May 24, 2018

Beyond Duty exhibitions, a Holocaust remembrance

Ambassador of Israel to Germany, H.E. Jeremy Issacharoff – during Beyond Duty ‘ speech.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel honored the righteous diplomats who rescued hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust, in an exhibition to be held in Jerusalem and further 70 Israeli missions around the world.

On 27 January 2018, the United Nations and countries around the world marked the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. This year, through an exhibition called “Beyond Duty”, Israel will honor the righteous diplomats who risked their lives and the safety of their families to rescue hundreds of Jews.

The exhibition will be displayed at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem and at seventy Israeli missions around the world in twenty different languages.

In Berlin, on Monday, 29 January 2018 the exhibition was inaugurated by Israel’s top envoy to Germany, HE Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff and Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel. The latter is extraordinarily being held at the German Foreign Office and is open to the public until 26 February 2018

Ambassador Issacharoff remarked during his speech that he personally shall endeavor to “ensure that the burden of our history can actually be transformed into a unique bond that strengthens our bilateral ties”. 

The Holocaust was an unprecedented genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, with the aim of annihilating the Jewish people. Between 1933 and 1941, Nazi Germany pursued a policy that dispossessed the Jews of their rights and their property, followed by the branding and concentration of the Jewish population. This policy gained broad support in Germany and much of occupied Europe. In 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis and their collaborators launched the systematic extermination of the Jews. By the end of 1941, the policy had developed into an overall comprehensive, systematic murder operation that the Nazis called “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” 
By the war’s end in 1945, some six million Jews had been murdered. Grappling with the loss and the moral collapse during the Holocaust and preserving the memory of those who perished is an ongoing challenge and obligation for humanity.
Beyond Duty
 
The Beyond Duty exhibition is dedicated to the Righteous Among the Nations and to the Holocaust survivors whose courage and resilience continues to inspire us. The term “Righteous Among the Nations” refers to gentiles who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.  Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has recognized more than twenty-six thousand individuals as Righteous Among the Nations, including thirty-six diplomats.
“So what can we do? They were queuing up outside the embassies, pleading for help. What could we do? There was nothing in our books of instructions telling us how we could save people of other nationalities.”- Per Anger, Swedish diplomat in German-occupied Hungary recognized as Righteous Among the Nations
 
Many countries of the free world were reluctant to help Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and most diplomats continued operating according to these guidelines. Only very few felt that extraordinary times required extraordinary action, and were willing to act against their governments’ policies to save Jews. This small minority mustered the necessary courage to recognize the significance and consequences of blindly following procedures. When faced with the plight of the Jews, they decided that although they were of a different nationality and religion, they were unable to continue with their professional routine, and hence chose to defy their superiors and if necessary, suffer the consequences.
The United Kingdom: Captain Francis (Frank) Foley
 
“We in this office are the daily witnesses of the sufferings of old and broken people under orders to leave this country. They beseech us to join their children in Palestine”- Captain Francis Foley, May 26, 1939
The persecution of Jews in Germany drove many to seek refuge in the United Kingdom and British Mandatory Palestine. By 1936, British authorities began to restrict entry to the Mandate in response to the Arab revolt, and in 1939 – when the need to leave Germany had become most urgent – the British Government introduced the White Paper, all but ceasing legal Jewish entry into the Mandate. In the wake of the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, Britain permitted the entry of nearly 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children, most of them Jewish, into the United Kingdom – a rescue operation known as the Kindertransport. Some 50,000 Jewish refugees reached the UK between 1933-1939, and 53,000 were admitted into the Mandate territories.
Captain Francis (Frank) Foley, a veteran of World War I, served in the British Intelligence Service MI6 and was stationed in Berlin from 1922 to 1939 as Passport Control Officer at the British Embassy. Beginning in 1935, an ever-growing number of Jews appealed to his office in order to obtain immigration visas to British Mandatory Palestine, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the British Empire. Defying the Foreign Office, Foley bent the rules to issue visas even to people who did not meet Britain’s stiff conditions for entry. During the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, Foley sheltered Jews overnight in his apartment, including Leo Baeck, Chairman of the Association of German Rabbis. When the war broke out and Foley departed Germany, he left behind a thick wad of already approved visas for distribution to people in need.
Francis Foley was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1999.
Japan: Chiune Sugihara
 
“I may have to disobey the government, but if I don’t, I would be disobeying God.”- Chiune Sugihara
Following the German attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, some 15,000 Jews fled Poland to Lithuania. Caught between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, they desperately sought ways to emigrate. Travelling westwards was no longer possible, and crossing the Soviet Union required proof that they had entry visas for their final destinations. Jan Zwartendijk, the Acting Dutch Consul, provided them with statements that Curacao – a Dutch colony – required no entry visas: now all they required in order to leave Lithuania were transit visas through Japan.
Chiune Sugihara, served as Japan’s consul in Kovno, Lithuania. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, and all foreign diplomats were ordered to leave. As Sugihara was packing his belongings, a Jewish delegation arrived and begged him to issue them transit visas to Japan, which would enable them to cross the Soviet Union. Sugihara cabled the foreign ministry in Tokyo for permission to deviate from the standing orders; however, troubled by the refugees’ plight, he began issuing visas at his own initiative. Nine days later, the Japanese Foreign Ministry rejected any change in the conditions for issuing transit visas. Although many of the Jews did not fall within the required criteria, Sugihara went on and issued visas to over 2,000 Jews. When Nazi Germany invaded Lithuania in June 1941, this small window of escape slammed shut, and almost all the Jews remaining in Lithuania were murdered.
Chiune Sugihara was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1984.
Czechoslovakia: Vladimír Vochoč 
 
“During the said period, in the years 1940–1941 in Marseilles, I acted to save foreign nationals even if I did not have the assurance that I had the backing of my foreign ministry, and even if it was not initially the policy of the Czechoslovakian government.” – Vladimír Vochoč
Following the 1938 Munich Agreement and the subsequent partition of Czechoslovakia, the Czechoslovakian diplomatic delegations ceased to exist and Vladimír Vochoč, the Czechoslovak consul in Marseilles, lost his diplomatic immunity. Nevertheless, Vochoč returned to the abandoned consulate in July 1940 and began issuing passports to refugees, among them many Jews who had escaped from Germany and were now stranded in southern France, frantically trying to leave the country. When Vochoč ran out of documents, he had passports printed by a local printing shop. In March 1941, the French police arrested Vochoč. He managed to escape, reaching Lisbon a few months later.
Vladimír Vochoč was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2016.
Portugal: Aristides De Sousa Mendes
 
“I would rather stand with God against man than with man against God.”- Aristides de Sousa Mendes
 
With the occupation of Western Europe by Nazi Germany in the spring and summer of 1940, thousands of refugees tried to flee to the Iberian Peninsula in an attempt to find refuge. The Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, permitted holders of visas for overseas to transit through Portugal but closed the borders to those without visas. Some 15,000-20,000 Jewish refugees were able to enter Portugal, and Jewish organizations working in Lisbon, such as the Joint, HIAS-HICEM, and the Jewish Agency, facilitated the refugees’ departure. In 1943-1944, Portugal rescued several hundred Portuguese Jews from Greece and France, but did not help 4,303 Dutch Jews of Portuguese origin, who were consequently deported to the extermination camps.
Following the German invasion of France in May 1940, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s consul general in Bordeaux, France, was faced with thousands of refugees congregating around his consulate. Seeing their terrible plight, Sousa Mendes decided to disobey his government’s explicit instructions, and issued transit visas to everyone in need, waiving the visa fees for those who could not pay. Setting up an “assembly line process,” Sousa Mendes issued visas to several thousand refugees. When Lisbon learned of Sousa Mendes’ actions, he was summarily ordered to return home. He was brought before a disciplinary panel and dismissed from the Foreign Office, leaving him destitute and unable to support his large family. Sousa Mendes died penniless in 1954. Only in 1988 did Portugal’s government grant him total rehabilitation.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1966.
Germany: Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz 
 
Wishing to foster the cooperation of the Danes, and fearing that persecuting the Jews would result in widespread opposition, Nazi Germany did not enact anti-Jewish legislation in the first years of its occupation of Denmark. However, in the fall of 1943, following a sharp increase in Danish strikes and sabotage attempts, the policy changed, and preparations were made to deport the country’s 7,800 Jews.
News of the planned roundup reached the Jewish population, and, thanks to the proximity of Sweden, 7,200 Jews and some 700 of their non-Jewish relatives were brought to safety in the course of three weeks in October of 1943. 482 Jews, mostly the elderly and infirm, were caught and deported to the German detention camp of Thereisentadt
In 1939, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz was appointed as the German Maritime Attaché in Denmark. Duckwitz enjoyed good connections with Danish leaders and became a close confidant of the Nazi Plenipotentiary for Denmark, Werner Best. When, in September 1943, Hitler demanded an iron-fist policy toward the increasingly rebellious country and an immediate implementation of the “Final Solution,” Best tipped off his confidante about the plan for the deportation of Denmark’s Jewish community. At great personal risk, Duckwitz proceeded to inform his Danish Social-Democratic friends, who, in turn, alerted the leadership of the Danish Jewish community. This made the great rescue operation, in which over 90 percent of Danish Jewry were saved from the Nazi clutches, possible.
Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1971.
Spain: Sebastián De Romero Radigales
 
“Being released during the war from a Nazi camp was an unbelievable event. It happened thanks to an outstandingly courageous and humane man.” Holocaust survivor Isaac Revah. 
 
In the first two years of World War II, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were able to reach Spain en route to other countries. Spain did not enact anti-Jewish laws, but only permitted refugees to transit through their country, and harshly treated stateless Jews who had entered illegally. When the deportations began, the Germans agreed to exempt Jews with citizenship of neutral countries, including Spain, from deportation, on condition that they would be repatriated. However, the Spanish government did not feel responsible for the Jews with Spanish citizenship residing in Greece or in other countries under Axis rule. Thus their return was radically restricted, and only several hundred reached Spain.
 Following the deportation of 48,000 Jews from Salonika in Greece in March 1943, Sebastián de Romero Radigales, who headed the Spanish diplomatic delegation in Athens, asked Madrid to facilitate the repatriation of Spanish Jews. Despite his superiors’ refusal, Radigales repeated the request, prompting Spanish Foreign Minister Jordana to instruct the diplomat in Athens “to maintain a passive approach, avoid any personal initiative, and refrain from issuing collective passports.” Nevertheless, Radigales persisted and tried to broaden the circle of people who received his protection. Radigales strove to protect 367 Jews with Spanish citizenship who had been deported to Bergen-Belsen until the Spanish government permitted their transfer to Spanish Morocco. He also helped Jews in Athens, trying to get them released from Haidari detention camp, and looked after the belongings of arrested Jews.
Sebastián de Romero Radigales was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2014.
Turkey: Selahattin Ülkümen
“If I could [have], I would [have] save[d] all of them. But unfortunately, that was beyond my competence.” Selahattin Ülkümen, in a letter to Yad Vashem, March 30, 1989 
 
In the 1930s, Turkey withdrew the citizenship of many Turkish Jews living abroad, and in 1938, a decree was enacted that prevented persecuted Jews from entering Turkey. When, in October 1942, Nazi Germany instructed neutral countries to repatriate their Jewish citizens, Turkey annulled the citizenship of additional Turkish Jews and instructed its delegations to restrict repatriation. Only a small number of Jews were able to return to Turkey with the help of Turkish diplomats. Approximately 2,500 Jews of Turkish origin living in different European countries were murdered in the Holocaust.
Selahattin Ülkümen was the Turkish Consul General on the island of Rhodes. When, in late July 1944, the Germans began to round up the island’s 1,700 Jews, Ülkümen managed to save approximately 40 Jews from deportation to Auschwitz. In fact, only 13 of these Jews were Turkish citizens. Some had a Turkish connection through marriage or had lost their citizenship due to the Turkish state policy; others, such as Alberto and Renata Amato and their daughter Lina, who were Italian citizens, had no connection whatsoever to Turkey. Nevertheless, Ülkümen falsely claimed that they all were Turkish citizens and therefore eligible for his protection. He even managed to obtain the release of Albert Franko, who was already on a deportation train to Auschwitz, under the pretext that his wife was Turkish. The remaining Jews of Rhodes were herded into three boats and deported to Auschwitz. The Jewish community of Rhodes was almost completely decimated.
Selahattin Ülkümen was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1989.
Sweden: Raoul Wallenberg 
 
“I’ve taken on this assignment, and I will never be able to return to Stockholm without knowing that I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.” Raoul Wallenberg 
 
On March 19, 1944, Germany occupied Hungary. Within 56 days – from May to July – the German and Hungarian regimes had deported 437,000 Jews from the Hungarian provinces to Auschwitz. By the end of July 1944, the only Jewish community left in Hungary was that of its capital city, Budapest.
Soon the Swedish legation in Budapest reported that they were under enormous pressure by Jews seeking protection, and requested a special envoy whose principal task would be to deal with passports and visas. The Swedish government decided to work with the newly created American War Refugee Board and appointed Raoul Wallenberg as the Secretary in the Swedish Embassy in Budapest with full diplomatic privileges.
Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944 with a list of Jews whom he was to help, and 650 protective passports for Jews who had some connection with Sweden. However, he soon widened the scope of his work and began to issue thousands of protective letters and to place buildings housing Jews under the Swedish flag. Jewish youngsters joined these rescue efforts and distributed the protective papers.
When the fascist Arrow Cross movement seized power in October 1944 and instilled a reign of terror in Budapest, Wallenberg and some of his colleagues abandoned all diplomatic routine and set out to save Jews from executions and death marches. They followed the columns of Jews who were marched to the Austrian border, and freed them by claiming they were under Swedish protection.
When the Soviets entered the city, Wallenberg was taken away by Russian soldiers, never to be seen again. His fate in Soviet captivity is still shrouded in mystery.
Raoul Wallenberg was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1963.

For further information:

Allocution of Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff at the opening of “Beyond Duty” in Berlin: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/israel-germany-transforming-the-burden-of-our-history-into-a-unique-bond/

Exhibition in Berlin: https://www.facebook.com/events/189773178274315/

Picture by Embassy of the State of Israel to the Federal Republic of Germany 

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