Many people may not have heard of Hugh O’Flaherty, but he is an unsung hero. Hugh was an Irish Catholic priest, who not only saved Jews and soldiers, but he also visited prison of war camps located in Italy. Along with his visits to the prison of war camps, he wanted to research and find out what happened to the prisoners that were reported as missing in action. In 1943, a plethora of people were released from the British prison of war camps because of Mussolini being removed from power.
Fear was reembedded in the Jews, that were just released when the Germans overtook Italy. With the fear of being taken prisoner again embedded in their minds, the Jews that remembered Hugh visiting them in the camps decided that it was in their best interest to flee to Rome and ask him for help. Hugh O’Flaherty coincides with what Abraham Heschel, the author of The Prophets, belief in what a prophet does. Heschel, believes that, “the prophet is not a mouthpiece, but a person; not an instrument, but a partner, an associate of God,” (Heschel, 30).
Hugh displayed this very well; he may not have known that he was doing this, but he, out of the goodness of his heart, decided that he was the one that was going to help the people that wanted to get away from the Germans. Hugh O’Flaherty did not only help people and display his prophetic characteristics with actions, but with words; he also converted his opposers. Hugh O’Flaherty displayed the prophetic characteristics that Heschel believed a prophet had by Hugh’s actions.
He recruited the help of others to help him hide the Jews that asked for his assistance in places such as monasteries, convents, his home, and he even got many apartments that were safe for them to stay in. “The prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently hole, revered, and awesome,” (Heschel, 12). An iconoclast is a person who challenges the standard beliefs, or a topic that another person seems to be content with. The iconoclast destroys icons that someone holds dear to them.
The word iconoclast describes Hugh because he challenged those that thought Hitler was a great person by helping the Jews. Hugh’s actions of assisting the Jews caused others to question why he was doing what he was doing, and also question their belief that Hitler was doing the right thing. By going against the popular belief in those days, Hugh also showed another characteristic that Heschel believes that a prophet should hold. “But to be a prophet means to challenge and to defy and to cast out fear,” (Heschel, 22).
Which is exactly what Hugh did, he went against the Germans that thought that they were doing the right thing, and put his own life in danger to save other people. By doing this, he showed that he was not afraid of what the consequences were for what he was doing. Along the way, it encouraged others to help him and do as he was doing. His actions were not the only thing that encouraged other to help, though, also the messages that he passes on and his words. Hugh had used his trips to the power of war camps as a way to benefit others and send messages to those longing to know if their loved one were still alive.
O’Flaherty’s style was to spend hours talking with the prisoners, then, at night, travel back to Rome by a fast train. He would relay messages from the prisoners to his friend Father Owen Sneddon, who worked at the Vatican’s radio station. Sneddon would broadcast the information so the prisoners’ families would know they were alive” (Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty). Along with broadcasting information to prisoners’ families, he also was “sending letters home to their families confirming they were still alive and passing on messages,” (Perpetual Present).
By doing this he illustrates that, “the prophet is a witness, and his words a testimony–to His power and judgment, to His justice and mercy,” (Heschel, 27). “One of the Monsignor’s most famous phrases is ‘GOD HAS NO COUNTRY’. He responded with that phrase when he was asked why he helped people from different countries, and even the Nazis,” (The Spirit of Hugh O’Flaherty, 4). By saying this, Hugh shows one of the main characteristics that a prophet in Heschel’s view is suppose to portray.
The task of the prophet is to convey the word of God,” (Heschel, 31). Thorough Hugh’s famous phrase, he showed that God does not choose favorites and that he is there to tell and show what God wants people to know. This shows that God provides for all and he does not want people of different beliefs or countries fighting. Not all people thought that this was a good thing, so Hugh gained a few enemies. Along Hugh’s journey of saving many people, he also gained a few enemies who had heard about what he was doing.
One of his main enemies was Herbert Kappler, who was head of the SS Sicherheitsdienst (an intelligence agency and a protection group of Hitler) and Gestapo (secret police of the Nazis). At one point Kappler painted a white line on the concrete in front of St. Peter’s Church to divide Vatican City and Italy. He then signified that if Hugh were to cross that line, he would be killed. After the war was over Kappler was imprisoned for the parts that he played in it. “Within months Italy’s most famous prisoner wrote to his old rival.
He invited Mgr O’Flaherty to visit him and, within days, the Kerry priest arrived to meet and talk with his former foe. Their meetings became regular affairs and, according to Mgr O’Flaherty’s friends, they discussed religion and literature”(Walker). The quote by Walker goes with a quote from Heschel, which is, “people may remain deaf to a prophet’s admonitions; they cannot remain callous to a prophet’s existence,” (Heschel, 22). Hugh spoke and tried to show people many times that what was happening was not right and that it should be stopped.
Kappler, when put in prison for his actions had time to think about what he had done, and decided on his own to contact Hugh. Kappler learned from his mistakes and talked with Hugh many times and then Kappler decided that he wanted to be converted. Hugh’s actions in this situation relate to Jeremiah 15:16, which talks about the joy and happiness that is brought upon the prophet. By helping Kappler, Hugh felt a great deal of joy that he could change the way that his opposer thought. “The prophet’s duty is to speak to the people, “whether they hear or refuse to hear,” (Heschel, 22).
This quote goes on to describe the relationship between Hugh and Kappler in the beginning. Kappler did not care for the words that Hugh had to say or why he was doing what he was doing, instead Kappler’s first reaction was to jail Hugh. Throughout Kappler’s time, he learned to see things a different way and listened to the words the Hugh said instead of rejecting them, like he did in previous years. Hugh O’Flaherty helped may throughout his times with his actions, words, and he even got the chance because of what he did to convert one of his opposers.
Hugh may have saved many Jewish people like many others in that time, but he did it openly and freely, not being scared of what the consequences were. He also relayed tons of messages to the family members of those that were imprisoned. Over time one of his greatest opposers, Herbert Kappler, who wanted him dead, decided that he wanted to be converted by Hugh and get help with overcoming what Kappler had helped do. Through looking at all of the information presented, it is obvious that Hugh O’Flaherty is an unsung hero.