Giorgio Perlasca (13 January 1910, in Como – 15 August 1992, in Padua) was an Italian businessman and former fascist who, with the collaboration of official diplomats, posed as the Spanish consul-general to Hungary in the winter of 1944, and saved 5,218 Jews from deportation to Nazi extermination camps in eastern Europe. In 1989 Perlasca was designated by Israel as a Righteous Among the Nations.
Giorgio Perlasca was born in Como and grew up in Maserà, province of Padua, Italy. During the 1920s, he became a supporter of Fascism, fighting in East Africa during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, and in the Spanish Civil War for the Nationalist Corpo Truppe Volontarie. As a gratitude safe conduct for his service in Spain, he was awarded a diplomatic mission from Francisco Franco.
In World War II
During the initial phase of World War II, he worked at procuring supplies for the Italian Army in the Balkans. He was later appointed as an official delegate of the Italian government with diplomatic status and sent to Eastern Europe with the mission of buying meat for the Italian army fighting on the Russian front. On 8 September 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies. Italians had to choose whether to join Benito Mussolini's newly formed Italian Social Republic, which was fascist, or stay loyal to the King and join the Allied side. Perlasca chose the latter.
In Budapest, he was arrested and confined to a castle reserved for diplomats. After a few months, he used a medical pass that allowed him to travel within Hungary and he requested political asylum at the Spanish Embassy. He took advantage of his status as a veteran of the Spanish war. He adopted the first name of "Jorge" and, since Spain was neutral in the war, he became a free man.
Perlasca worked with the Spanish Chargé d'Affaires, Ángel Sanz Briz, and other diplomats of neutral states to smuggle Jews out of Hungary. The system he devised consisted of furnishing "protection cards" which placed Jews under the guardianship of various neutral states. He helped Jews find refuge in protected houses under the control of various embassies, which had extraterritorial conventions that gave them an equivalent to sovereignty. They could provide asylum for Jews.
When Sanz Briz was transferred from Hungary to Switzerland in November 1944, he invited Perlasca to accompany him to safety. However, Perlasca chose to remain in Hungary. The Hungarian government ordered the Spanish Embassy building and the extraterritorial houses where the Jews took refuge to be cleared out. Perlasca immediately made the false announcement that Sanz Briz was due to return from a short leave, and that he had been appointed his deputy for the meantime. Throughout the winter, Perlasca was active in hiding, shielding and feeding thousands of Jews in Budapest. He continued issuing safe conduct passes (initiated by Sanz Briz), on the basis of a Spanish law passed in 1924 that granted citizenship to Jews of Sephardic origin (descendants of Iberian Jews expelled from Spain in the late 15th century).
In December 1944, Perlasca rescued two boys from being herded onto a freight train in defiance of a German lieutenant colonel on the scene. The Swedish diplomat-rescuer Raoul Wallenberg, also present there, later told Perlasca that the officer who had challenged him was Adolf Eichmann. Over 45 days, from 1 December 1944 to 16 January 1945, Perlasca helped save more than 5,000 Jews, about four times more than those saved by Oskar Schindler.
According to Perlasca, he also prevented the execution of a plan to demolish the Budapest Ghetto with around 60,000 people in it, as the Nazis had done in Warsaw. While Perlasca was posing as the Spanish consul-general, he learned of the intentions of the SS and the far-right Hungarian Arrow Cross to destroy the ghetto. Shocked and incredulous, he asked for a direct hearing with the Hungarian interior minister, Gábor Vajna, and threatened him with legal and economic measures against the "3,000 Hungarian citizens" (in fact, a much smaller number) declared by Perlasca as residents of Spain, unless he withdrew the plan. Perlasca also offered to help Vajna and his family escape from Hungary before the advancing Soviet Army reached Budapest. The plan to raze the Budapest Ghetto was subsequently cancelled.
After the war
After the war, Perlasca returned to Italy. He did not talk about his actions in Hungary to anyone, including his family, and lived a quiet life. In 1987, a group of Hungarian Jews whom he had saved finally found him after searching for him for 42 years in Spain. There was publicity at the time, and Perlasca became noted for his heroic deeds. Enrico Deaglio wrote an account of his remarkable heroism, Banality of Goodness, (2002), which became a bestseller. The book was adapted as a made-for-TV film, Perlasca – Un eroe Italiano (2005), by the RAI national television corporation, not to be confused with the 1993 movie Perlasca.
Giorgio Perlasca died of a heart attack in 1992.
Decorations and honors
- In 1987 Perlasca was made an honorary citizen of Israel and was honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum with a stele and a 10,000 tree forest.
- Perlasca was designated by Israel as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1989 for his efforts
- Star of Merit, Hungary, 1989
- Knesset Medal, Israel, 1989
- Town Seal of Padova, Italy, 1989
- Wallenberg Medal, United States, 1990
- Medal of Remembrance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, USA, 1990
- Invitation to lay the first stone of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, USA, 1990
- Knight Grand Cross, Spain, 1991
- 1st Class, Knight Grand Cross (Italy), 1991
- Gold Medal for Civil Bravery (Italy), 1992
- A bust of Perlasca was created in Budapest.
- As part of its Righteous Among the Nations project, the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra commissioned an original orchestral piece, "His Finest Hour", from composer Moshe Zorman in tribute to Perlasca. The piece premiered 10 December 2014 in Raanana in the presence of Perlasca's son Franco and daughter-in-law Luciana Amadia.
- Inside Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden (Dohàny street 2)
- Giorgio Perlasca Kereskedelmi, Vendéglátóipari Szakközépiskola és Szakiskola (Giorgio Perlasca Highschool)
- Italian stamp of 2010
- Israeli stamp of 1998
- Giorgio Perlasca, L'impostore, 2007, Il Mulino. ISBN 9788815060891 (Perlasca's memorial, published posthumously)
Budapest 1944-45: L’incredibile storia dei "Giusti" nel corso della tragedia della Shoah (Attualità e storia Amazon)
- Baruch Tenembaum. "Perlasca, the great pretender". The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
- Yad Vashem, Giorgio Perlasca
- Interview by Enrico Deaglio to Giorgio Perlasca, from: Mixer, Giorgio Perlasca, Giovanni Minoli, Rai, 1990
- "Israeli orchestra honors Italian who saved 5,000 Jews from Nazis". timesofisrael.com.
- Haaretz, 1992: A Fake Diplomat Who Saved 5,200 Jews Dies, 15 August 2013
- VareseNews, Gli uomini giusti muoiono di sabato, 22 May 2010
- Interview by Enrico Deaglio to Giorgio Perlasca, from: Fondazione Giorgio Perslasca, Giorgio Perlasca - il mixer israeliano in ebraico, 1990
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Oral history interview with Giorgio Perlasca, 5 September 1990
- Enrico Deaglio (2013). La banalità del bene. Milan: Feltrinelli. ISBN 978-8807883071.
- "Giorgio Perlasca, 82; Helped Jews Flee Nazis". The New York Times. 22 August 1992.
- "Perlasca Forest: Remembering the Righteous of the Nations". jpost.com.
- "Giorgio Perlasca (1910–1992)". jhungary.com. Budapest, Hungary. Archived from the original on 19 June 2011. Retrieved 25 February 2011.
-  (RAI. Contains PDF versions of original documents; in English and Italian)
- Perlasca. Un eroe italiano at the Internet Movie Database
- "Giorgio Perlasca" song lyrics by Sandy Cash
- Giorgio Perlasca, Hero of the Hungarian Holocaust
- Giorgio Perlasca – his activity to save Jews' lives during the Holocaust, at Yad Vashem website