Concerts to honor man who saved 5,200 Jews during World War II

Giorgio Perlasco saved more than four times as many people as Oscar Schindler.

Giorgio Perlasco. (photo credit: YAD VASHEM)
Giorgio Perlasco.
(photo credit: YAD VASHEM)
The name of Oscar Schindler, who saved upwards of 1000 Jews during World War II, is known around the world thanks to a Hollywood film about his exploits. But the name of Giorgia Perlasca, who saved more than 5000, is less familiar.
A musical homage to Perlasca this week by the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra seeks to change that, with a concert series spanning two venues and three nights.
“This (concert series) is an indication that what my father did seventy years ago is a fundamental example for human beings, and an indication that his memory is still fresh, not only about him personally, but about this kind of humanism,” said Perlasca’s son Franco, who will attend the concerts in Petah Tikva and Raanana.
Giorgio Perlasca, a one-time fascist who later grew disillusioned with the movement and was imprisoned by the Nazis, saved thousands of Jews in Hungary by posing as a representative of the Spanish Embassy and issuing false letters of protection, according to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum archives. He went so far as to go into jails operated by the Hungarian fascist movement to extract Jews imprisoned there.
In 1988, Yad Vashem honored Perlasca with the status of “Righteous Among the Nations.” He died in 1992 and the words “Righteous Among the Nations” were inscribed on his tombstone in Hebrew.
Before his recognition by Yad Vashem, Perlasca’s memory languished in obscurity, said Rafi Ganzou, deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and who was spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Rome in 1988. Ganzou said an effort by the embassy prompted Italian media to take note of Perlasca’s story, and he only earned public decades after he saved thousands of lives.
“This is a story far more powerful than the Schindler story, and I’m sorry that Spielberg didn’t know about Perlasca before he decided to go for a story about the Holocaust,” Ganzou said.
Perlasca’s memory is still less prominent in Israel than in Italy, where he is considered a national hero, he said. He added Israeli municipalities should consider naming a school after Perlasca, as many in Italy have already done.
In his capacity as ex-oficio vice president of the Italy-Israel Culture Fund, Gazou approached the Raanana Symphonette, which agreed “on the spot” to honor Perlasca.
“When we came across the story of Giorgio Perlasca it was clear to us that we were going to commission a piece,” said Orit Fogel-Shafran, the general manager of the Symphonette. “We have one language, we have the language of music, and this is how we tell stories.”
The Symphonette in turn commissioned a piece from well-known Israeli composer Moshe Korman.
The 20-minute performance Korman composed was inspired by the poem “If This Is a Man,” by Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi, and the book of the same name. The lyrics of the poem will be sung in Italian and Hebrew by Israeli tenor singer Guy Mannheim, who said he’s known the Primo Levi text since childhood.
“Not too many people in Israel know the story of Giorigo Perlasca and I’m afraid that the young generation of youth today do not really know the text of Primo Levi,” he said, adding that he hopes the concert will gain exposure for both Perlasca and Levi.
The Symphonette will be joined by double bass soloist Liuzzi Matteo of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and conducted by Omer M. Wellber, the Symphonette’s musical director.
Next year, Wellber will lead a performance of the piece at Teatro La Fenice.
In the past, Symphonette performances have honored Alma Rose, who conducted a women’s orchestra in Auschwitz, and Irena Sandler, who smuggled thousands of Jewish children to safety. Fogel-Shafran said the Symphonette puts special focus on Jewish history and the Holocaust, and that many patrons were once refugees of World War II.
The performances will take place on Tuesday at the Petah Tikva Center for Performing Arts and at the Music and Arts Center in Raanana on Wednesday and Thursday night. More information is available at