Angel Sanz-Briz

Perlasca: an Anti-Nazi

Life Took Unexpected Turn

By 1940, Perlasca was working for a meat-importing business in Italy. He was sent to eastern Europe to buy meat for the Italian army about the time World War II broke out. Perlasca was in Budapest in September, 1943, when Italy signed an armistice with the alliance. German forces in Hungary ordered all Italians to return home, but, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous website noted, "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."'

Perlasca was interned, although well-treated in a facility reserved for diplomats. He managed to escape and took refuge at the Spanish Embassy, presenting a certificate he had received at the end of the Spanish Civil War as a token of gratitude, which promised Spain's protection should he ever need it. Eventually, Angel Sanz-Briz, the ambassador whom Perlasca had befriended, issued him a Spanish passport, changing his name to the Spanish variation, Jorge Perlasca, and granted him citizenship.

In October, 1944, the Germans removed Hungary's ruler, Admiral Horthy, and installed the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross leader, Ferencz Szálasi, a fanatical anti-Semite. A "reign of terror was unleashed on the streets of Budapest against the city's Jews," commented Saving the Jews, which noted that 440,000 Jews from Hungary's provinces had already been deported to Auschwitz. The remaining 200,000 Jews, living in Budapest, now feared for their lives.

"A Truly Magnificent Impostor"

The Spanish consul had been working to save as many Jews as possible. Perlasca decided to help Sanz-Briz and his small staff. As noted in Contemporary Heros and Heroines, "Together, they worked to extend Spanish legal protection to Jews and met with officials to thwart deportation efforts. The situation in Budapest grew more dangerous as Soviet troops approached, and in November 1944 Sanz-Briz fled the country. Rather than abandon his rescue efforts, Perlasca decided to pose as the new Spanish ambassador."

He issued safe-conduct passes, using the Rivera law passed in 1924, which, according to the Perlasca website, ". . . recognised Spanish citizenship to all Jews with 'sefardita' ancestry (of old Spanish origin, driven away hundreds of years ago by Queen Isabella la Cattolica)." Perlasca gave these passes to all Jews, Sephardic or not.

Contemporary Heros and Heroines commented on Perlasca's success: "Thanks in part to his distinguished appearance and fluency in Spanish, he proved to be a convincing diplomat when negotiating with Hungarian and German officials. During one meeting, he convinced the Minister of Internal Affairs that the Spanish government would retaliate against Hungarian citizens living in Spain if the minister didn't allow Jews to remain under Spanish protection."

Over the next two months, a Commonweal article noted, Perlasca and a small group of collaborators from the [Spanish] embassy staff handed out, ". . . thousands of false documents, setting up and defending eight 'safe houses' under Spanish jurisdiction, finding food and medicine on the black market . . . Through it all, Perlasca showed himself to be an ingenious organizer, a convincing 'diplomat,' and a truly magnificent impostor."