Nuncio in Budapest Saved Thousands of Jews During War

Archbishop Rotta Declared "Righteous Among Nations"

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ROME, FEB. 4, 2002 (Zenit.org).- During World War II the papal nuncio in Budapest helped save thousands of Jewish lives, according to the biography of a meat merchant who lived in Hungary at the time.



The story of the Italian merchant, Giorgio Perlasca, was told on public television last week. Perlasca himself saved more than 5,000 Jews by posing as the Spanish consul in Budapest.

His successful endeavors hinged on the support of a genuine diplomatic network, headed by the Red Cross and representatives of the neutral embassies of Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland and the Vatican. Playing a key role in saving Jews was Archbishop Angelo Rotta, the apostolic nuncio.

When the Spanish ambassador left Budapest, Giorgio Perlasca decided on his own to assume responsibility for the Spanish legation from Dec. 1, 1944, to Jan. 16, 1945, when the Red Army arrived.

In November 1944, the Italian merchant had participated in a meeting of neutral diplomats. At the meeting, Carl Ivan Daniellson, Swedish Embassy minister; Harold Feheler, Swiss representative; Archbishop Rotta; and Angel Sanz Briz, the Spanish ambassador, signed a memorandum addressed to the royal Hungarian government requesting that it impede "the renewal of deportations of Jews."

On Dec. 22, 1944, at the nuncio´s initiative, the representatives of all the neutral embassies met in the Portuguese Embassy to write a joint diplomatic note asking the government "to intervene in favor of persecuted Jews," especially children, allowing them to remain "outside the ghetto in which the Jews were confined." The Red Cross and neutral embassies offered to help them.

Archbishop Rotta has been recognized now by the Israeli government as "Righteous Among Nations," and his name is inscribed in the Wall of Honor of Yad Vashem Museum.

The nuncio´s activity in favor of the Jews began, in fact, before Perlasca arrived in Budapest. When restrictions against the Jews were still limited, the nuncio was already issuing a safe-conduct stating that the person in question worked for the Vatican. Five hundred of these documents were issued daily.

Archbishop Angelo G. Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, then nuncio in Sofia, sent Archbishop Rotta thousands of immigration certificates that he obtained from the English, to allow Jews to flee to Palestine. Archbishop Roncalli said that Archbishop Rotta was ready to do anything to help Jews.

When German control became harsher and safe-conducts were insufficient, the nunciature hid Jews who would otherwise have met with certain death.

Jews crowded into the basement and passageways of the nunciature palace. The nunciature provided food to them and warned them when military patrols appeared in the area.