Giorgio Perlasca

Italian Wallenberg

Budapest, 1943: Giorgio Perlasca, posing as the city’s Spanish attaché, protects two Jewish boys on their way to deportation by letting them sit in his limousine. German officers protest but are powerless in light of Perlasca’s immunity. A man watches the scene—Raoul Wallenberg. “Do you know who you just took on?” he later asks Perlasca, and points to one of the Germans. “That was Adolf Eichmann.”

The handsome Giorgio Perlasca was an Italian fascist who fought on the side of General Francisco Franco in Guernica, then changed his beliefs and, while posing as Spanish attaché for Franco in occupied Budapest, saved thousands of Jews from certain death. “The Italian Wallenberg, the embodiment of the ‘Banality of Good,’ ” as he is referred to in Italy, was a righteous gentile who was recognized as a war hero only shortly before his death in 1992. Now he will be honored by a documentary being filmed in Hungary. “Perlasca did not seek popularity,” writes Gyula Varsanyi in Budapest’s Népszabadsag.

“He lived his life in silence. If survivors had not...sought his whereabouts, he might have taken his secret to the grave.” Faced with evil, this unpretentious man showed rare humanity. Asked why, he usually responded, “What would you have done in my place?”