A recent novel is based
on the factual story of one hero who did change the course
of history, fighting against the tyranny of the Nazis. In
Beneath A Scarlett Sky, Mark Sullivan chronicles
the life of Pino Lella, a seventeen-year-old boy who grew
into a man during the last years of World War II. Although
all the facts could not be verified, the story is still extraordinary,
and Sullivan stated that the following details are all true.
He stated, "I contacted the daughter of the Nazi General
who brutally used slave labors as well as his spiritual advisor.
Regarding Pino, he is still living today and I was able to
verify that he did indeed work as a spy and save Jewish refugees.
I did the research and verification over the course of ten
years and lived in Italy spending three weeks with Pino and
finding other witnesses to what he told me. His name was given
to a researcher by the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Center,
inspiring story is a lesson on courage. Those in America today
should read it to realize that their current life is nothing
compared to what those who suffered through the Nazi regime
had to endure. Sullivan tells Lella’s story, showing
man’s inhumanity to man in Italy, the forgotten front,
where the Nazi war machine made the citizenship suffer and
The book begins in the summer of 1943, as the allies started
bombing Milan. As in England, Italian families sent their
children to the countryside to save them from possible death.
But Pino was not content to lead a normal teenage life; instead,
deciding to join the underground railroad of the Catholic
Church and the Italian resistance to save Jewish lives. Unfortunately,
despite heroic efforts, nearly 20% of the Italian Jewish population
was killed in the Holocaust. Readers will learn how the German
SS found a list of Jews, rounded them up, put them on trains,
and transported them to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Many others were machine gunned down or thrown into the lake,
forced to freeze to death.
Yet, throughout the last years of World War II Pino risked
his own life to save Jews. A very compelling scene tells how
he led Jewish refugees across the dangerously snowy Alps to
the Swiss border, having endured an avalanche that almost
buried him and his rescues alive. Many of those trying to
escape the grips of the Nazis did not have the physical strength,
yet somehow found the perseverance. They made the demanding
climb up the mountain near Casa Alpina, many times with the
refugees on his back, as he skied them to safety in icy weather.
The author noted, “I read accounts of what the Nazis
actually did and confirmed a lot of what Pino told me. We
cannot forget they had a long-range vision of genocide and
atrocities, including hanging young boys’ head on barbed
wire posts. I actually did the climb he did and made a video.
After getting to the top, you cannot believe what these people
went through to escape. It was a very dangerous and unforgiving
In addition to helping Jews escape, he also became a spy while
the driver for General Hans Leyers, a commander in the Nazi
engineering and construction group, Organization Todt. Pino’s
parents, who insisted he sign up with Todt to avoid being
conscripted by the Germans to fight on the Russian front,
put him in this situation.
very little is known about the General, until Pino came forward
because Leyers destroyed many of the documents.
When reading about Leyers, people might compare him to Wernher
von Braun, dubbed “the father of the space age.”
During World War II he was the technical director of the V-weapons
development and head of the Mittelbau-Dora Planning Office,
a division within the SS. He rose to become a major in the
SS and used slave laborers from the Buchenwald concentration
camp to build the V-2 rockets.
Leyers also used slave labor to keep the German war machine
going. They were beaten, starved, and killed if they did not
perform to the efficiency that was required. Sullivan is glad
Pino stands as a witness to history, “He saw the German
policy of intentional mistreatment of people. Over eleven
million people were taken as slaves to build the fortification
just at Pharaoh did in Egypt. The slaves would collapse from
lack of nutrition. Leyers knew that the army functions on
its supply lines and he made sure to keep the war machine
going. He became a very powerful person; yet, stayed in the
shadows. I used this quote, ‘In the game of life, it
is always preferable to be a man of shadows, even in the darkness
if necessary.’ Pino also stayed in the shadows to learn
the locations of tanks, mines, fortifications, and factories
that he passed on to the allied resistance.”
was a witness to history, but unfortunately also saw his fellow
Italians seek their own form of justice. The vigilantes rounded
up people who they suspected of being collaborators and actual
Nazis and shot them on the spot. According to Sullivan, "25,000
people were killed in Northern Italy by those in the resistance
the 3 to 4 days after the war ended. There were absolute anarchy
and chaos. Pino was the perfect example of mistaken identity.
He wore a Nazi uniform and few people knew he was actually
an allied spy, a seventeen-year-old who rose up and became
a hero in the face of true evil."
A Scarlet Sky is a very informative story. As people
remember the Holocaust they should think about Pino who risked
his own life to save others. Doris Wise, President of Children
of Jewish Holocaust Survivors summarized this day, "On
Yom HaShoah, we honor the memory of the millions who died
under Nazism. But we owe them more than a day of commemoration,
more than museums dedicated to a distant era. Memorializing
the past is worthless if we fail to learn from it," and
one way to do this is to make sure the stories of someone
like Pino are told.