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The Unbelievable Story of the 'Irish Schindler'

Mural of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty (Photo: wikicommons/Dmol)

We've brought you many Advocates and Allies of the Jewish people from around the world. And, when these friends were active during the Holocaust, many of them are often likened to that most famous rescuer of Jews, Oskar Schindler. This week, The Times of Israel's Michael Riordan brings us the heroic story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irishman who rescued hundreds of Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis:

As the Gestapo surrounds the palace of an Italian anti-Fascist aristocrat, an Irish priest dashes to the cellar. He is wanted by the Nazis for his role in the daring rescues of Jews, POWs and refugees, but this time it seems there is no escape. Miraculously, a coal delivery being made to the palace offers the perfect cover — the cleric blackens his face, hides his cassock and slips away to freedom through the narrow cobbled streets of Rome.

This dramatic scene, recreated in the 1983 movie “The Scarlet and the Black” starring Gregory Peck as Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, was just one of a number of close shaves for the doughty Irish priest and Vatican diplomat during his heroic campaign to thwart the Gestapo in the Eternal City during World War II.

“Monsignor O’Flaherty left the safety of the Vatican to run his escape line,” said Jerry O’Grady, chairman of the Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Society in the priest’s hometown in Killarney, Ireland. “The Gestapo had a price on his head and they tried to kidnap him many times.”

The Society is now preparing an application to Yad Vashem to have their local hero, who is credited with concealing hundreds of Jews from the Gestapo, listed as Righteous Among the Nations.

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 such as Mussolini’s son-in-law Count Galeazzo Ciano, as well as the former Spanish King Alphonso. All 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-Fascist 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.

Claudio-Ilan Jacobi, now living in Israel, is one of the Jews O’Flaherty saved. He was away from the ghetto when the Gestapo raided it.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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