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2004: Gennaro Verolino

Learn about Gennaro Verolino, recipient of the 2004 Per Anger prize to human rights defenders.

A portrait of Anabela Lemos looking into the camera.

Gennaro Verolino

All we did was write out these protective passports. Every letter was written out on typewriter. There were many, surely 25,000 of them.

When the Soviet Red Army liberated Budapest in January 1945, there were still 120,000 Jews living there. This was the single largest group that had survived the Nazi persecutions during World War II. A young Catholic priest played a vital role in making this possible.

In 2004, archbishop Gennaro Verolino received the first Per Anger Prize for his unselfish and brave efforts during the German occupation of Hungary in 1944.

When Gennaro Verolino was a young priest, during World War II, he was sent to Budapest as the diplomatic envoy of the Catholic church. In an interview made a few days before he died in 2005, he told the story of the Nazi persecution of Jews in Hungary.

Interview with Gennaro Verolino

About Gennaro Verolino

- In March of 1944, the Germans occupied Budapest and started implementing the horrible laws against the Jews. They sent them to Germany and said that they would be put to work, but this wasn’t true. It was a pretense. They also sent people who were older than 80, and small children. What sort of work could they have performed? But that’s what they did.

The number of Hungarian Jews transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau between May 14th and July 8th, 1944, was 437,402. Ninety percent of them were gassed to death immediately after arrival. On July 9th, 1944, there were 230,000 Jews left in Budapest. In spite of German setbacks at the end of the war, the Nazis still planned to deport them, too, before the end of the year.

In October, the occupation forces began to round up the remaining Jewish population for deportation to the border with Austria, in order to dig trenches and build defensive walls against the advancing Red Army. The relocation was carried out on foot. Hundreds died of exhaustion and starvation during these death marches.

Diplomats from the neutral countries in Budapest had agreed to help in any way they could to stop, or at least obstruct, the persecution. This agreement was made by the highest officials of the respective countries, but the work in the field was mostly carried out by civil servants such as Per Anger and Gennaro Verolino. Thanks to courage and great ingenuity, they managed to save many people from certain death in the concentration camps.

Gennaro Verolino and his colleagues issued protective passports that saved the lives of many. - All we did was write out these protective passports. Every letter was written out on typewriter. There were many, surely 25,000 of them. These letters worked as a sort of passport from the Pope and could protect the persecuted. - Many deportees could be saved and managed to return to Budapest thanks to the passports. I remember sending trucks to pick them up at the border.

The courage shown by diplomats from neutral countries during the last few months of German occupation is remarkable. During October and November, Verolino and his colleagues managed to find monasteries that could hide and shelter the persecuted. Under the protection of the Pope, these people could find a safe haven. When the Nazis tried to enter the houses, Verolino and his colleagues succeeded in keeping them away.

The Pope and the Catholic church have been criticised for not doing enough to save people from the concentration camps of World War II. But according to Gennaro Verolino, this is not true.

From the start, we had instructions to try to help and save these people, and we did. Of course there were periods of more severe persecution, and then we intervened more, and during calmer intervals we did less.

The reason most of their efforts have not been known is a result of their status as diplomats.

A diplomat’s duty is to report to the nation or the state that sends you out, and not to journalists.

Monsignor Gennaro Verolino died in 2005 at the age of 99. He was one of the last in the group of diplomats surrounding the Swedish legation in Budapest who could tell the story of the events of 1944.

The citation of the jury

“For having shown the best in man, in times when our history showed proof of the worst of mankind, Monsignor Gennaro Verolino is awarded the 2004 Per Anger Prize for humanitarian and democracy-promoting work.”

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