The Italian Schindler Who Conned the Germans into Letting 5,000 Jews Go Free

Jan. 19 2017

An early enthusiast of fascism, Giorgio Perlasca volunteered to fight for Italian forces in Ethiopia in 1935 and then went to Spain to fight for Francisco Franco. But after returning to Italy in 1939, he quickly became disillusioned with Mussolini and, to avoid military service, found himself a job procuring livestock for the Italian army, which involved traveling around southeastern Europe. His travels made him aware of—and deeply troubled by—what was happening to the Jews. After Mussolini’s fall in 1943, he found himself in Budapest. Elizabeth Salthouse writes:

[I]n late 1944, the Spanish consul to Budapest beat a hasty retreat to Switzerland leaving behind empty offices, his official consulate seals, Jewish staff, and hundreds of Jews desperate for Spanish protection. . . .

Unbeknownst to the Germans, the Spanish consulate had been quietly sheltering Hungarian Jews in eight apartment blocks under its control, but the rescue effort was jeopardized by the consul’s departure. And so Giorgio “Jorge” Perlasca stepped in, brazenly convincing Hungarian authorities that he was now the Spanish ambassador with all the powers that went with the title.

It was a breathtakingly audacious and highly dangerous move that could have led to Perlasca’s summary execution at any moment. But he was a master of persuasion and so “Ambassador Perlasca” proceeded to issue Spanish-consulate letters of protection, stamped with the genuine seals, to hundreds of Jews over the winter of 1944. And not only that, Giorgio personally challenged German troops rounding up Jews, persuading them that many potential gas-chamber deportees had Spanish heritage and were therefore protected. He even used his own money to buy peoples’ freedom and argued with German officers directly, including the infamous Adolf Eichmann, to rescue children from the jaws of certain death. The man was fearless, galvanized by his hatred of the Nazis and fortified by his skills as a negotiator.

Ultimately, over the course of around 45 days Giorgio Perlasca managed to fool the Germans, to issue fake permits and to directly protect, rescue, and secure the lives of at least 5,500 Jews.

Read more at Italo-Americano

More about: History & Ideas, Holocaust, Hungarian Jewry, Italy, Righteous Among the Nations


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy