Giorgio Perlasca (Como 31 January 1910 – Padua 15 August 1992) was an Italian businessman who, with the collaboration of official diplomats, posed as the Spanish consul-general to Hungary in the winter of 1944, and saved 5218 Jews from deportation to Nazi Germany death camps in eastern Europe.
Giorgio Perlasca was born in Como and grew up in Maserà, province of Padua. During the 1920s, he became a supporter of Fascism, fighting for Italy in East Africa during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, and in the Spanish Civil War (Corpo Truppe Volontari). As a result of his service in Spain, he received a gratitude safe conduct for Spanish embassies 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 Allied forces. 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 Allies' 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 extraterratorial conventions that gave them an equivalent to sovereignty. They could provide asylum for Jews.
When Sanz Briz was removed 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 him in the meantime. Throughout the winter, Perlasca was active in hiding, shielding and feeding thousands of Jews in Budapest. He arranged for the use of safe conduct passes on the basis of a Spanish law passed in 1924 that granted citizenship to Jews of Sephardi 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. Swedish diplomat/rescuer Raoul Wallenberg, also present, later told Perlasca that the officer who had challenged him was Adolf Eichmann. In a period of some 45 days, from 1 December 1944 to 16 January 1945, Perlasca helped save more than 5,000 Jews, about four times more than the more famous Oskar Schindler.
According to Perlasca, he also prevented the execution of a plan to blow up the ghetto with around 60,000 people in it. While he was posing as the Spanish consul-general, he came to know about the intention to burn down the ghetto. Shocked and incredulous, he asked for a direct hearing with the Hungarian interior minister, and threatened fictitious legal and economic measures against the "3000 Hungarian citizens" (in fact, a much smaller number) declared by Perlasca as residents of Spain, to successfully induce him to withdraw the project.
After the war, Perlasca returned to Italy. He did not talk about his actions in Hungary to anyone, including his family, and came back to his humble life. In 1987, a group of Hungarian Jews whom he had saved finally found him, after searching for him for 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 single-handed valour, 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.
Giorgio Perlasca died of a heart attack in 1992.
Legacy and honors
- When his story was told, Perlasca was awarded decorations from the Italian, Hungarian and Spanish governments.
- A bust of Perlasca was created in Budapest.
- Perlasca has been designated by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
- Perlasca – Un eroe Italiano (2005), a TV film, was adapted from Deaglio's book.
- 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 December 10, 2014 in Raanana in the presence of Perlasca’s son Franco and daughter-in-law Luciana Amadia.
- Medal of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) – Jerusalem, 1989
- Star of Merit – Hungary, 1989
- Town Seal of Padova – Padova, 1989
- Medal of the Holocaust Museum – United States, 1990
- Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica – Italy, 1990
- Medal Raoul Wallenberg – United States, 1990
- Orden de Isabel la Católica – Spain, 1991
- Gold Medal for Civil Bravery – Italy, 1992
- inside Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden (Dohàny street 2)
- Giorgio Perlasca Kereskedelmi, Vendéglátóipari Szakközépiskola és Szakiskola (Giorgio Perlasca Highschool)
- Giorgio Perlasca, L'impostore, 2007, Il Mulino. ISBN 9788815060891 (Perlasca's memorial, published posthumously)
- Baruch Tenembaum. "Perlasca, the great pretender". The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
- VareseNews, Gli uomini giusti muoiono di sabato, 22 May 2010
- Enrico Deaglio (2013). La banalità del bene. Milan: Feltrinelli. ISBN 978-8807883071.
- The Times of Israel
- "Giorgio Perlasca (1910–1992)". jhungary.com. Budapest, Hungary. Archived from the original on 19 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
-  (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