who had thought they were dead. Frustaci became a successful sound engineer, translator and executive. Events he reads in the news serve as a reminder of how accepted anti-Semitism still is.
“We’re not better off today,” Frustaci said. “The Hungarian government is chasing the Jews out by persecuting them. A representative in Parliament stood up and said ‘We should keep a leash on who is Jewish in the Parliament.’ That’s the same thing as putting on a yellow star as they were obligated then.”
Frustaci recalls an incident two years ago where intolerance reared its ugly head.
“The soccer game was 100,000 people in the stadium and two teams playing, both Hungarian. One was financed by the Jewish organizations. The crowd was shouting, ‘The trains are standing by for Auschwitz.’ When a foreign journalist next day went to the minister of justice and asked, ‘What do you think about this?’ She answered, ‘You know, I’m not familiar with soccer,’” Frustaci said.
Frustaci regularly volunteers with the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida in Naples and shares his story.
“When I present in front of churches or synagogues, I’m tailoring my presentation from generally a religious and historical point of view,” Frustaci said. “In libraries and schools, then I present from strictly a historical point of view. The facts are always the same. I’m the last person in the world who makes distinction between black and white, Jew and Catholic, Romanian or Italian. Everybody is a fellow human being, but what is going on is not comfortable.”
“I don’t know where this is going to lead,” he said. “I have no idea, but people are not learning anything from history.”