Perlasca: Resources

Deaglio, Erico. The Banality Of Goodness: The Story of Giorgio Perlasca (University of Notre Dame Press, 1998).

In a strange twist of circumstances, the Italian Giorgio Perlasca found himself stranded in Nazi-overrun Budapest near the end of World War II and made his way to the Spanish embassy for safety after the collapse of diplomatic relations between Italy and Germany. Using Spanish connections, Giorgio was rechristened Jorge, and, safe for the time being in the Spanish embassy, went to work for the Spanish ambassador. Part of his work was to visit the Spanish safe houses that harbored Hungarian Jews under threat of deportation.

In a story reminiscent of Schindler's List, Perlasca's diary details his heroic efforts to protect these Jews at risk of his life. When diplomatic ties between Spain and Hungary became strained, the Spanish ambassador departed for home, making an offer of escape to his Italian staff member. Perlasca, making the rounds of the safe houses, decided he could not leave the Hungarian Jews unprotected. From that point, Perlasca, "the great impostor," bluffed and blustered his way into recognition as a Spanish diplomat by the Hungarian government, then sparred with German soldiers over one Jewish life after another. In a particularly chilling moment, Perlasca recounts grabbing twin boys in line to be deported at the train station, pushing them into the Spanish embassy car, and then fighting with a German major and a colonel over his right to protect them. The colonel, relenting, turned to Perlasca and said, "You keep them. Their time will come." Moments later the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg informed him that he'd just won an argument with Adolf Eichmann.


LLC Publishers.  Italian Righteous Among the Nation (LLC Publishing, 2010).

Individual chapters on: Francesco Repetto, Guelfo Zamboni, Giorgio Perlasca, Pietro Palazzini, Carlo Angela, Raimondo Viale, Rufino Niccacci, Giovanni Palatucci, Vincenzo Fagiolo, Angelo Rotta,and Lorenzo Perrone.

Paldiel, Mordecai. Saving the Jews: Amazing Stories of Men and Women Who Defied the "Final Solution" (Schreiber Publishing, 2000).

According to an old Jewish legend, in every generation there is a handful of righteous persons thanks to whom the world endures. During the Holocaust, there was such a handful in Europe and around the world. Working mostly alone while putting their life at risk and defying their own society and their higher-ups, they saved many lives, and have been recognized as "Righteous Gentiles."

In story after amazing story, the author, who directs the "Righteous Gentiles Program" at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, paints a picture of great pain and suffering, but also of great courage and nobility of good people who serve as a model of human behavior and give us hope for the future.


Perlasca: A Righteous Man

Giorgio Perlasca at Yad Vasgem ceremony in his honor

Discovered a Righteous Man

When Perlasca returned home, he found that few people were interested in his experiences; no one believed his stories. Like most European nations, Italy did not want to acknowledge or be reminded of its responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust. For the next 43 years, Perlasca's heroic exploits went unheard, and they - and he - were forgotten.

Then in 1987, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and Remembrance Museum in Jerusalem, received a letter from Dr. Eveline Blitstein Willinger, a woman living in Berlin. She and a group of Jewish survivors had located the now 79-year-old man living with his wife in an apartment in Padua, Italy. As noted in Saving the Jews, she wrote, "To my astonishment, nobody knows his name, nobody thanks him for what he did . . . We are asking you to honor this great man with a noble soul, before it's too late."

Honors and Tributes

Once Giorgio Perlasca's story came to light, people from all corners of the world were speaking his name. Between 1989 and 1992, heads of state, associations, and citizens from several countries honored Perlasca for his courageous and selfless work, for the 5,000 lives he saved - and their children and grandchildren.

In 1989, Israel awarded Perlasca an honorary citizenship, and Yad Vashem presented him with the Righteous Among the Nations of the World award. According to the Giorgio Perlasca website, the Jerusalem museum defines "the righteous" as those men and women "who have identified evil and have risked their own lives to save others threatened by a totalitarian, political, social or religious project."

That same year, Hungary awarded Perlasca the Star of Merit, its highest honor. In 1990, Perlasca attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C., to receive the Medal of Remembrance, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council's highest honor. Perlasca also received distinctive awards from Italy and Spain.

The early 1990s saw the emergence of books, films, and newspaper and magazine articles that paid tribute to Perlasca. Enrico Deaglio wrote about Perlasca's activities in La Banalità del bene (The Banality of Goodness, translated into English by Gregory Conti). Mordecai Paldiel included a chapter on Perlasca in Saving the Jews: Amazing Stories of Men and Women Who Defied the "Final Solution." Perlasca told his own story in his memoirs,L'Impostore (The Impostor). Many people learned about Perlasca's exploits from the Italian film, Perlasca - an Italian Hero, and a four-hour French documentary, Tzedek  (Righteousness).

During these years, Perlasca was asked the same question, over and over - why did he risk his life to save Jews in another country? A modest man, he always replied that he didn't think he was a hero and would explain, "Because I couldn't stand the sight of people being branded like animals . . . I couldn't stand seeing children being killed. I did what I had to do ...AsfarasIwas concerned, I was sure of the rightness of what I was doing."

Perlasca died on August 15, 1992, at his home in Padua, Italy.



Perlasca: Saving the Jews

True Heroism

One of Perlasca's most vivid memories was the time he was standing by the loading dock, watching German soldiers and Hungarian police push long lines of men, women, and children toward freight cars waiting to deliver them to the death camps. As described by Commonweal, "Suddenly [Perlasca] rushes forward, grabs two young boys by the collar, drags them back down the platform, and throws them into the back seat of his car." At that point, a German soldier ran over, pulled out his revolver, and motioned to the man to return the boys. Perlasca refused, shouting. "'This car is foreign territory. The boys are under Spanish jurisdiction and you'll be violating international law if you so much as touch them.' The two men begin to scuffle," Commonweal continued, "and a German lieutenant colonel comes over to investigate. He tells the soldier to leave the man and the boys alone. 'Go ahead and take them,' he says to [Perlasca] . . . 'Their time will come."'

Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews during the war, had been watching this dispute. He walked up to Perlasca and told him the colonel was none other than Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the "Final Solution" and responsible for the murder of millions of Jews in the death camps of Europe during the war.

Budapest was now caught up in "a desperate tug of war," noted a U.S. News & World Report article, "with Eichmann on one end and Perlasca and the diplomatic representatives of four other neutral states - Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the Vatican - on the other. '[Wallenberg] and I would go to the train station and bluff until we got Jews away by claiming they were our nationals,"' recalled Perlasca.

The city collapsed into chaos as the Soviet army advanced. Saving the Jews noted that groups of the Arrow Cross militia, frustrated and angered by the Russian shelling of their city, "wildly roamed the streets . . . [exacting] vengeance on countless Jews, whom they indiscriminately shot and dumped their bodies in the Danube river."

The Washington Post recounted an incident that took place in December, 1944. One morning, following a night filled with screaming and gunfire, a young survivor was handed over to Perlasca's care - "a Jewish girl naked except for an army overcoat." She told him that the Nazis had tied the Jews together, in pairs, with barbed wire, and forced them to walk naked through the snow from the ghetto to the Danube. The German soldiers made the Jews kneel at the edge of the river and began to shoot them. By chance, the barbed wire tying the girl to her sister had come loose. Realizing they had a chance to escape, the sisters agreed that they would fall into the river when the first shots rang out. "Somehow, [one sister] swam to a bridge, climbed out, and hid under a tree, where she was found by a member of the Hungarian military, who covered her and handed her over to Perlasca, a known protector of Jews."

In Saving the Jews, one Jewish survivor, Edith Weiss, recalled Perlasca's amazing influence and presence. As Weiss' group was being led to the Danube, ". . . suddenly Perlasca appeared on the scene. 'He was mesmerizing. In this forceful, powerful way of his, he told them to go away and leave us alone . . . Perlasca had such authority, he was so strong, that there was no way anyone could contradict him. They simply went away."'

In January, 1945, as Perlasca was making his final rounds to the safe-houses, the Toronto Star reported that he told the Jews, "The Russians are in the city. You don't have to be afraid. You don't need me any more."

In April, as Perlasca was preparing to leave Hungary for the long journey back to Italy, noted the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous website, he was handed a letter from Dr. Hugo Dukesz, one of the Jews saved by Perlasca, who wrote, "On this occasion we want to express the affection and gratitude of the several thousand Jews who survived, thanks to your protection. There are not enough words to praise the tenderness with which you fed us and with which you cared for the old and the sick among us. You encouraged us when we were close to despair, and your name will never be omitted from our prayers. May the Almighty grant you your reward."



1942 Time Magazine Article


He clasps the crag with crooked hands . . . he watches from his mountain walls, and like a thunderbolt he falls.

These words, written of an eagle, today are a far better fit for one of the most amazing commanders of World War II. He is Yugoslavia's Draja Mihailovich. Ever since Adolf Hitler vaingloriously announced a year ago that he had conquered Yugoslavia, Draja Mihailovich and his 150,000 guerrillas in the mountains south-west of Belgrade have flung the lie in Hitler's teeth. It has been probably the greatest guerrilla operation in history:

Last fall Mihailovich kept as many as seven Nazi divisions chasing him through his Sumadija mountains.

Mihailovich's swarming raiders have preserved an "Island of Freedom", which for a time was 20,000 square miles in area, with a population of 4,000,000.

Mihailovich's annihilation of Axis detachments, bombing of roads and bridges, breaking of communications and stealing of ammunition have been so widespread that the Nazis had to declare a new state of war in their "conquered" territory.

Last October the Nazis even asked for peace.

When Mihailovich refused, they priced his head at $1,000,000.

When the Nazis desperately needed troops in Russia, they tried to leave Mihailovich to the forces of their Axis partners and stooges. But Italian, Bulgarian and Rumanian soldiers could not deal with him, and the Nazis went back. Only last week the Russians announced that a Nazi division had arrived at Kharkov fresh from Yugoslavia—where it had certainly not been stationed for a rest.

Mihailovich's example has kept all Yugoslavia in a wild anti-Axis ferment. The Axis has resorted to executing untold thousands, but the revolt continues. Last month the Nazis said they had seized Mihailovich's wife, two sons and daughter, threatened to execute all relatives of Mihailovich's army and 16,000 hostages if the General did not surrender within five days. He did not. It is a misfortune that conquered Europe cannot learn detail by detail the effective methods used by the gaunt, hard, bronzed fighter on TIME'S cover (painted by one of his compatriots, Vuch Vuchinich—called Vuch, to rhyme with juke). But Draja Mihailovich is completely cut off from the democracies' press, hemmed in by the Axis forces in Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece. His only direct contact with the world beyond has been through smugglers and a mobile radio transmitter which he concealed somewhere in his mountain fastnesses.

Even so, he has already become the great symbol of the unknown thousands of supposedly conquered Europeans who still resist Adolf Hitler. As he watches from his mountain walls, he stands for every European saboteur who awaits the moment to jam the machine, plant the bomb, or pry up the railroad rail. He has directly inspired others, like Rumanian Patriot Ion Minulescu, who harries the Axis from the Carpathians, and Albanian and Montenegrin guerrillas who worry at Italian flanks on the Adriatic coast.

As a legend, Draja Mihailovich will unquestionably live as long as World War II is remembered. How long Draja Mi-hailovich himself will live is highly problematical. Like the heroes of Bataan, the guerrillas of Sumadija cannot be expected to fight forever without reinforcements at least of ammunition and food. Yet the only way these can be furnished at present is by parachute. Both the Russians and British are said to have dropped small amounts. In recent months Mihailovich has begged over the radio for all he can get. Last fortnight London reported that 24 Axis divisions (Germans, Hungarians and Bulgarians) had been sent into the Sumadija mountains to deliver the coup de grace.


The once-obscure Balkan officer who has thus far successfully challenged the modern world's greatest conqueror was born 47 years ago in Chachak, Serbia, in the craggy lands which he now clasps. His parents died when he was a child, and he was raised by an uncle, a musical Serbian colonel. Draja Mihailovich plays the mandolin excellently. He entered Belgrade's Serbian Military Academy at 15. He has been a lifelong soldier, an officer who got his training under fire. He is also profoundly a Serb. For those who know the Serbs, that fact alone would account for his great-hearted defiance.

The blood bath of oppression which for centuries has laved the minarets and green poplars of the Balkans has also watered a glowing military spirit in little Serbia—an unconquerable will toward freedom.

In 1389, a date of horror in Serbian minds, the Turks defeated the Serbs on the plain of Kosovo and slaughtered the cream of Serbian manhood. For the next four centuries Turkey bore down on Serbia as hard as Adolf Hitler has done, with such devices as impaling, mutilation and the roasting of living Serbs on spits.

Yet Serbia continued to resist, helped by Austria or Russia, who valued the Balkans as a buffer against the Turk, or betrayed them if it suited their purposes. Early in the 19th Century the great Serbian King Kara George fought Turkey with Russian aid, got a limited autonomy with Turkish garrisons still in Serbia. But Napoleon's advance on Moscow drew away Russian support, and the Turks pressed Serbia hard again. This time Serbia's Milos Obrenovich made a deal with Turkey for recognition. The deal included the assassination of Kara George, and thus started an Obrenovich-Kara George dynastic rivalry that was to continue for decades.

Serbia's rulers were often personally weak and depraved, but the Serbs in general grew hard and defiant in the schools of Turkish tyranny and European Realpolitik. They never suffered from the flabbiness that comes with ease. In the First Balkan War (1912), Serbia and her Balkan allies finally ousted Turkey.

In World War I a supposedly exhausted Serbia hurled back two Austrian attacks, was ravaged by typhus and gave way before a third, then fought back again from Salonika. Only a year ago a revolution in Yugoslavia, where the dream of Balkan federation was becoming an actual as well as a political fact, deposed the pro-Nazi regent Prince Paul, and Serbian General Dusan Simovich courageously challenged the juggernaut of Adolf Hitler. In Draja Mihailovich's mountains the challenge persists today.


In 1912, at 19, Mihailovich left the Serbian Military Academy to fight the Turks. Wounded the next year, he returned to school as a sublieutenant wearing the Obihch medal for "personal courage." In 1914 the Austrian attack again broke up school and Mihailovich was again wounded, received the Order of the White Eagle. On the eve of the Salonika offensive he rejoined his company and finally returned to Serbia wearing its highest decoration, the Kara George Star with crossed swords.

After these two laboratory periods in the field, he studied military theory, held various Yugoslavian commands, was active in political bodies for the preservation of Balkan unity. He was sent as military attache to Sofia (1934) and Prague (1936), and is rumored to have been connected with underground movements working against Nazi influence in both Bulgaria and Czecho-Slovakia.

In 1939, as chief of Yugoslavia's fortifications, he revealed himself as a Balkan De Gaulle, holding that a nation of such limited financial means should not try to build Maginot Lines but should concentrate on mobile and offensive possibilities. His superiors opposed him and he was transferred to the military inspection service.

Presently he submitted a memorandum warning that a pro-Nazi Fifth Column threatened Yugoslavian unity and full mobilization in case of attack. War Minister Milan Neditch, now Hitler's Serbian Quisling, asked Mihailovich to withdraw his memorandum. He refused, and was sentenced to 30 days of military arrest for "disloyalty." He was freed at the instigation of Inspector General Bogoljub Illich, who is now in London with the Yugoslavian Government-in-Exile.


When Hitler's Stukas bombed Belgrade on April 6, 1941, Mihailovich had a coastal command in Herzegovina. As the Nazis overwhelmed General Dusan Simovich's bravely fighting army, Mihailovich retreated eastward into mountainous Sumadija, where Serbia had long fought the Turks. Thousands of disbanded or unmobilized Yugoslavian troops joined him, bringing their arms and equipment. The force was swelled by peasants and mountaineers.

The Nazi press has reviled Mihailovich's army as "rebels, Jews and Communists." Unquestionably they are rebels. Unquestionably some are Jews, some are Marxist Communists of one shade or another. Many more, probably, are Balkan "Communists," which usually means partisans of the country as against the city, the farmer as against the businessman. These people in general have Slavic, pro-Russian (Tsarist or Stalinist) leanings. The United Nations press has often referred to Mihailovich's forces as Chetniks —the name of a Serbian patriotic body which long fought guerrilla wars against Serbia's oppressors. Doubtless many are Chetniks or their descendants. But Mihailovich's army is best described as a patriotic Balkan force, with a majority of Serbs, built around a large nucleus of trained Yugoslavian troops.

In size, in the long military experience of its leader and the great number of its troops, it dwarfs the forces of such historic guerrillas as the Tirolean patriot Andreas Hofer, the Philippines' Emilio Aguinaldo, and Mexico's Francisco "Pancho" ("I'll use the whole ocean to gargle") Villa.


Tales about Mihailovich, apocryphal or smuggled out of his mountains, abound in Yugoslav circles. It is said that he has done some of his own espionage, eating with German officers in a tavern where the host, devoted to him, was panicky with fright. Nazi officers are said to have driven up to a farmhouse where Mihailovich and friends were staying. When he had convinced the Nazis of his innocence, one of his friends remarked: "That was a close one." Mihailovich replied: "It was close for them, too." He pointed to a bush behind which a guerrilla machine-gun crew had been ready for the Nazis. The General is also rumored to have done a brisk trade exchanging Italian prisoners for Italian gasoline at the rate of one Italian private for one can of gas, one colonel for 50 cans.

Today Draja Mihailovich seems legendary, but he is a legend with a big basis in fact: the fact that he has kept from five to ten Nazi divisions at a time fighting to conquer the country which they destroyed twelve long months ago.