In the final years of World War II, Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca (1910 - 1992) risked his life by posing as a Spanish diplomat in order to save more than 5,000 Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. Perlasca, a non-Jew, has been honored for his heroism, courage, and compassion by several nations, including Israel, Hungary, Italy, Spain, and the United States.
Perlasca's story was suggested by our Italian Voices member Isabella Bresci.
"He was a stranger in a strange country . . . He could have let the whole thing pass him by without taking risks, and like the rest of the world stood idly by. He chose not to do that," said Miles Lerman, United States Holocaust Council.
Fought for Italy and Fascism
Giorgio Perlasca was born on January 31st, 1910, in Como, northern Italy. Raised in a Catholic family, he and his five siblings were taught to believe that all men are "more or less" equal, noted a Washington Post article.
In the 1920s, Perlasca, like many other young Italians, was swept up in Mussolini's fascist movement. He volunteered to serve in the Italian army in the 1930s in two campaigns, noted Mordecai Paldiel in his book Saving the Jews: Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in the Abyssinian war of 1935-1936, and the Spanish Civil War, fighting for fascist leader Francisco Franco, in 1936-1937.
Broke with Fascist Party
When he returned to Italy, however, he no longer supported fascism after learning of his country's alliance with Germany, which Italy had fought just 20 years earlier. He was also openly opposed to the 1938 anti-Semitic racial laws. Many of Perlasca's friends were Jewish and he became increasingly horrified and outraged by the Nazis' campaign of brutality against Jews. It was this new, virulent wave of Fascism sweeping through Europe that caused Perlasca to break with the Fascist party.
Source: Giorgio Perlasca