Sunday, November 10, 2013

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, "Vatican Pimpernel" - 50th Anniversary

October 30th last was the 50th anniversary of the death of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, who was known as the Vatican Pimpernel during World War II. Hugh is my third cousin (once removed). My Great-Great Grandfather was Daniel Murphy, his brother James, is Grandfather to Hugh. I was four years old when he died, though never did meet him. My Dad often mentioned that we were related to him and a few years ago I was able to figure out the connection through the Murphy family in North Cork.

Image source:
Monsignor O'Flaherty helped Jews and Allied soldiers escape captivity and almost certain death in Rome which was occupied by the Germans. He used the diplomatic immunity of the Vatican to run his operation and was decorated after the war with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire), and the US Medal of Freedom. The following extract from gives a short summary of what he did:

In the autumn of 1942, the Germans and Italians began to crack down on prominent Italian Jews and aristocratic anti-fascists. 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. In the spring of 1943, his operation broadened to include escaped British prisoners-of-war and shot-down allied airmen. He developed a network of safe apartments in Rome in which they could hide.

By the end of the war he had helped over 6,500 Jews, American and British Soldiers escape from the Germans and his activities earned him the nickname “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican” as he became the master of disguises, evading capture from the Germans when he had to leave the security of the Vatican to go on his rescue missions.

In 1983, his story was made into a film called "The Scarlet and the Black", starring Gregory Peck as O'Flaherty, John Gielgud as Pope Pius XII (after whom I am named), and Christopher Plummer as Col. Herbert Kappler. Here's an extract of the movie from YouTube:

Rest in Peace Cousin.

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