The Vatican Pimpernel: The World War II Exploits of the Monsignor Who Saved Over 6,500 Lives
The Vatican Pimpernel – An inspiring true story of bravery and faith. During the German occupation of Rome from 1942-1944, Irishman Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty ran an escape organization for Allied POWs and civilians, including Jews. Safe within the Vatican state, he regularly ventured out in disguise to continue his mission, which earned him the nickname ‘The Pimpernel of the Vatican’. When the Allies entered Rome, he and his collaborators – priests, nuns, and laypeople of numerous nationalities and religious beliefs – had saved the lives of over 6,500 people. The first new telling of this extraordinary story in decades, this book also addresses the fascinating dichotomy between O’Flaherty and Herbert Kappler, the Gestapo chief in Rome who ordered him killed, and who, after the war, reconciled with the monsignor, and even asked him to perform his baptism. For his heroic efforts, O’Flaherty was awarded the highest honors, including a Congressional Medal, and was the first Irishman named the Notary of the Holy Office. His story was immortalized in the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black, which starred Gregory Peck as O’Flaherty.
Review by Adrienne Swindeman
Monsignor O’Flaherty saved the lives of so many thousands of Jews, British escapees from Prisoner of War camps and others with the help of many brave men and women who hid people in their homes at great risk to their lives and the lives of their families. Many were hidden in the Vatican and the Vatican properties. The Pope must have given approval as he surely knew what was happening but the Vatican had to be silent as they had been given neutrality in the city of Rome and they were also dependent on the water supply from Rome. Despite the fact that the Germans were aware of his activities, the Monsignor continued to help people, often going out in disguise when the Germans were watching, hoping to capture him. When so many German soldiers, Italian soldiers etc. could be so cruel and sadistic, hunting down people,a few of the Germans seemed to me, to turn a blind eye to the aid being given to the people being hidden. They could have been worse, as far as the Vatican was concerned, and they were getting worse as the end of the war approached and the Vatican and the monsignor were in even more danger. A great book.
Brian Fleming is a former member of the Oireachtas and has been a teacher for many years. He is currently principal of Collinstown Park Community College. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.
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