June 20, 2018

“Beyond Duty” – Stories of righteous diplomats

On the picture H.E. Aviv Shir-On, Ambassador of Israel  during his speech.

By Guido Lanfranchi.

The City Hall of The Hague hosted the exhibition “Beyond Duty,” in which the government of Israel paid tribute to the brave diplomats who helped Jewish families escaping the Nazi persecution.  

Speakers were; H.E. Aviv Shir-On, Ambassador of Israel to the Netherlands, the Mayor of The Hague, Ms. Pauline Krikke and the Director for Multilateral Organisations and Human Rights Department, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Peter van der Vliet.

From left to right: Mr. Roger van Oordt (director Christians for Israel), Chief rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, Mayor Pauline Krikke of The Hague, MP Cees van der Staaij (SGP), and Leo Harskamp (Manager Security Leiden University).

When rules are unjust, is obedience a virtue? When innocent people are persecuted in front of your eyes, can you just stand by and look? During the times of the Holocaust, many people were faced with these questions. However, only some managed to take a firm stance in defense of the oppressed and, often in violation of the law, help Jewish families to escape the Nazi persecution.

More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, the Jewish people are still aware of the significance of these people’s actions, and they are still eager to express their gratitude.

In this spirit, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the organization Yad Vashem, has organized the exhibition “Beyond Duty,” paying tribute to the “righteous diplomats” who, in spite of personal risks, used their role in order to help prosecuted Jews.

The exposition has been held in Jerusalem, as well as in 70 Israeli missions all around the world. In The Hague, the Israeli Embassy to the Netherlands, in collaboration with the Municipality, set up the “Beyond Duty” exhibition in the City Town Hall, in the very center of The Hague, during the first three weeks of March.

Ms. Pauline Krikke Mayor of The Hague.

During the inaugural ceremony, H.E. Mr. Aviv Shir-On, Ambassador of Israel to the Netherlands, remembered that, in spite of the Nazi oppression, “throughout Europe there were those who refused to stand aside and watch.” The Ambassador talked about the “remarkable story of government officials,” “courageous diplomats who have done what was obvious to them but still stood out from the non-action of many others.”

Mr. Shir-On praised the role played by the Dutch people, highlighting the outstanding number of 5,500 Dutch citizens recognized as “Righteous” by Yad Vashem. Among them, he mentioned the story of “Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch consul is Kovno, Lithuania, who together with his Japanese colleague Sugihara saved thousands of persecuted Jews from Lithuania and other parts of the Soviet Union.”

From left to right: the Australian Ambassador, the Ambassador of Estonia, the Swedish Ambassador, Mayor Krikke, Ambassador Shir-On of Israel, MP Cees van der Staaij, the DCM of the Russian Federation, Peter van der Vliet of the Foreign Ministry, Leo Harskamp of Leiden University, and the Ambassador of Hungary.

The state of Israel does not give away any decorations or certificates of honor apart from the medal of the ‘Righteous among the Nations’ to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Shoah, the Holocaust.

Despite the fact that the Dutch Jewish community was the one who suffered the most in Europe, more than 80 percent of the Dutch Jews were murdered, the Netherlands is the country with the second largest number of the Righteous who were honored, after Poland.

 Last year the embassy of Israel organized 34 ceremonies all around the Netherlands in which 60 medals and certificates were handed out posthumously to people, issued by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. More than 5,500 Dutch citizens were already recognized as Righteous by Yad Vashem.

“Beyond Duty” has told to its visitors the stories of outstanding people from all over the world: Captain Francis Foley from the United Kingdom, Per Anger and Roaul Wallenberg from Sweden, Vladimír Vochoč from Czechoslovakia, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz from Germany, Sebastián De Romero Radigales from Spain. In spite of their different backgrounds and different situations, all these people found the courage to help people who were being unjustly persecuted.

Now, more than 70 years after these events, we can only look back with admiration to these people, thank them for their actions, and maybe learn from them how to build a more just world.

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