As depicted in the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (played by Gregory Peck), an Irish priest serving in the Vatican, worked to keep hundreds of Jews out of the hands of the Nazis. A group in his hometown is now petitioning Yad Vashem to recognize him. Michael Riordan writes:
O’Flaherty grew up the son of a golf steward in Killarney, Ireland, and his skill at the game helped ease his way into Roman society. The priest played with social luminaries like Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law Count Galeazzo Ciano, as well as the former king of Spain. All of his connections were to become very useful when he took on the unforeseen mantle of rescuer.
In the last years of the war, as the Italian government collapsed, O’Flaherty organized a group of priests, anti-fascists, and diplomats to help shelter Jews, escaped POWs, and refugees. He set up a network of safe havens in rented apartments and religious houses throughout Rome. . . .
After the Gestapo became aware of O’Flaherty’s activities they painted a white line across St. Peter’s Square, dividing the neutral Vatican from fascist-controlled Rome. They placed guards nearby ready to snatch the Monsignor if he ever crossed. As a result O’Flaherty became known locally as the Scarlet Pimpernel because of the many disguises he donned during his forays into the capital.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access