This Irish priest is an unsung hero whose work during World War II deserves greater recognition.
Irish priest Hugh O’Flaherty was a vital part of European resistance to Nazi occupation, but his amazing work isn’t well known. Working at the Vatican after Italy surrendered to the Allies, O’Flaherty saw that thousands of Allied POWs were in danger of possibly being taken back by Nazi forces as they retreated from the country.
“While priests from Axis countries had to evacuate the Vatican after the entire country was surrounded by an Axis power, priests from neutral countries were allowed to remain hassle-free. However, after Italy surrendered in 1943, things started to get messy. Allied POWs in POW camps were now technically free, but stranded — and it looked like the German forces were marching in to take them back. They needed someone to help them.”
“O’Flaherty sprang into action, accepting every POW (over 4,000 of them!) who came to the doors of the Vatican. From there, he began smuggling them out of Rome using his gigantic network of contacts, helpers, and disguised safe houses.”
He also engaged his network into action the year before when Italian Jews were under attack by occupying soldiers. “Having socialised with these people before the war, the Monsignor now hid them in monasteries and convents, in his old college and in his own residence.”
His legendary efforts earned him the nickname, Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, because he became known for being a master of disguises who could evade German capture even after leaving the safety of the Vatican to smuggle people out of the country.
By the end of the war, O’Flaherty had successfully saved the lives of more than 6,500 Jews and British and American soldiers. He was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom and Commander of the British Empire.
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