Biography

Enrichetta Alfieri

Italy

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Enrichetta Alfieri was a nun who worked in the San Vittore prison. After the German occupation she helped the political prisoners and Jews incarcerated in the prison.

Maria Alfieri was born in Borgo Vercelli on 23 February 1891 into a Piedmontese peasant family. As a young girl, she joined a Sisters monastery under the name Enrichetta. She studied education and became a kindergarten teacher before a serious illness forced her to quit.  

Enrichetta recovered from her disease and in 1923, she was assigned to serve in the San Vittore prison in Milan. Sister Enrichetta immediately created a dialogue with the female prisoners and instituted workshops, schools and nurseries for their children. She was in San Vittore at the outbreak of the Second World War and in August 1940 she was formally appointed as mother superior.  

Due to the large-scale bombing of Milan, the prison was evacuated in August 1943 and prisoners and nuns were transferred to other prisons. After the Nazi occupation, the Nazis took control of San Vittore, which became a place of imprisonment for political opponents and Jews before they were deported. 

In February 1944, the nuns were also transferred back to San Vittore. Sister Enrichetta and the other sisters began to secretly help the prisoners. The nuns had contacts with the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (Upper Italy National Liberation Committee) and helped to smuggle messages, money, food and other materials in and out of the prison.  

On 23 September 1944, a clandestine message directed to Enrichetta was intercepted by the Nazis. They were already suspicious of the nuns' activities and arrested Sister Enrichetta on charges of espionage on 23 September 1944. Enrichetta was taken to the cells of San Vittore and sentenced to death. The intervention of Cardinal Schuster managed to overturn the death sentence into a prison sentence. After the Liberation, Enrichetta returned to duty at San Vittore.