Street named for diplomat who saved Budapest Jews

ROME, April 19 (JTA) — On the eve of Passover, the city of Rome named a street after a fascist sympathizer who masqueraded as a Spanish diplomat during World War II and saved thousands of Jews in the Budapest Ghetto.

Businessman Giorgio Perlasca had volunteered to fight on the side of General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and had received a citation from the Spanish government for doing so.

He found himself stranded in Budpadest during the German occupation of the city in 1944 and was horrified at the mass deportations of Jews and other anti-Jewish persecutions.

Using his citation from Spain, he passed himself off as a Spanish diplomat and, working alongside Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg and other diplomats from neutral nations, he signed thousands of phony passports and identity documents that protected Jews from deportation.

Perlasca’s heroism remained unknown until the late 1980s. He has stated that he had found nothing unusual in his actions and did not consider himself to have been a hero.

Streets in several provincial Italian towns have already been named for Perlasca, who died in 1992.

Naming a street after him in the Italian capital was the necessary recognition “of a totally normal person who considered it totally normal to put his own life at risk” saving others, Rome official Gianno Borgna said Tuesday at a ceremony at Rome’s main synagogue.

Said Edith Bruck, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who is well-known in Italy for her memoirs and other books about the Shoah, “For everything that he did, Giorgio Perlasca doesn’t simply merit streets named after him, but squares and entire cities. I hope that one day all the oppressed people in the world will have their own Perlasca.”

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