London Hero and World Heroes

London's Shard and Tower Bridge

Reading about Jasper Schuringa, the young Dutch hero on Northwest Airline’s Flight 253 yesterday, brings to mind that one never knows when they will be asked to do extraordinary things. Will you be up to the task? It’s food for thought and it helps to have role models as these times are becoming increasingly difficult.

Here, you will have examples of extraordinary courage and fulfillment for the Season’s hope for “goodwill to all” when you learn about:

___ Raoul Wallenberg – elite Swedish diplomat and humanitarian in Hungary who saved 100,000 Jews, but who paid with his life at the hands of the Russians, after decades of secret imprisonment, as some unknown Soviet vendetta.

Raoul Wallenberg issued 100,000 visas for Hungarian Jews. Mr. Wallenberg, used his personal fortune to rent thirty-two buildings in Budapest, and then declared them to be extraterritorial, protected by diplomatic immunity. And as part of his deception, he put up signs such as “The Swedish Library” and “The Swedish Research Institute” on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings. The buildings housed almost 10,000 people.

Together with fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger, Raoul issued “protective passports” which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thereby prevented their deportation. Although not legally valid, these documents definitely looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities (who sometimes were also bribed).

___ Oskar Schindler – businessman in Krakow, ancient Jewish capitol of the intelligensia, who managed to save some of his Jewish employees while they became slave-laborers for the Nazis (with Schindler orchestrating their survival all he could). The subject of the movie “Schindler’s List”. Personally, not a very admirable man, before or after, he still managed to rise above his usual behavior in the midst of massive Nazi madness.

___ Chiune (Senpo) Sugihara (a brave Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who risked his life and career to save thousands of Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis — who were Japanese allies during World War II). He was also arrested by the Russians at the end of WW2 and was released, along with his family, after 2 years in Russian prison. *

Mr. Sugihara said, “I just did what we as human beings should do. One of my best teachers, in Harbin, once told me: You do the right thing because it is the right thing. Not for gain. Not for recognition. Just because it is the right thing. The refugees were people who needed my help. I could give help to them. It was the right thing to do. That’s all.”

___ 65+ other diplomats who also quietly, bravely gave Jews exit visas see Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats” honors the actions of more than 65 diplomats from more than 22 countries who issued thousands of visas for Jews escaping Nazi terror. Collectively, these diplomats issued more than 200,000 visas during World War II to help Jews escape to friendlier territory, despite clear prohibitions from their governments and / or the host government.

___ Feng Shan Ho, Chinese consul general in Vienna from 1938 to 1939. This Chinese diplomat who saved approximately 2,000 Jews during the early years of World War II. Ho was consul-general of the Chinese embassy in Vienna during the Austrian annexation by the Nazis and after the “Kristallnacht” in 1938, the situation for the almost 200,000 Austrian Jews got rapidly more difficult. In order to leave the country they had to provide proof of emigration (usually a visa from a foreign nation or a valid boat ticket). The Evian Conference, in 1938, where 32 countries had failed to take a stand against Nazi Germany, made this even more complicated. Therefore, acting against orders of his superior, Mr. Ho, for humanitarian reasons, started to issue visas to Shanghai – which was then a free, international city and thereby a safe destination. He continued to issue these visas until he was ordered to return to China, in May 1940, and after the war, Mr. Ho settled in San Francisco where he died in 1997.

___ Dimitar Peshev, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Bulgaria and Minister of Justice. He rebelled against the country’s pro-Nazi cabinet and prevented the deportation of Bulgaria’s 48,000 Jews. Bulgaria had been a strong supporter of the Holocaust, rounding up thousands of Greek Jews in occupied Thrace and Macedonia to be deported to death camps. However, when it came to its own Jewish citizens, the government faced strong opposition from Peshev and also from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. After the war, Peshev was charged with anti-Semitism and anti-Communism by the Soviet courts, and he was sentenced to death. However, after outcry from the Jewish community, his sentence was commuted to 15 years imprisonment, although he was released after just one year. But, his deeds went unrecognized by the world after the war, and he lived in poverty in Bulgaria, until his death. Probably for anti-semitism of their own, the Russians hounded, imprisoned and killed several of these brave heroes – Wallenberg, Sugihara and Peshev – for sure.

___ Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese consular diplomat in Bordeaux, France frantically issued Portuguese visas free of charge, to over 30,000 refugees seeking to escape the Nazi terror in France — 12,000 of whom were Jews. He also lived in destitute poverty after the war as a consequence of his actions.

___ Others that I have to learn more about are:

US vice consul in Marseilles Hiram Bingham IV who was descended from prominent politicians, social scientists and missionaries and who saw through the Nazi propaganda and who acted in spite of American government orders not to. He saved about 2,500 Jews. Some of his beneficiaries were famous — Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt and Max Ernst. Bingham accomplished all this in a mere ten months—until the US State Department summarily transferred him out of France, and thereby his hopes of becoming an ambassador had been dashed. After more than ten years in the Foreign Service, he moved his family to the farm they owned in Salem, Connecticut, where he spent the rest of his days painting landscapes and abstracts, playing the cello and dabbling in business ventures that never bore fruit. Mr. Bingham died there in 1988, at 84, and until recently, the stories about his service in Marseille remained untold.

Angelo Rotta, the papal nuncio in Budapest; Varian Fry, an American journalist and relief official who rescued many leading artists and intellectuals; Turkish consul-general in Marseilles Necdet Kent; Henryk Slawik, a Polish diplomat in Budapest; Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch consul in Kaunus; Gilberto Bosques Saldivar, Mexico’s consul in Marseilles in 1939 helped 40,000 Jews who was imprisoned in Bonn for about a year by the Nazi’s until Mexico negotiated his release and Princess Alice of Greece, the paternal grandmother of Britain’s Prince Charles, who hid Jews in the royal palace in Athens during the German occupation and who withstood interrogations by Nazi officials.

___ Carl Lutz, consul for Switzerland in Budapest from 1942 to 1945 is credited that his visas saved more than 60,000 Jews. Mr. Lutz also invented the Schutzbrief, or protective letter, and helped to establish 76 safe houses throughout Budapest.

___ Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz was a German member of the Nazi party who worked as a special envoy to Nazi occupied Denmark. His secret actions and negotiations with Sweden resulted in 99% of Danish Jews being saved from the Nazis and being transported safely to neutral Sweden.

___ Giorgio Perlasca unofficially part of the Spanish Embassy in Budapest. While there, he worked with Spanish diplomat Angel Sanz Briz to create fake passports to smuggle Jews out of the country. When Sanz Briz was removed from his post, Perlasca pretended to be his replacement so that he could continue printing false passports. He also personally sheltered thousands of Hungarian Jews while they waited for their passports. It is estimated he saved more than 5,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

___ Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish Catholic priest who saved about 4,000 Allied soldiers and Jews in Rome during World War II because O’Flaherty used his status as a priest and his protection by the Vatican to conceal 4000 escapees. They were hidden in flats, farms and convents. The Nazis desperately wanted to stop his actions, but his protection by the Vatican prevented them officially arresting him. He survived an assassination attempt and, along with others in the Catholic Church, saved the majority of Jews in Rome. The role of Pope Pius XXII is still nebulous.

___ Irena Sendler was a Polish Catholic social worker and during World War II, she was a member of the Polish Underground. She was part of the Żegota Polish anti-Holocaust resistance in Warsaw. She helped save 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto by providing them with false documents and sheltering them in individual and group children’s homes outside the ghetto.

As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto, to check for signs of typhus, which was something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the ghetto. During these health visits, she wore a Star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself.

She organized the smuggling of Jewish children from the ghetto, carrying them out in boxes, suitcases and trolleys and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances, trams and sometimes disguised them as packages. Despite being tortured and imprisoned by the Nazis, Irena Sendler continued to do all she could to help Jewish children in Warsaw. She was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

All these individuals were made ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, Israel’s highest honor, by the Israeli government in recognition of their courageous and compassionate actions.

___ And, now I introduce British hero, Frank Foley, one of 11 British diplomats of Courage. They were recently honored by the British Foreign Service but most of the names remained private.

Frank Foley was truly extraordinary, as he had no real “diplomatic immunity” like most of the others had (if it was honored, which is was not, in the instance of Wallenberg’s and Ho’s imprisonment).

Major Frank Foley was a British secret service agent who is estimated to have saved 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust. His role as a passport control officer enabled him to help thousands of Jews escape from Nazi Germany. At the 1961 trial of former ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann, Major Foley was described as a “Scarlet Pimpernel” for the way he risked his own life to save Jews threatened with death by the Nazis.

Despite having no personal diplomatic immunity and therefore being liable to arrest at any time, Major Foley would bend the rules when stamping passports and issuing visas, to allow Jews to escape “legally” to Britain or to Palestine (which was then controlled by the British).

Unlike other rescuers, sometimes he went even further, going into internment camps to get Jews out, hiding them in his home, and helping them get forged passports. Once, after office hours, he stamped in a visa from a British crown colony to secure the rescue of a Jewish prisoner from Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

After the war broke out, Major Foley continued to save Jews, issuing visas as thousands of soldiers and civilians retreated to Bordeaux, France in June 1940.

Frank Foley died in 1958, and a statue has been raised to his memory in the London suburb where he was born (in Highbridge in 1884).

He was a deeply religious Catholic who frequently risked his own life.
His selfless bravery saved the lives of thousands – maybe even tens of thousands, of Jewish people – many of who remained in ignorance of their unassuming benefactor’s identity.

You can visit the Frank Foley Memorial:
Highbridge Community Centre
Market Street. Highbridge, Somerset, England

It has taken more than 70 years for official recognition of Britain’s efforts to help desperate Jews leave the European countries where they were destined for death.

Described as “a true British hero”, Frank Foley is only now being commemorated for his bravery in helping thousands of Jews escape from pre-war Nazi Germany. A band of dedicated local volunteers fundraised for over five years for over £25,000 to have a permanent tribute to Frank Foley in his Somerset birthplace.

Money was raised from donations, coffee mornings, Jewish communities and the annual Frank Foley Fair. The statue was commissioned by Rev. Mark Bond of Highbridge Vicarage on behalf of the Frank Foley Committee, who have also erected a plaque outside the house where he was born. Sculptor Jonathan Sells started the statue in 2004, and it depicts Major Foley stamping the visa of an anonymous Jewish refugee.

At the base, it includes local references that would have been familiar to Major Foley, and carries allusions to symbols of hope, re-birth and freedom.

Yes, people like these are real heroes. Until we ourselves are tested, truly understanding them is not possible, but shamefully, their names are not even in most of our lexicons. Their names should always be in our consciousness. But, how many people know their names? Spread the history!

And, ask yourself the question: “Would you do it? Would you have taken the risk to help to save a fellow human being?” If not, why not?

REFERENCES:

* Carl Steinhouse writes about Sugihara in “Righteous And Courageous: How A Japanese Diplomat Saved Thousands Of Jews In Lithuania From The Holocaust”. It’s available at amazon.com as well as Sugihara – Conspiracy of Kindness
** Michael Smith’s novel “Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews”.
*** The Rescuers: Heroes of the Holocaust

Read more: Hiram Bingham IV, Brave American
Gilberto Bosques Saldivar – Courage to Care

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©2009 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

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