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Israeli Musical Sings Praises of Italian Righteous Gentile

December 14, 2014

“The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in His sight.”  (2 Samuel 22:25)

While Schindler’s List brought fame to Oscar Schindler for saving more than 1,000 Jews during World War Two, the lesser known Giorgio Perlasca saved 5,000.

To correct today’s scant knowledge of Perlasca’s heroic efforts, an Israeli orchestra recently rang forth praise.

“When we came across the story of Giorgio Perlasca, it was clear to us that we were going to commission a piece,” said Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra general manager Orit Fogel-Shafran.  (JPost)

Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra

Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra

For three nights, the central-Israel orchestra gave homage to the Italian hero, who is less known in Israel than in his native land of Italy, but whom the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Remembrance Museum named “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1988, four years before his death.

Perlasca’s son Franco attended the three concerts held in the towns of Ra’anana and Petach Tikva to take part in honoring his father’s memory.

“This is an indication that what my father did seventy years ago is a fundamental example for human beings, and an indication that his memory is still fresh, not only about him personally, but about this kind of humanism,” Franco said to The Jerusalem Post’s Eitan Arom.

Giorgio Perlasca-Righteous Among the Gentiles-Holocaust Hero

Giorgio Perlasca (1910-1992)

Entering Hungary as a businessman, the late Perlasca pretended to be a diplomat from Spain in order to save the Jews of Hungary; his efforts earned his generation the lives of 5,200 Hungarian Jews otherwise destined for Nazi death camps.

During his prior service as an Italian soldier, Perlasca adopted Benito Mussolini’s fascist ideals, but his return to a Germany-allied Italy 20 years after the countries had been at war caused him to change his perspective.

The anti-Semitic laws that were instituted in 1938 horrified Perlasca, and within five years, he had moved to Hungary.

“Perlasca refused to go to a German-ruled Italian puppet state.  As Perlasca said, ‘I was neither a fascist nor an anti-fascist, but I was anti-Nazi,'” states the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Web site.

Six years later, Perlasca became the new pseudo-ambassador of Spain and, with collaborators in the Spanish embassy, issued thousands of safe-conduct passes to Jews based on the 1924 Rivera law that “recognized Spanish citizenship to all Jews with ‘sefardita’ ancestry (of old Spanish origin, driven away hundreds of years ago by Queen Isabella),” writes the Perlasca Web site.

Jewish women-Budapest-October 1944

Jewish women are captured in Budapest, Hungary in October 1944.

Perlasca and his group also set up eight safe houses under Spanish jurisdiction and found humanitarian supplies for their Jewish refugees from underground sources.

“Through it all, Perlasca showed himself to be an ingenious organizer, a convincing ‘diplomat,’ and a truly magnificent impostor,” writes an article from Commonweal.

Forty-three years passed after Perlasca returned home from his heroic work, yet no one acknowledged him as anything special until he was called to remembrance by Jewish Holocaust survivor Dr. Eveline Blitstein Willinger, then living in Germany, who learned of Perlasca and brought his name before Yad Vashem in 1987.


Giorgio Perlasca bust in Budapest

Suddenly, Perlasca became a world-wide star, especially in Europe and Israel, receiving medals of honor from heads of state in Hungary, Italy, and Spain as well as from international associations.  In 1989 Perlasca received an honorary Israeli citizenship and in 1988 the title of Righteous Among the Gentiles from Yad Vashem. Books, films, and articles about his life followed, even after it ended.

Perlasca died in 1992 at the age of 82 in his home in Padua, Italy.

His memory has been revived and honored again with “His Finest Hour,” the musical composition by Moshe Zorman, which debuted last week in Israel before moving on to Vienna.  

The music also contains text from Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s poem, “Is this a human being,” which reflects Perlasca’s motivation for risking his own life as a Gentile to save Jews in a foreign country: “I couldn’t stand the sight of people being branded like animals . . . I couldn’t stand seeing children being killed.  I did what I had to do,” Perlasca used to say.   (Shalom Life)

Perlasca’s story is told in his own words in his memoir L’Impostore (The Impostor).

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