“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. Three concerts are scheduled in two different venues, in Raanana and Petah Tikva, both in central Israel.
Perlasca was born in Como, Italy, in 1910. In the 1920s, he became a supporter of fascism, but eventually became disillusioned with the movement, in part because of Mussolini’s alliance with Hitler.
Having fought in the Spanish Civil War, Perlasca earned recognition from Spain. This served him in good stead when he found himself arrested in Hungary in 1943. He requested asylum from the Spanish embassy and spent the remainder of the war working with diplomats of neutral states to smuggle Jews out of Hungary. Perlasca’s unique contribution was to create false papers for people, indicating they were under the protection of a neutral state, and install them in houses where those states exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction. In just 45 days, from 1 December 1944 to 16 January 1945, Perlasca helped save more than 5,000 Jews — roughly four times the number Schindler rescued.
Perlasca never spoke of his experiences in Hungary after the war, and his deeds went unrecognized for a long time, until in 1987 a group of survivors whom he had rescued tracked him down. In 1988, he was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations”, an epitaph which was ultimately inscribed on his tombstone in Hebrew when he died in 1992 of a heart attack.
“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,” said Rafi Ganzou, deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Rome in 1988.
Ganzou is the one who approached the Symphonette with the idea of a concert in Perlasca’s honor.
“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 commissioned a piece by Israeli composer Moshe Korman for the occasion. The 20-minute segment is based on a poem called “If This Is a Man” by Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish writer.
Double bass soloist Liuzzi Matteo of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice will Join the Symphonette for the concert series. It will be conducted by the Symphonette’s own musical director, Omer M. Wellber. The performances will take place Tuesday in Petah Tikva and Wednesday and Thursday in Raanana.