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Smithsonian

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/five-rescuers-of-those-threatened-by-theholocaust-55112043/?no-ist

Five Rescuers of Those Threatened


by the Holocaust
Righteous good Samaritans came from across the world to save Jews and
others from concentration camps
By Marian Holmes
SMITHSONIAN.COM
FEBRUARY 24, 2009

As persecution of Jews in Europe mounted in the years prior to and during World War
II, many people desperately sought visas to escape the Nazi regime. Diplomats, consuls
and foreign officials were in a unique position to extend significant help to Jews and
other refugees seeking asylum in other countries. But too often the stated policy of
foreign governments to stay neutral or restrict immigration left many to perish in
Holocaust. As official representatives of their governments, diplomats were obliged to
uphold the policies of their countries. Those who acted contrary put themselves at peril.
Yet scores of diplomats and others disobeyed their governments by issuing visas,
protective papers and other documentation that allowed refugees to escape during the
period 1933-1945. Some rescuers established safe houses or hid Jews in their embassies
or private residences. When found to be violating their governments' policies, some
diplomats were transferred, fired or stripped of their ranks and pensions. When caught
by Nazi authorities, they faced imprisonment, deportation to a concentration camp and
sometimes murder. But because of their heroic deeds, tens of thousands of lives were
saved.

Research assistance and photographs of the featured rescuers has been provided by Eric
Saul, author of the upcoming book, Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable
Diplomats. Saul's many exhibitions on the subject of diplomatic rescues have travelled
worldwide.
Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986) was posted to Lithuania, in November 1939 as the
Japanese consul general. After the Soviets occupied Lithuania in June 1940 and began
their massive arrests, Sugihara realized the urgency of the situation and issued an
estimated 6,000 transit visas in July and August mainly to Polish Jews stranded in
Lithuania. He granted visas for transit through Kobe, Japan, providing an eastern
escape route. From Japan, refugees could go to the United States, Canada, South
America, or Australia. About 1,000 Sugihara visa recipients from Lithuania survived the
war in Shanghai. Even after his government cabled him to restrict his issuance of visas,
he continued to do so at a rapid pace. "There was no place else for them to go," he said
later. "If I had waited any longer, even if permission came, it might have been too late."
He was transferred to Prague in September 1940 and in 1944 arrested by the Soviets and
held 18 months. When he returned to Japan in 1947, he was asked to retire, which he
said he believed was for his actions in Lithuania. In 1985, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust
Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, honored Sugihara with the
title "Righteous Among the Nations" for his aid to refugees in Lithuania.
Charles "Carl " Lutz (1895-1975) was appointed the Swiss vice-consul in Budapest,
Hungary, in 1942. After the Nazis occupied Hungary in March 1944 and began sending
Jews to death camps, Lutz negotiated with the Nazis and the Hungarian government to
allow him to issue protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to
Palestine. Deliberately misinterpreting the agreement to mean 8,000 families, not
individuals, he issued tens of thousands of protective letters. A year earlier, he had
helped 10,000 Jewish children emigrate to Palestine from Hungary. He also established
76 safe houses in the Budapest area by calling them Swiss annexes. Working with his
wife Gertrud, he was able to liberate Jews from deportation centers and death marches.
He is credited with saving 62,000 Jews from the Holocaust. After the war, Lutz was
admonished for exceeding his authority in helping Jews, but in 1958 he was
rehabilitated by the Swiss government. The Yad Vashem honored him and his wife with
the title "Righteous Among the Nations" in 1964 and he has been declared an honorary
citizen of the state of Israel.

Feng-Shan Ho (1901-1997) became the Chinese consul general in Vienna soon after
Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. After Kristallnachta night in
November 1938 when synagogues and Jewish businesses in Germany were ransacked
and burned and scores of Jews killed or deported to concentration camps requests for
visas skyrocketed. In order to be released from detention, Jews needed emigration
documents. Despite orders from his superior to desist, Ho issued those lifesaving visas,
sometimes as many as 900 in one month. One survivor, Hans Kraus, who had waited
hours outside the Chinese embassy, thrust his requests into the window of Ho's car; a
few days later he received his visa. Eric Goldstaub recalls being granted 20 visas, enough
for his entire family to flee Austria. Ho was reassigned in 1940 and went on to serve 40
years as a diplomat. He retired to San Francisco in 1973. It was only upon his death that
evidence of his humanitarian assistance to Jews came to light. He was posthumously
awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations in 2001 and is known as "China's
Schindler."
Varian Fry (1907-1967) was an American journalist when he volunteered in 1940 to
head up the Emergency Rescue Committee, a private American relief organization
supported by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The purpose of the agency was to aid refugees
in Nazi-occupied France and ship them out before they could be arrested and sent to
concentration camps. Operating from a list that included distinguished artists, writers,
scholars, politicians, and labor leaders, Fry set out to provide financial support for the
refugees and to secure the necessary papers for their escape. He enlisted the aid of
sympathetic diplomats such as Harry Bingham IV and Myles Standish, the U.S. vice
consuls in Marseilles. Fry established a French relief organization to use as a cover his
operation. For 13 months, from August 1940 to 1941, he and his band of volunteers used
bribery, back market funds, forged documents, clandestine mountain routes and any
means possible to help rescue more than 2,000 people from France. In 1994, Israel
awarded him Righteous Among the Nations status.
Raoul Wallenberg (1912-?), trained as an architect, was appointed first secretary at
the Swedish legation in Budapest in July 1944 with the mission to save as many
Budapest Jews as possible. The Germans were deporting thousands of Jews each day to
the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Recruited specifically to organize a
mission that would rescue Jews from deportations, Wallenberg circumvented many of
the usual diplomatic channels. Bribes, extortion and fake documents were commonplace
and produced quick results. He redesigned Swedish protective papers, which identified

Hungarian Jews as Swedish subjects. The yellow and blue passes with the Swedish coat
of arms usually passed muster with the German and Hungarian authorities, who were
sometimes bribed as well. Wallenberg established some 30 "Swedish" houses where
Jews could take refuge. Increasingly bold, he intercepted a train bound for Auschwitz,
distributed his protective passes, and removed Jews from the cattle cars. On numerous
occasions, he saved Jews from death marches. When the Soviet army arrived in
Budapest in January 1945, he was arrested and eventually disappeared into the Soviet
prison system. Though there were rumors of sightings of him and of his execution, there
is still nothing conclusive about what happened to him. In just six months, Wallenberg
had saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives. He is honored throughout the world as well
as a recipient of Israel's Righteous Among the Nations award.