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Historical Archives Curiosities and news Pietro Alagiagian, Jesuit war prisoner in Russia

Pietro Alagiagian, Jesuit war prisoner in Russia

An image of Jesuit Fr. Pietro Alagiagian on the train back from his imprisonment in Russia, and the pocket he used to store the hosts for the Eucharist during his imprisonment

2020 marks the 80th anniversary of Italy’s entry into the war in June 1940. Today the column presents some objects and their history, which belonged to Fr. Pietro Alagiagian.

Of Kurdish origin, Fr Peter Alagiagian was born on 20 February 1894, and applied to enter the Society of Jesus on 12 December 1937.

After the period of formation, Fr. Alagiagian was sent to Russia as a military chaplain when Italy entered the war in 1940. Here, when the Russian army stopped the advance of the German and Italian troops, many soldiers were captured and forced to go on long forced marches to prison camps.

Mario Rigoni Stern recalls in his famous book ‘Il sergente nella neve’ (“The Sergeant in the Snow”) what he experienced during the Second World War and the long march back to Italy.

Fr Alagiagian was also a prisoner, starting in 1943, and his imprisonment lasted a long time: until 1954 when he returned to Italy after a long journey.

In order to keep the hosts he had managed to keep with him, he sewed a small pocket out of his own clothes, over which he wanted to insert the Company’s monogram and with which – according to later reports – he secured the Eucharist for the prisoners with whom he shared his cell.

Once the Jesuit was free again, he kept the cloth pocket. When he died, it was placed in the fund of the Florence Residence.

Today, the cloth pocket is on display in the reliquary of the historical archive, you can see it in the photo.

Newspaper articles from the 1950s reconstructed the Jesuit’s imprisonment and collected some testimonies.

The Jesuit returned to his apostolic activities in the residences of the Roman Province of which he was a member, living the last years of his life in the Florence Residence, where he died in 1981.

Thanks to the Pontiff’s decision to open the pontificate of Pius XII to researchers, it is now possible to reconstruct Fr. Alagiagian’s biography and in particular the events connected with his long imprisonment.

Maria Macchi