Perlasca e Cossiga 30 giugno 1990

Giorgio Perlasca, the hero next door

Giorgio Perlasca, l’eroe della porta accanto (Leggi versione in italiano)

During the last war Giorgio Perlasca worked as an employee at the Spanish Consulate in Budapest. The consul was recalled at home. Perlasca made false papers and posed as consul of Spain. He saved thousands of refugee Jews in extraterritorial houses in Budapest.

In the 1980s, he was an old man who lived with his family and with his modest retirement in his home in Padua. He was a normal person for all those who knew him, but not for the Jews who had been in Budapest during the German occupation. He was a “Righteous among the nations” for those Jews, a hero starring in an incredible story, one of those stories that only Italians can invent. The wife and family did not suspect anything. He was just that good person they knew for them.

Giorgio Perlasca was born in Como in 1910. Soon his family moved to Padua. In youth he joined the Fascist Party and participated in the expedition of the militia in Spain in support of the francoism. It was in that occasion that he learned Spanish and acquired benevolence in the Franco regime. Returning from Spain, he left the fascist party following racial laws with which he disagreed.

He married in 1940 and he was appointed as a sales representative of an important bovine import company and he began to travel for work in Croatia, Austria, Hungary and Romania with a diplomatic status. He was interested in purchasing livestock for the needs of the Italian army. He was in Budapest for his work when the armistice from Italia and Allied was declared September 8, 1943.

The Germans arrested him because Giorgio Perlasca did not want to join the Republic of Salò. He was locked up in a castle where other diplomats were interned. Having heard of an imminent transfer of prisoners in Germany, he asked for a permit for a medical examination. Taking advantage of the granted leave, he took refuge in Budapest where friends hided him at the German authorities.

He went to the Spanish embassy asking for shelter, being in possession of a benevolent document for the service provided in Spain. Spanish citizenship was granted to him and was issued a passport on behalf of Jorge Perlasca, by virtue of his merits against the franchisees. He had a job in the consulate where the consul Sanz Briz was sheltering a large number of Jews to save them from deportation.

Sanz Briz was recalled in his motherland following the establishment of the Nazis Szalasi goverment that Spain did not want to recognize. The consulate had under its control some so-called “protected” houses, under the jurisdiction of the consulate, and therefore considered the Spanish territory, which, after leaving the consul, was reclaimed from Hungary. The problem was that those houses were the refuge of a large number of Hungarian Jews.

Giorgio Perlasca was alone in the consular seat. He blocked the emissaries of the Hungarian interior ministry claiming that the consul had been absent only momentarily and that he had had a replacement appointment, to prevent the Jews, housed into the houses, fall into the hands of the Nazis. The next day he falsified his nomination as a substitute for the consul on the letterhead of the consulate and with stamps in his possession and handed the document to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. Jorge Perlasca became the Hungarian general consul of Spain in all respects.

Raoul Wallenberg
Raoul Wallenberg

In those days Raoul Wallemberg arrived in Budapest, a Swedish diplomat and industrialist, sent by the king of Sweden to do his best to save the lives of the Jews. Jorge Perlasca collaborated with Wallemberg. One day he knew that the Germans, commanded by Adolf Eichmann and collaborated by Hungarian Nazis, were preparing a translation by which to transfer a large number of Jews to the extermination camps. He went, accompanied by Wallemberg, at the station where the train was leaving with two lorries and a list of Jews who, in his opinion, had Spanish citizenship. He called out loud the Jews he had in the list, and imposing himself to the Germans who didn’t have presence of mind to oppose a Spanish consul, in view of the Fascist regime of that country, he made board on the trucks how much more Jews possible, also many Jews not listed among those with Spanish citizenship. Everyone was brought safely to the “protected” houses along the Danube.

The Consul Perlasca had applied a Spanish law of 1924 which established that all Sephardic Jews, descendants of those who had been expelled from Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, could obtain Spanish citizenship. He granted citizenship to thousands of Jews in Budapest under this rule.

Providing food to Jews in houses on the Danube River became a real business. The little money left in the consulate and his personalities money ended soon. He then devised a system of cost sharing among his guests, each involved the expenses in proportion to the money he had at that time. Perlasca spent all his time writing Spanish documents and laissez-passers to the Jews who claimed that they had relatives in Spain claiming their presence in the Iberian country.

On October 21, 1944, the Nazis began a house-to-house raid to capture hidden Jews. Known as the thing, Perlasca rushed to the consulate’s sheltered houses where he found the Nazis who had begun gathering his guests. He, on the basis on his false consul chair, by virtue of the extraterritoriality enjoyed by the houses, he pretended that the Jews would return to them.

Budapest sul Danubio - Maurice - Fickr 2008 CC BY 2.0
Budapest sul Danubio – Maurice – Fickr 2008 CC BY 2.0

In January 1945, when the Soviet offensive against Budapest began, he became aware of the intention of Nazis of burning the ghetto and exterminating 60,000 Jews. Perlasca, in his capacity as general consul of Spain, threatened the Spanish interior minister of a similar retaliation of Spain against the 3,000 Hungarians who were guests in that country. A loud lie in all directions, even the number of Hungarians in Spain was completely invented. It did not exceed thirty, forty units. He was believed and the fire of the ghetto was not there. This episode was first attributed to Wallemberg on the basis of the statements of one of the Hungarian soldiers captured by the Soviets. Giorgio Perlasca’s diary, accurate and reliable, reported the true story of the last mass rescue of Jews in Budapest. On 11 February 1945 the Soviets entered Budapest.

About 800,000 Jews lived in Hungary before the German invasion in 1944. After the raids of the Germans made with the complicity of the Hungarian Nazis, there were very few Jewis. Only 200,000 Jews survived at the end of the war, many of whom survived thanks to the work of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallemberg, Angelo Rotta apostolic nuncio, and Spanish diplomat Giorgio Perlasca.

At first Giorgio Perlasca was imprisoned by the Soviets. He clarified his position in a short time, he was released. Due to the few vehicles in operation in the immediate postwar period, they had to undertake a long journey through the Balkans to return to Italy. Entering Turkey he was able to embark and return in his mothercountry, to his home in Padua.

Raoul Wallemberg, the Swedish diplomat who had worked so hard for the salvation of the Jews, was imprisoned by the Soviets. No one knew anything about him, despite the interventions of the Swedish government in the Soviet Union. The fact became public dominance and was an international case. Following the insistence of Sweden and its powerful, wealthy industrial family in Sweden, the Soviet Union announced that the diplomat had died in the prisons of Lubjanka in 1947.

Testimonies collected by Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter, showed that Wallemberg was still alive after the alleged death. He was hospitalized in a Russian psychiatric hospital. For many years, this story undermined diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Sweden. After the fall of the communist regime it was discovered that Wallemberg had probably been shot by the Soviet authorities since Sweden had refused an exchange of prisoners. The Swedish government apologized to the diplomatic family, for it effectively rejected the request for an exchange of prisoners immediately after the war.

Giorgio Perlasca, back home, went back to a quiet life dedicated to work and family. He did not tell her story to his family members, who were unaware of what he had done in Budapest. Perlasca, who was a precise person, wanted to document his activity in Budapest to the Spanish government, perhaps to justify the role of usurpation and the use he had made of money in the Spanish Consulate’s case. He wrote a memorial where he accurately listed the events that took place in 1944-45 in Budapest. The memorial was handed over to the Spanish Embassy in Rome and to the Italian government. He also wrote to ambassador Sanz Briz whom he had improperly replaced. Giorgio Perlasca had no answer from the Spanish government of the dictator Francisco Franco, perhaps because of the embarrassment that the affair had created for the government in office. Nor the Italian government replyed, probably because of the adherence to the fascist party of Perlasca. In 1960, some news articles appeared to tell the story. Authors of these articles were Furio Colombo and Giuseppe Cerato.

In 1980, after a severe stroke, Giorgio Perlasca gave a copy of the memorial to his wife and children. In 1987 the story finally became public domain. Only then did the family learn the events of Budapest of Giorgio.

In 1987 some Jewish women in Budapest, who were little girls in the days of the German invasion, remembering their savior, began researching Jorge Perlasca, a Spanish consul. The research had its difficulties because it sought to seek a Spanish nationality member of the diplomatic corps. This puts out the way who was doing the research. However, thanks to some Jews who managed to rebuild the story, Giorgio Perlasca was traced.

On September 23, 1989, Israel wanted to recognize the courage and heroism of the false consul by proclaiming that Italian petit-bourgeois a “Righteous Among the Nations“, naming with his name a tree planted in the children’s garden at Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. Finally, because of the modesty of the person 45 years after the facts, All knew what Giorgio Perlasca had done in favor of the 5250 Jews saved in Budapest. This is the number of people who have been able to certify the intervention in their favor of Perlasca. In fact, those who could benefit from the frantic activity of that “Righteous” were many thousands more.

In the following years Giorgio Perlasca was called to witness the sacrifice of many Jews in many schools in Italy. He had many other awards from Israel, from Hungary and from the United States. Italy awarded him the nomination of the Grand Officer of the Republic and conferred to him on June 25, 1992 the Gold Medal for Civilian Merit. On August 15, 1992 Giorgio Perlasca died in Padua, he was 82 years old.

This story has been told in some books. The first one was written by Enrico Deaglio: “The banality of good. History of Giorgio Perlasca “, published by Feltrinelli. The “Mixer” television program conducted by Gianni Minoli devoted a part of the broadcast to Budapest’s events. In 2002, RAI also aired the film “Perlasca, an Italian hero“. Luca Zingaretti interpreted the role of Perlasca’s “Console”.

Bibliography:
Enrico Deaglio, La banalità del bene. Storia di Giorgio Perlasca, Feltrinelli
Dalbert Hallenstein – Carlotta Zavattiero, Giorgio Perlasca, un italiano scomodo, Chiarelettere
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio Perlasca
www.giorgioperlasca.it
it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raoul Wallenberg