A German hero in Florence during WWII

When I walk across the Ponte Vecchio, I often notice this marble plaque.

Who, I always wonder, was Gerhard Wolf?

 

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Knowing that Germany occupied Florence during the war, I’ve been puzzled to find a German commemorated on the one bridge in Florence that wasn’t destroyed by German forces when they departed the city as the Allied Forces moved ever northward during the war.

It turns out that Wolf was the Consul in Florence and was a reluctant member of the Nazi Party.  I read that he only joined the Party because it was necessary in order to be in the diplomatic corps.

Despite being German and a Nazi, Wolf risked his life while he rescued political prisoners and Jews during the barbarism of the War.  Apparently he assisted the famous American, Bernard Berenson, who was Jewish, making it possible for Berenson to successfully hide from the Nazis. The plaque also says that Wolf was instrumental in the saving of the Ponte Vecchio.

Interestingly enough, I’ve read quite a lot about Florence during the war and, outside of this plaque, I’ve never read anything about the fact that Gerhard Wolf helped  Berenson specifically or that he played a role in saving the Ponte Vecchio when the retreating Germans blew up all of the other Florentine bridges.  I have no reason to not believe Wolf’s role in these things, but I am surprised I’ve never found this information anywhere else.  Oh, well…live and learn.  I’ll keep my eyes pealed for future references.

So, here’s a translation of what the plaque says: “Gerhard Wolf (1886–1971). German consul, born at Dresden—subsequently twinned with the city of Florence—played a decisive role in saving the Ponte Vecchio (1944) from the barbarism of WWII and was instrumental in rescuing political prisoners and Jews from persecution at the height of the Nazi occupation. The commune places this plaque on 11 April 2007 in memory of the granting of honorary citizenship.”

Here’s what Wikipedia adds to the Wolf story:

Wolf was born in Dresden, the 7th child of an attorney of family law. After serving in the military, he studied philosophy, art history and literature, and completed a doctorate in philosophy. In 1927, he joined the foreign ministry and was posted to Rome at the time Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. He was first invited to join the Nazi Party that year, but he declined and did not join until 1 March 1939, after it became clear that his diplomatic work would be impossible otherwise.

Between 1940 and 1944, Wolf was the German Consul in Florence. After the German occupation of Italy in 1943, he worked to save many Jews from the Holocaust, including the famous art historian Bernard Berenson, who testified to that in 1946. In his efforts, he was supported by Rudolf Rahn, the deputy ambassador at Rome. Wolf, along with Ludwig Heinrich Heydenreich, director of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, also saved many artworks from being spirited off to Germany. He also prevented the Ponte Vecchio from being destroyed.

In 1955, Wolf was made an honorary citizen of Florence. Ten years after his retirement, he died in Munich. In 2007, a marble plaque in his honour was unveiled on the Ponte Vecchio by the acting mayor of Dresden.

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