The Legacy of Baroness Orczy

This past week, I was able to share a movie with my dear friend, Maribeth.  Together, we sat upstairs and laughed and giggled while watching the old movie, Pimpernel Smith.  This film meant a lot to us for several reasons — it was a conjunction of an inspiring historical figure, a  favorite novel, and an unintentional legacy left by a baroness.  Together, these three seemingly unconnected bits made an extraordinary impact on the world.

Six years ago, Maribeth introduced me to an often-overlooked historical figure, Raoul Wallenberg.  Through his work with the War Refugees Board at the Swiss embassy in Budapest, Hungary,  Wallenberg was able to save the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the last year of WWII.

A couple years later, I returned the favor and introduced Maribeth to a fabulous book which quickly became one of our favorites: The Scarlet Pimpernel.  I’m not going to spoil the plot in case you haven’t read the book yet (you should!), but I will tell you this.  The Scarlet Pimpernel is a historical fiction/adventure/romance/mystery novel set during the French Reign of Terror.  It is the story of a mysterious person known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel who saves French aristocrats from the guillotine.  Meanwhile, the French are desperately trying to find the Scarlet Pimpernel and stop his successful rescues.

Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála “Emmuska” Orczy de Orczi was born in Hungary in 1865.  Her family moved to England when she was 15.  She later married Englishman Montague MacLean Barstow.  Baroness Orczy is best known for her book, The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Now to tie all these bits of stories together.  The Scarlet Pimpernel was made into several films, most notably the 1934 film starring Leslie Howard.  Then, in 1941, Howard starred in a modernized remake set during the current WWII called Pimpernel Smith.  In it, the superficially boring Professor Smith rescues people from concentration camps and Nazis arrests. The film reached Sweden in 1942, but was soon banned by the Swedish Census Board who feared that it would jeopardize the country’s neutrality.  But one man was able to see the show with his half-sister at a private screening.  On the way home, this Swiss told his sister “I want to do exactly what he [Prof. Smith] did.” (Linnéa, Sharon. Raoul Wallenberg: the man who stopped death. Philadelphia and Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1993.)

Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest with a mission — a mission inspired by Pimpernel Smith.  From July 9, 1944 through January 17th, 1945, Raoul worked tirelessly to save the thousands of Jews left in Budapest from SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann’s systematic extermination.

“In all, 120,000 Jews of Budapest survived the “final solution”. They were the only substantial Jewish community left in Europe. At least 100,000 of these people owed their lives directly to Raoul Wallenberg.”  (

Raoul Wallenberg saved thousands of Hungarian Jews because he was inspired by the film Pimpernel Smith, which is based off the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel which was written by Baroness Orczy — a Hungarian.  Isn’t that just AMAZING?

The Baroness Emmuska Orczy and Raoul Wallenberg

The Lord used a baroness, a 319 page book, an actor of Jewish Hungarian decent (I’m not joking!), and a Swiss architect to save thousands of lives during the dark days of WWII.  I don’t know if Baroness Orczy knew the legacy she had left through her books when she died in 1947, but for us Scarlet Pimpernel fans, knowing the far-reaching effects of the story makes it even better.

(As a side note for SP fans, you might want to check out Orczy’s novel Pimpernel and Rosemary set during the Nazi occupation of  Hungary during WWI.   Pretty cool huh?  You can read the summary and the entire book here.)

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10 thoughts on “The Legacy of Baroness Orczy

  1. Bethany

    Great job with this post, Emily! It was sure worth all that writing and rewriting!

  2. Emily, that was fabulous!!! I never cease to be amazed at that story. You’ve made me so interested in Raoul now! (All of the pictures were fabulous, too). Thank you for the post, and thank you again for introducing me to the Scarlet Pimpernel all those years ago!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Victoria! (You should hear Maribeth talk about Raoul — she’s done TONS of research.) So glad that I made a leaguette out of you. 😉 It’s always fun to share favorite books.

  3. This is fascinating! I LOVE The Scarlet Pimpernel and Orczy’s sequels with Sir Percy and when I write my review of SP I will be sure to direct people to this article! Thanks. BTW, I really love the film with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour; in my mind, Sir Percy IS Anthony Andrews!

    • Thank you so much for commenting! It’s always fun to find someone who shares a love for the same book. 😀 Wow — thank you! I look forward to reading your review.
      Just curious, how did you find my blog?
      Thanks again for visiting, commenting, and following!

      • I believe I was just browsing through recommended blogs based on my interest and the title of the article caught my attention because of my love for The SP. (by the way, Ivanhoe is also Anthony Andrews!)

    • BTW, I’ve got to try to track down “Pimpernel Smith” – it sounds great too.

  4. Reblogged this on I'm All Booked and commented:
    I got behind on my articles again. so I decided to reblog this one that I came across which I found very interesting. The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my all-time favorite books, but I had never heard of the movie “Pimpernel Smith” before and want to get a hold of it. Sir Percy Blakeney chooses to live a dual life – a pompous fop in England’s high society, but secretly a hero who rescues lives in danger under the French Reign of Terror. He willingly humiliates himself by taking on a public role for which he is mocked so that he will throw off any suspicion of what he is really involved in. There are at least two great film adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel – somewhat cheesy, but fun anyway. Baroness Orczy actually wrote an entire series of stories about the SP following his exploits. If you like stories that combine adventure, intrigue, British wit, and romance, especially stories about the French Revolution, you should enjoy The Scarlet Pimpernel. As I write about it I realize I am overdue for a rereading of this book! A personal favorite that I highly recommend, although I won’t go so far as to include on my list of books I think every Christian should read.

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