Monday, December 27, 2010

The Budapest Gang, Part III


In 1942, Carl Lutz was the Vice Consul for the Swiss Consulate in Budapest, Hungary.   Coming from service as the Consul General in Jaffa, Palestine, Lutz worked immediately with the Jewish Agency for Palestine to help 10,000 Jewish children to emigrate.  When the Nazis arrived in Budapest in 1944, he got permission to issue 8,000 protective letters to help Hungarian Jews emigrate to Palestine as well.

Just like Sanz-Briz from Spain, Lutz extended the protective letters to entire families, then multiplied the 8000 permits indefinitely by simply numbering all of them between 1 and 8000.  Just like the rest of the Budapest gang, he set up 76 safe houses around Budapest bearing the Swiss flag to hide Jewish refugees.  He is credited with saving 62,000 Jewish lives.

Friedrich Born was sent to Budapest in May 1944 to represent Switzerland with the International Committee of the Red Cross.   He recruited as many as 4000 Jews to work in Red Cross offices, granting a protected status, as well as issued protective passes for 15,000 Jews.  He is believed to have saved 11,000 to 15,000 lives in his 7 months in Budapest.


Monsignor Angelo Rotta was already 72 years old when he was sent as the Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) to Budapest in 1944.  In addition to protesting the deportation and persecution of the Jews vigorously, he issued around 15,000 protection letters and baptismal certificates.  Like Wallenberg, he sometimes distributed these in plain view of the SS


These diplomats found strength alone and in numbers, using what tools they have at their disposal to do something instead of nothing.  They took extreme risks and defied authorities to save human lives.
"I could not have acted otherwise, therefore I accept all that has befallen me with love."  -- Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Budapest Gang, Part II

(Continued from here.)

By 1944, the Holocaust was well known to those who cared to know.  In 1944, Hungary was deporting 10,000 to 12,000 Jews a day to Auschwitz.  At this time, a well-connected Swedish businessman who spoke both German and Hungarian named Raoul Wallenberg expressly asked the Swedish government to send him to Budapest as a "diplomat" to lead the rescue of Jewish refugees.   As first secretary to the Swedish Legation, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in July 1944.

At this time, Carl Ivan Danielsson was the Swedish Minister (equivalent of Ambassador) in Budapest.  Lars Berg was an Attaché.  Valdemar Langlet served as the cultural attaché and represented the Swedish Red Cross at the Legation.  Per Anger had been the second secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest since 1942.    Anger described how the Swedish Legation became aware of the genocide and decided to save as many Jewish refugees as they could.
"First then everything was revealed. Mainly by stories from people who managed to escape. We sent home reports of extermination camps, sketches of the gas chambers in Auschwitz...//... We became witnesses to what we didn't think was possible: a systematic extermination of people." (Interview with Vi magazine.)

"The first days we couldn't do so much. I mean, we didn't know what was going to happen. We understood that now would be a hard time for the Jewish population and it (the persecutions) started just a few days later. So then we were forced to mobilize our powers. From that moment everything that had to do with trade with Sweden or other routine errands were of course put aside, and we concentrated... the whole legation concentrated on one thing. To save... try to save human lives."  (Interview with Dr. Paul Levine.)  (Source.)
Per Anger originated the idea to grant provisional passports (usually given to Swedes who had lost their real passports) to Jews seeking asylum.  The Swedish Legation persuaded the Hungarian government to recognize all holders of the provisional passports as Swedish citizens who would be exempt from wearing the yellow star of David.  Anger also invented special certificates for everyone who applied for Swedish citizenship that would do the same thing.  They had issued several hundred of these when Wallenberg arrived.

Building on Anger's initiative, Wallenberg and Anger designed official looking protective passes called Schutzpasse, complete with Swedish colors, stamps, seals, and signatures.  Though they had no real legal authority, Schutzpasse were respected and honored both by German and Hungarian authorities.

Then they raised money to buy and rent 32 buildings, which were all marked with oversized Swedish flags as the "Swedish Library" or the "Swedish Research Institute."  Holders of Schutzpasse were housed and fed in these safe houses until they were able to leave Hungary.  It is estimated the buildings sheltered almost 20,000 people. (SourceLanglet and his wife, Nina were in charge of distributing food and medicine; they also issued their own protection letters under the authority of the Red Cross.

Not content with that, Anger and Wallenberg were known for daring rescues at trains bound for Auschwitz.  In an article by the Jerusalem Post:
Says Anger, ”Raoul was a born actor, capable of bluff, bluster, and bribery, using whatever means were necessary to save the Jews of the city. Shy and reserved one moment, he would be barking official-sounding orders in German the next, refusing to take no for an answer."

...Wallenberg, often with Anger at his side, would visit the Jews as they were gathered for deportation and pull many out of line, shoving the life-saving passes into their hands, admonishing them for ”forgetting their papers.”

More than once the two diplomats jumped aboard the crowded death trains and dragged dozens of Jews off, warning the incredulous Nazis not to ”get in the way of official Swedish business.”
 Anger recounts two of these incidents:
"When Wallenberg one day was somewhere else, I went to a station from where a train with Jews was about to depart. There was no time to be diplomatic with the Germans. I explained that a terrible mistake had been done because they apparently were on their way to deport Jews with Swedish protective passes. If they weren't released immediately I would see to it that Veesenmayer was notified. The German train commander didn't dare risking being reported to the feared Veesenmayer. I went in to the wagons to call for names, but only found two Jews with protective passes. With the help of the present Hungarian police officer, Batizfalvy, who in secrecy worked in cooperation with Raoul Wallenberg and me, I succeeded, in defiance of the SS commanders order, to leave the station with 150 Jews towards freedom, 148 of them without protective passes."  (Source)
“I tried to copy him,” said Anger, who also accompanied Wallenberg on death march rescue missions to the Hungarian-Austrian border. “He always found a solution, invented a new way of saving people.”  He would say to startled Jews on their way to Auschwitz, “Oh, you remember—the Hungarians confiscated your passports,” related Anger. “They remembered, and we took fifty people away.” (Source)
Another account:
... he [Wallenberg] climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head, as not one shot hit him, which would have been impossible otherwise. I think this is what they did because they were so impressed by his courage. After Wallenberg had handed over the last of the passports he ordered all those who had one to leave the train and walk to the caravan of cars parked nearby, all marked in Swedish colours. I don't remember exactly how many, but he saved dozens off that train, and the Germans and Arrow Cross were so dumbfounded they let him get away with it. (Account of Sandor Ardai, Wallenberg's driver)
Once Wallenberg and staff even saved Jews being murdered in the freezing Danube River:
Nagy, then fourteen years old, will always remember Christmas Eve 1944, when the residents of the safe house next door to his were rousted from their beds, marched to the Danube River, and shot by the Nazis. Jews were frequently tied together three in a row on the bank of the Danube. The middle person was shot, sending all three into the freezing water to drown. A woman from Wallenberg’s office recalled an occasion when Wallenberg heard that Hungarian Nazis were shooting women and children at the river. He asked his staff who could swim. “We went—it was a cold night—and jumped into the Danube—the water was icy cold.” They saved fifty or sixty people.
When bombed railtracks made train deportations to Auschwitz impossible, Adolf Eichmann made the Jews march 180 kilometers to the next working train station from November 10 to December 10, 1944. Wallenberg and his crew tried to help with the marches as well, though with Eichmann involved, they were able to do less.  Anger wrote in his book:
"One of the first days in December 1944 Wallenberg and I took a car ride along the road the Jews [were] marching on. We passed these crowds of miserable people, more dead than alive. With gray faces they staggered forward under chops and hits from the soldier's rifles. The road was lined by dead bodies. We had our car filled with food that we managed to distribute in spite of prohibitions, but it didn't last very long. At Hegyeshalom we saw how the ones who arrived were handed over to a German SS commando under Eichmann, who counted them like cattle. '489--correct' ('vierhundertneunundachtzig--stimmt gut!'). The Hungarian officer received a receipt that everything was in order.
Before this handing over we managed to save some hundreds of Jews. Some had Swedish protective passes, others were gotten out by pure bluffing. Wallenberg didn't give up and made renewed journeys when he in similar ways managed to reunite some additional Jews with Budapest."
One survivor, Edith Ernster, wife of Lars Ernster, a survivor on the board of the Nobel Foundation, notes with humor:
"It seemed so strange - this country of super-aryans, the Swedes, taking us under their wings. Often, when an Orthodox Jew went by, in his hat, beard and sidelocks, we'd say, 'Look, there goes another Swede.'"
Although the Swedish diplomats did not defy the orders of their governments, they acted with great risk to themselves.  Raoul Wallenberg had to sleep in a different house every night under threats of capture.  Despite the extreme danger of Soviet occupation, they all decided to stay in Budapest to guard their safe houses until the very end.

Sadly, when the Soviets arrived in Budapest in January 1945, they arrested Anger, Wallenberg, and everyone at the Swedish Legation.  They were accused of spying, presumably because the Russians could not believe the Swedes were all there simply to help Jews.  All others were released shortly, Anger after three months in prison, but Wallenberg was never seen again.  Anger dedicated the rest of his life to finding out what happened to Wallenberg.  It is generally believed that Wallenberg died in a Soviet prison in 1947.

Though it is unclear exactly how many Jews were saved by the Swedish Legation, conservative estimates run into the tens of thousands.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Budapest Gang, Part I

In March 1944, the Nazis invaded Hungary.  Adolf Eichmann himself was sent to Hungary to oversee the mass deportation of more than 400,000 Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.   One-third of all Jews killed in Auschwitz was Hungarian.   Efforts to help Jews escape this terrible fate concentrated heavily on Budapest, Hungary.  The Budapest underground network, believed to have had as many as 350 volunteers, rose to meet the needs of Jewish refugees.  Of the 18 diplomats on Yad Vashem's Righteous Among the Nations list, 10 of them were part of the Budapest network.  They were representing:

Spain: Angel Sanz-Briz, Giorgio "Jorge" Perlasca
Sweden: Per Anger, Lars Berg, Carl Ivan Danielson, Valdemar Langlet, Raoul Wallenberg
Switzerland:  Friedrich Born, Carl Lutz
Vatican:  Monsignor Angelo Rotta

Angel Sanz-Briz was the Spanish Charge D'Affairs to Hungary.  He convinced the Hungarian government early on to allow 200 Sephardic Jews (whose ancesters originally came from Spain) to return to Spain.  
”The two hundred units that had been granted to me I turned them into two hundred families; and the two hundred families multiplied indefinitely due to the simple procedure of not issuing a document or passport with a number higher than 200”, Sanz Briz would tell years later in the book ”Spain and the Jews”, by Federico Ysart.  (Source)
An example of such a visa:
This certifies that Mor Mannheim, born in 1907, resident of Budapest, Katona Jozsef Street 41, has applied for Spanish citizenship through his relatives in Spain.  The Legation of Spain has authorized an entry visa to Spain before the completion of the proceedings started by this application.  Signed, Angel Sanz-Briz, 14 November 1944.  (Source)
Sanz-Briz also rented four building labeled "Annexes of the Spanish Legation" and filled the buildings with refugees until they could leave the country safely.

When Sanz-Briz was suddenly forced to leave Hungary in December 1944, the safe houses were threatened to be taken over by the Hungarian government.   The man he had put in charge of the houses, Giorgio "Jorge" Perlasca, an Italian who was granted an "honorary" Spanish citizenship, quickly forged documents appointing himself as the new Spanish Ambassador to Hungary.

Although Sanz-Briz invited him to go to Switzerland with him, Perlasca chose to stay in Budapest to keep the Spanish Embassy going.  He continued to run the Spanish safe houses and issue visas for another 45 days, until January 1945, when the Sovets took command of Budapest. It is estimated that Sanz-Briz and Perlasca helped save the lives of around 5200 Jews.

To be continued...

Additional information:

Angel Sanz-Briz:  Spanish Angel of Budapest (Spanish), Latin Schindler's of the Holocaust (Spanish),
Giorgio Perlasca:  Giorgio Perlasca (Italian)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aracy de Carvalho Guimarães Rosa

In 1938, Aracy de Carvalho Guimarães Rosa was Chief of the Passport Section at the Brazilian Consulate in Hamburg, Germany.   Brazil's policy at that time (via the circulation of secret memos) was to refuse visas to all undesirable immigrants, which included Jews.   However, the anti-Jewish policy was applied somewhat irregularly, depending on the diplomat and country.  Exceptions were often made for scientists, artists, technicians, and wealthy people who could afford the exorbitant deposits made to the Bank of Brazil.  However, in Hamburg, the Consul's position was very clear:  absolutely no visas for Jews.  (Source)

Despite this, Carvalho secretly issued visas outside the Consulate, as well as handed out passports without the red "J" required to identify Jews.  (Source)  She ignored forged passports and did everything she could to facilitate the granting of visas.  Some of the Jewish refugees she helped recounted that she had the foresight add blanks and notes in the forms to transform the three-month tourist visas into permanent residency visas upon arrival in Brazil.  (Source)
"My mother decided to ignore the circular which forbade the granting of visas to Jews.  She thought it absurd, and at her own risk, continued to prepare the visa applications, against the orders of the Foreign Ministry and her superiors at the Consulate," says son Eduardo Tess, now a lawyer in São Paulo. "As she dispatched other things for the Consul-General, she sent out visas in the middle of those papers.  Many Jews came from other cities; but for their passports to be processed in Hamburg, they had to prove they lived in the region. She obtained confirmations of residency, and when they came in with the papers, they already had this difficulty taken care of." (Source)
Up until 1941, German policy actually encouraged emigration of Jews, even releasing detained Jews if they had somewhere to go.  The problem was no one wanted to take them.  Some of the Jews saved by Carvalho testified that they had been interned after Kristallnacht, but were released because of the visas granted by Carvalho. (Source)

She didn't stop there.  After Kristallnacht, she joined the rebel underground.  She distributed food to those in hiding, hid Jews in her home, and smuggled them across borders in her car using the cover of diplomatic immunity.  (Source)

Although Carvalho is still alive (as far as I could find), she is 102 years old and does not remember much from those days.   A lot of the underground work she did has now been lost to well, secrecy, and time.  The numbers she actually helped is likewise unknown.  Brazilian sources all say she helped hundreds of Jewish refugees, but one scholar cites the number as 80.  No one will ever know for sure.

In 1982, she was honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.  Of the 18 diplomats so honored by the Yad Vashem, she is only one of two women.  (The other was Nina Langlet, who was honored together with her husband Vlademar as one name.)

Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Aristides de Sousa Mendes came from a very well-to-do and well-connected family in Portugal.  His father was a judge on the Supreme Court of Portugal.  His twin brother was the Foreign Minister of Portugal.  He himself was the Consul-General of the Portuguese Consulate in Bordeaux, France in 1940.

Both Portugal and Spain were neutral during WWII, though both had definite German sympathies.  In November 1939, Portuguese Prime Minister Salazar issued an order to disallow visas for Jewish refugees and other "stateless" persons. Mendes discreetly disobeyed, granting enough exceptions to the rule that he was officially reprimanded.

Six months later in May 1940, when Germany invaded France, Salazar ordered that no visas be issued at all without individual approval from Lisbon.  Mendes tried to get approval for various visas, but was ignored.  By June 1940, the refugee situation at the port city of Bordeaux became very desperate.  Then Mendes did something astounding.

He opened the consulate (which was also his home) to the refugees 24 hours a day to accommodate the lines of people begging for visas.
"All the rooms in the consulate building were full of people. They slept on chairs, on the floor, on the rugs. Even the consul's offices were crowded, with dozens of refugees who were exhausted. dead tired, because they had waited days and nights on the street, on the stairways, and finally in the offices.
They could not take care of their needs, they did not eat or drink for fear of losing their places in the lines, which happened nevertheless and caused some disturbances."  (Source.)
Mendes fell ill for three days under this pressure, nursed patiently by his wife Angelina.  When he recovered, he had made his choice.  Beginning on June 17th, he worked without sleep in an assembly line to issue visas indiscriminately and for free to anyone who asked. 

When the German planes began to bomb Bordeaux on June 19th, the refugees ran blindly for the border.    Mendes followed them to the last large city before Spain named Bayonne.  Using his position as a superior, he took over the Consulate in Bayonne and re-formed his visa assembly line.  

On June 22nd, he followed the refugees to Hendaye, the French border town across from Irun, Spain.  There, Mendes used all his authority to help refugees cross the border, even physically lifting the gate himself.

At this point, the Portuguese Ambassador to Spain annulled any and all visas signed by Mendes.  On June 24th, Mendes had been fired and ordered to leave France.  Until he left France on July 8th, Mendes didn't give up.  Since visas were no longer honored, he started to issue Portuguese passports with his consular stamp.  Yes, passports.

Yad Vashem estimates he issued 1,575 visas between June 15th (when he got ill) and 22nd.  The Jewish Virtual Library estimates that he helped a whopping 30,000 refugees, 12,000 of them Jews, win passage to Portugal.

The Spanish border honored the Portuguese consular stamp to allow free passage through Spain to Portugal.  The Portuguese protested at having to accept these refugees, but could not refuse after Spain had already honored the visas.  With tens of thousands of refugees pouring into Portugal, the worldwide press was giving Portugal credit for providing safe haven for displaced persons.  After accepting the credit (or at least, not disputing it), Salazar had no choice but to honor the unofficial escape route carved by Mendes. However, Salazar was determined to make Mendes pay.

When Mendes returned to Portugal, Salazar declared him insane and incompetent.  His twin brother was censured for trying to defend him.  Despite being an accomplished lawyer, Mendes was blacklisted from all employment.  He and his family starved, literally, living off the soup kitchen established by Jewish refugees.  When he became paralyzed by a stroke, and his wife suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, they were not able to get decent medical care.  They both died in complete poverty.  Mendes was so poor, he was buried in a Franciscan tunic because he had no good clothes of his own.

His heirs now have been given reparations by the Portuguese government, which were spent repurchasing and restoring Mendes' dilapidated former mansion into a museum.  However, the rehabilitation remains unfinished, presumably because of insufficient funds.

In 1966, Yad Vashem honored Aristides de Sousa Mendes as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

For more information:
Sousa Mendes Saved More Lives than Schindler -- The Independent
Yad Vashem:  The Insubordinate Consul
Sousa Mendes Foundation
Sousa Mendes Museum:  Video of testimonies from survivors

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara

As the Consul-General of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas (then known as Kovno), Lithuania in 1940, Chiune Sugihara became greatly disturbed by large numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Poland.  They came to him begging for visas to enter Japan.  Against the orders of his superiors in Japan, Sugihara and his wife Yukiko spent most of August 1940 writing visas for 18-20 hours a day for the thousands of applicants waiting outside the consulate.  When the consulate closed, they were still writing visas and throwing them out of the train as they left Kaunas. 
"You want to know about my motivation, don't you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes."  (Source)
In the end, they wrote and signed some 2140 visas, which allowed an estimated 6000-10,000 Jewish refugees to flee Europe.   Considering that the more famous Oskar Schindler saved 800-1200 people, the Sugiharas accomplished an outstanding feat.

Because of Chiune's language skills, the Japanese government still needed him despite this disobedience.  Following Lithuania, Sugihara was sent to Czechoslovia, East Prussia, and Romania, where he and his family were captured by the Russians as POWs for 18 months.  When he returned to Japan from the POW camp, instead of being welcomed for as a hero for his sacrifice, he was asked to resign.  Though the Japanese government denies it, the Sugihara family understood the resignation was requested for his disobedience in Lithuania.

Despite his high level of education and language skills, Chiune had a hard time finding and maintaining employment in Japan.  He ended up working in the Soviet Union for 16 years while his family stayed behind in Japan.

In 1985, Chiune Sugihara was honored in Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.   

More information:
PBS:  "Sugihara:  Conspiracy of Kindness"
Visas for Life Foundation
The Sugihara Project

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Visas For Life

This week, we'll look at extraordinary diplomats on Yad Vashem's Righteous Among the Nations honor roll, who defied their governments' authorities by issuing visas to save the lives of thousands of refugees, including desperate Jewish refugees, fleeing the Nazis and Europe during WWII. 

You have to understand that diplomats are, by and large, people who are very good--I dare say exceptional--at following rules and orders.  They don't let rebels into these very powerful positions of representing their governments abroad.  Disobedience is virtually unheard of.

That is, until WWII.  Consulates were swarmed with refugees who knew that piece of paper or a stamp called a visa was the only thing standing between certain death and a chance of survival.   These visas would allow them to cross borders and escape being hunted down.  These diplomats had to make the difficult choice between the obvious "abuse" of their governmental authority or abandonment of thousands of men, women, and children to their hunters.  Not many did, but a few, just a few, found the courage to choose life.  The United Nations estimates that 200,000 lives were saved between 1938 to 1945 by these diplomats.

Additional information:
Eighteen diplomats honored as Righteous Among the Nations
Diplomat Heroes of the Holocaust 
United Nations:  "Visas for Life:  The Righteous Diplomats "
Visas For Life:  Righteous and Honorable Diplomats