The Former Italian Fascist Who Teamed Up With a Franco-Era Spanish Diplomat to Save Thousands of Jews During WWII

Giorgio Perlasca (pictured left, some time before his death in 1992) was an Italian businessman and ex-fascist who cleverly used international law and bold impersonations to save thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

Perlasca was once a committed fascist who had fought for Italy in its brutal war against Ethiopia, as well as for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. By the start of the Second World War, however, he had grown disillusioned with fascism, especially following Italy’s alliance with Nazi Germany and the implementation of Italian racial laws in 1938.

While serving as an Italian delegate in Hungary (another Nazi ally), his country had surrendered to the Allies, forcing citizens to choose between remaining loyal to the fascists or joining the Allied cause; at great personal risk, Perlasca chose the latter, and he was subsequently arrested by Hungarian authorities.

Using a medical pass that allowed him to travel in the country, he fled to the Spanish Embassy in Budapest, where he requested political status. Fortunately, his service to the victorious Spanish Nationalists endeared them to his request, and he was subsequently given protection, since Spain was neutral. Perlasca then took full advantage of his diplomatic cover to save people of a completely different faith and nationality.

Lucky for him, Angel Sanz Briz (pictured right, in 1969) was stationed there with the same idea in mind.

Continue reading

The End of Smallpox

smallpox

Yesterday, December 9th, came and went like any other day. But on that day in 1979, one of the most groundbreaking endeavors in human history was accomplished: a group of eminent scientists commissioned by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) certified the global eradication of smallpox, the only human disease thus far to have been completely eliminated from nature. The WHO officially confirmed and announced this momentous achievement a few moments later:

Having considered the development and results of the global program on smallpox eradication initiated by WHO in 1958 and intensified since 1967 … Declares solemnly that the world and its peoples have won freedom from smallpox, which was a most devastating disease sweeping in epidemic form through many countries since earliest time, leaving death, blindness and disfigurement in its wake and which only a decade ago was rampant in Africa, Asia and South America.

Less than a decade before, the end of smallpox would have seemed the remotest possibility. As recently as 1967, the WHO had estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease, and that two million had died that year alone — the average number of annual deaths since the turn of the century. Continue reading

Progress Across Boundaries

It is telling that all the Nobel Prizes this year — as in recent years — have thus far been awarded to multiple laureates, often of different nationalities and/or for research done in a country different from their birthplace. Like so much else nowadays, science is becoming an increasingly globalized endeavor, conducted across an international network of institutes, universities, labs, and other academic and scientific organizations.

Of course, this is nothing new: almost every human achievement, regardless of time or place, can trace its origins to gradual, supplementary, or parallel developments elsewhere. Mathematical principles, political concepts, artistic expressions — all of the contributors to these and other fields built (and continue to build) upon the work of predecessors or contemporaries, adding to or refining the growing pool of ideas along the way. Thanks to advances in technology, expanding access to education of all levels (especially in the developing world), and a growing sense of global consciousness, this historical development is accelerating.

Knowledge and talent know no boundaries, whether political, linguistic, or ethnic, and the more we facilitate the exchange of ideas and the collaboration, the closer we will come to greater human progress. This is not easy, due to both practical and cultural challenges, but neither is it utopian; there is thousands of years worth of cross-cultural progress persisting to this very day proving it can be done, and the world has a lot to show for it. Given how much more needs to be done — socially, scientifically, ideologically, etc. — we have all the more reasons to keep it up.

The Woman Who Curbed An Ebola Outbreak In Africa’s Largest Country

Nigeria had never had a case of Ebola before, so when Dr. Adadevoh, a UK-trained consultant endocrinologist, ordered he be tested for the disease and placed in quarantine, she had to stand firm against those who disagreed.

— The Independenton Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh and her quick identification of Nigeria’s patient zero.

Although it sadly ravaged three nations in West Africa, Ebola’s impact in neighboring countries like Senegal and Nigeria had been successfully minimized. As the largest country in Africa and the seventh largest in the world, Nigeria would have likely suffered even more horrific losses.

It is also worth pointing out that the number of new cases in infected countries were just one percent of what was estimated. So even though it did a lot of damage to afflicted nations, the Ebola outbreak could have been much worse — all the more remarkable considering the shortfall in funding.

The hundreds of unsung health workers who willingly put themselves on the frontlines, and in many cases lost their lives in the process, deserve an incredible amount of praise and recognition.

About the Header and Background

Since I was new to blogging, I hadn’t yet gotten the hang of tweaking my profile. In retrospect, my original header and background were a bit bland, as well as uninspiring – I needed something more aesthetic as well as meaningful, a search that wasn’t made any easier by my indecisiveness.

The image I’ve finally chosen to define my blog is titled The School of Athens (Scuola di Atene), a well-known fresco painting by famous Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. Located within the Apostolic Palace of Vatican City, it depicts an idealized gathering of the greatest minds in philosophy, ranging from Plato and Aristotle (the central figures), to Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, and Averroes.

With the definite exception of the first two, there is much dispute about the identities of the others, and different scholars and art historians have postulated their own theories as to who’s who (the artist himself gave no clear indication). Read more about the probable list of identifications hereand do feel free to read up on each of them.

Needless to say, this one of the most beautiful and famous of Raphael’s works, if not the entire Renaissance. However, I didn’t choose it only for it’s aesthetic beauty, which was nonetheless a major factor. Rather, it appeals to me mostly because it represents an idea very close to my heart: that of the dialectic, a form of argumentation that has underpinned philosophy, and the search for truth, since ancient times.

The dialectical method consists not of debate or rhetoric, but dialogue. Rather than be committed to a position and concerned only with being right (and proving it), those engaging in a dialectical approach with one another are looking to establish truth, through reasoned argument and rational inquiry. Rather than try to persuade through appeals to emotion or the like, the dialectical person looks to ask questions, understand other positions, and put forward their own views with the intention of validating its truth value. Through civil discourse, an open-mind, and tireless curiosity, one tries to seek the truth.

I try to imagine what it would be like to share a platform with all these wise figures, and the many who have since emerged thereafter. Looking at this image, I fantasize about being a part of it, if at the very least as a spectator. Just think of the great pool of knowledge that would form from doing nothing more than engaging in thoughtful and reasoned conversation.

The image represents, in the most romantic of fashions, precisely what I mean to promote on this blog and throughout my life. I’m just one person of course, and hardly qualified to bring about a paradigm shift on my own; I have no delusions of granduer, nor the arrogance to presume otherwise.  But the point of progress through the advancement of human wisdom is that we’re all in it together. Human knowledge is the sum of generations of contributions, often times brought about by nothing more than critical thinking and open-minded exchanges with others.

I wouldn’t feel so enlightened to the world were it not for my valuable interactions with the multitudes of people who have enriched my life in some form or fashion. With increasing interconnection, coupled with a sense of global and pan-humanist consciousness, the entire world is a bona fide School of Athens.  We don’t always get it right, but more and more of us are talking, learning, and progressing in the same spirit of dialectic captured so beautifully in this painting, and responsible for so much richness within human thought. I couldn’t have asked for a greater welcoming banner.

So join me – share your thoughts, concerns, views, and works. Let’s have a discussion, as sincere in its search for truth as it is in its mutual civility. I welcome your wisdom.