Fascinating People in History: Hugh O’Flaherty
*Author’s Note: I’ve been compiling lists upon lists on my computer desktop for years now because I’m an information hoarder. I started this one awhile ago but these people’s lives were too amazing not to share. I also hold a strong personal belief that these are the names we should know instead of Justin Beiber and Kim Kardashian. Hope you learn something!*
Hugh O’Flaherty : The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican
Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish Roman Catholic priest who was posted in Rome as a sort of Vatican embassador during WWII. He first started getting involved by visiting POW camps looking for missing prisoners and contacting their concerned families. When Italy switched sides, British POW prisoners were released but during the German occupation, they were in danger of being recaptured. Many of them remembered O’Flaherty and contacted him for aide.
O’Flaherty immediately answered the call to action by creating this amazing group of diverse people in power to create a way to hide the soldiers. With the aide of other priests, French resistance agents, communists, a Swiss count, an opera singer, a POW escapee, and a British ambassador, to name a few, they were able to conceal 4,000 mainly Allied soldiers and Jews all around the countryside. When it became more and more dangerous, O’Flaherty was said to have worn disguises outside the Vatican. He survived an assassination attempt by the local German occupiers and when his identity was finally revealed, he was able to still conduct business from inside the safety of the Vatican.
He became the number one enemy of the Gestapo in Rome, which lead to more and more priests and nuns agreeing to help his cause. They hid refugees inside their homes around the city and even conducted Jewish religious services inside the Basilica di San Clemente.
What’s even more amazing about O’Flaherty is that when Allies arrived in Rome in 1944, he demanded that the German prisoners be treated properly. By the time the war was over, out of the 9,700 Jews in Rome, 8,693 people were protected from being sent to Auschwitz by Catholic monasteries and private families.
O’Flaherty has been recognized for his valor by Britain, US, Canada, Australia, and Italy. He refused lifetime pension offered to him.
If all of this wasn’t enough to receive admiration, this is: after the war, O’Flaherty regularly visited the former SS chief, Colonel Herbert Kappler, who publicly sought after his death during the occupation, later in Rome while he was in prison. In 1959, Kappler converted to Catholicism and O’Flaherty was the one to baptize him.