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‘italian Wallenberg’ Giorgio Perlasca, Who Saved Hungarian Jews, Dead at 82

August 18, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Giorgio Perlasca, “the Italian Wallenberg” who masqueraded as the Spanish charge d’affaires in Budapest and saved at least 5,200 Hungarian Jews from deportation to Auschwitz during World War II, died Saturday in Padua at the age of 82.

Perlasca received honorary Israeli citizenship and was named “righteous among the nations” by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum five years ago. He received the first Medal of Remembrance from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in 1990.

Until those recognitions, the story of his wartime heroism had remained unacknowledged and virtually unknown.

Perlasca was an unlikely hero. His story was that of an ordinary businessman who was moved by circumstances to carry out extraordinary deeds and who sank back into obscurity after the war.

Until 1987, when his name came up at a Hungarian Holocaust survivors meeting in Berlin and his whereabouts were traced, no one but his drinking buddies in Padua knew about the wartime exploits of the bespectacled pensioner.

In the 1930s, Perlasca was a Fascist and an admirer of most of the policies of Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

He also served as a volunteer under Spain’s Fascist General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, earning an award and a lasting link with Spain.

In March 1944, when the Nazis occupied Hungary, he was in Budapest as a traveling livestock trader and was trapped there.

In danger of arrest, as Italy had already surrendered to the Allies, Perlasca sought help from the neutral Spanish Embassy: on the basis of his old Spanish army citation, he was granted a Spanish passport and a new name — Jorge, rather than Giorgio.


The Spanish ambassador then assigned Perlasca to a position at the embassy, in particular to coordinate activities aimed at saving Jews from deportation by issuing them phony Spanish identification documents and letters of protection.

In this role, he worked closely with Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and representatives of other neutral countries, the Vatican and the International Red Cross.

His name appears alongside Wallenberg’s on numerous documents.

“I wasn’t scared because I didn’t have time to be afraid,” he recalled in a 1990 interview with The Washington Post.

“As far as I was concerned, I was sure of the rightness of what I was doing, and I was sure things would go well. Unfortunately, they didn’t. I wanted to do more.”

When the Spanish ambassador fled Budapest at the end of November 1944, Perlasca refused to leave and bluffed his way into being confirmed as chief Spanish representative in Hungary so he could continue his mission.

Perlasca ran the Spanish legation from Dec. 1, 1944 to Jan. 16, 1945, the day the Red Army entered that part of Budapest.

“Very few knew that he was an imposter, and those who knew kept the secret,” it was reported in a recent Italian book.

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