Some time ago, I watched an Italian movie in which was portrait an Italian hero. He was an unlikely hero that, by inventing a role not conformed to his background, in which posed himself as the Spanish consul-general to Hungary in the winter of 1944. He succeeded in fact, in protecting, feeding and lastly saving more than 5200 Hungarians of Jewish religion which, were massed in five protected house along the Danube river under the protection of some European Embassies.
His name was Giorgio Perlasca.
Giorgio Perlasca, was a common, decent, honest, human being, nothing made foreseen that one day, fate would've made of him an unprobable hero. A couple years before he died, He was interviewed by an Italian broadcasting TV. I re-watched this old interview again a couple days ago. The old interview was included in a new program on Rai International (it's the Italian public service broadcaster) transmitted here, in the States.
In this interview, (which was remembering and honoring Perlasca altruism in the face of the war horrors) there was also a special guest , that guest was Perlasca's son "Franco Perlasca". As I was watching the old interview, Perlasca was recalling the all story that made of him an unlikely victims' defender. Starting from when he was very young to the days when he served in the Italian army to fight Ethiopian war, and later in Spanish war. After the end of the Spanish war, he married and found a job in a livestock import company that took him in Budapest to buy livestock for the Italian army in all the est Europe. He continue in this interview by recalling of when the Italians surrendered in the 1944 and found himself suddenly an enemy of the Germans. Finding himself all alone and with the risk to be arrested by the Germans in any moment, he remembered in those crucial moments that he had a postcard in his pocket which he had carried with him since the days of the Spanish war. At the moment of the dismissal in Spain, he received in fact as a veteran of the Spanish war a postcard, and in this latter was written "Dear comrade, whenever part of the world you would be, ask for help to the Spanish Embassies". With this postcard he went to the neutral Spanish embassy to obtain a protection for himself. Perlasca, once under the Spanish embassy protection received a regular Spanish passport under the Spanish name of Jorge Perlasca. He than, begins collaborating with the first Spanish secretary Angel San Briz, and working together with other diplomats of neutral states in setting up safe houses for the Hungarian Jews.
When the Spanish ambassador "Sanz Briz" was recalled in Spain for consultation in November of 1944, Sanz Briz offers Perlasca to join him in safety. However, Perlasca chose to refuse the Spanish secretary's offer, because he refuses to look the other way "as many already did, while that immense tragedy was going on" and he takes the bold decision in consistency with his character, to stay and help those left behind in the safe houses. He auto-appointed himself, as the substitute in charge of the Spanish Embassy, and continue with the work that he had started together with Sanz Briz and others European diplomats earlier. During the two months that he was alone in the Spanish Embassy, and with the only help of a lawyer named Farkas, Perlasca succeeded in helping those people in desperation need for sheltering and food. Also by issuing safe conduct passes, under the false credentials that he had acquired through the deception after the departure of the Spanish ambassador. In the same time, Perlasca was shielding them from been slaughtered by the "crossed arrows", the Hungarian counterpart of the German Nazis. In the final hours of the German defeat in Budapest, he faced the minister of the Hungarian's Interior that wanted to set ablaze the ghetto, by blandishing and threatening him, and finally the minister yielding under Perlasca's pressure.
When Perlasca was asked by the interviewer, which episode he remembered most from his Hungarian hard deal, he promptly answered the two young twins he had snatched from the concentration camps sure death. Subsequently he starts recalling that event:
One day in December-1944, while he was inside a black Buick sedan car with a Spanish flag, driving to the safe houses to check on his proctets and bring them some food, Perlasca saw two very young twins, a boy and a girl been led onto a freight train with destination a concentration camp in Germany. As he was telling at the interviewer, he couldn't stand at the thought of those two young twins' fate once they reached the final destination, in the attempt to save them from sure death, in a defiant act towards a German soldier on the scene, he grabbed the two young lives, and took them inside the black car with him. Consequently, the German soldier runs towards Perlasca and pulls his revolver, ordering him to take back to the freight train's line the young twins, but Perlasca refuses the imposition. Afterward, Perlasca begins scuffling with the German soldier over the twins. A German lieutenant colonel right that moment, comes over to see what was going on. The lieutenant colonel after listening the soldier, decide to order the soldier to let the man take the twins with him, adding also in the end of his order "Their time will come." A Swedish diplomat "Raoul Wallenberg", which was also together with Perlasca in the black Buick, later told Perlasca that the officer who he had faced him was, none other than Adolf Eichmann. Later (as I remember, from a TV documentary that I have watched previously) after the war was over, Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina and tried in a Israeli court. He was charged with different count of crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. In the end, Adolf Eichmann was convicted and hanged.
The return home.
As the war ended, for Giorgio Perlasca came a long trip back to his home in Italy. Once he got home, from a lonely hero he becomes a common man. At the question by the interviewer if, Perlasca had ever talked about this story to his family, his son "Franco Perlasca" said that his father talked very little about it, also his mother didn't know what to make of, his father story.
Perlasca's unlikely background and his modesty no doubt both contributed to his obscurity, and after more than 40 years if, wasn't for some Hungarians Hebrew womens, who have found again him in the late 80s, his history would have gone lost forever. Over the next four years, Perlasca would receives numerous medal of honors from different Nations. Starting with the State of Israel and following Spain, Hungary, the United States, and Italy as well. As Perlasca's son "Franco Perlasca" recalls in the interview, his father was mostly proud of one decoration in particular, to have been nominated "Just between the Nations". Franco Perlasca, keeps telling his interviewer how much he was fascinated by the legend related to this award, the legend of the "36 righteous ones". In the world in time of crisis, there are 36 righteous men, who don't know each other and no one knows them but, these courageous heroes raise in response to evil, when the evil it's in his upmost in the world. Giorgio Perlasca died of a heart attack in 1992. After his death, he wanted to be to be buried, with one only phrase to remember him, besides the date of his birth and death, the word "Just between the Nations" in Hebrew.
As final thought:
Giorgio Perlasca had the courage when the world was in turmoil, not to look the other way while many did it. How many of us, will act the same as he did in his situation?
More of Giorgio Perlasca:
The legend of "The 36 mysterious righteous ones".
The legend says the 36 mysterious righteous ones appear and disappear at times of great peril as well as playing a daily influential role. Because of their righteousness and humility, they are sequestered from their anonymity in order to rise to the challenge and redeem the world.
The story of Giorgio Perlasca.
The story of Giorgio Perlasca is an extraordinary one. It is the story of a man who, almost on his own, saved thousands of Jews from nazi extermination during the the winter of 1944 in Budapest in the guise of a Spanish Consul. Emerging after nearly 50 years of silence, the story of this "hero", whose name can today be found in Jerusalem among the "righteous" of the Nation, is proof that for each individual it is possible to assume personal responsibility for the defence of life and mankind.