Thursday, May 23, 2024

“Passports to Paraguay”

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“The Holocaust was a tragedy; I don’t believe anyone knows the terror unless you have been through it yourself. But, what we can do is to confront our past. We are currently in the process of exploring this part of history that is often swept under the carpet, the process of governmental institutions and diplomats helping the Jews from escaping such ordeal. Many details and stories are yet to be discovered, and it is our duty to let this part of history be known.”H. E.  Mr. Marcin Czepelak  

By Wei Hung.

The Polish Embassy, in collaboration with the Liberal Jewish Congregation in The Hague, showed the film ‘Passport to Paraguay’, a premiere for the Netherlands. Stories of Polish and Jewish cooperation are often forgotten, but through this documentary the wartime cooperation between the Jewish community and the Polish diplomats in Switzerlandresurfaced.

Mass extermination of the Jewish people became ubiquitous in eastern Europe. The unprecedented scale of deliberate and systematic violence and mass murder was organised, executed and encouraged by the Nazis. Rescue efforts were undertaken by diplomats  of several countries, notably the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiume Sugihara, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, Aristide de Sousa Mendes, and the Polish embassy and consular staff in Berne under Ambassador Alexander Ładoś.

Of these only the so called ‘Berne Group’’s activities were condoned and later encouraged by their government.  Shamefully governments across Europe did nothing. Polish diplomats such as Konstanty RokickiandJuliusz Kühl were issuing illegal but genuine passports in Switzerland, smuggling them back to Occupied Poland and the Netherlands with the help of Jewish aid organisations such as Ayudat Yisrael.

A passport to Paraguay

Paraguayan passports, among other Latin American passports, had incredible life-saving value. Instead of being sent to death camps for extermination, citizens or bearer of Latin American passports were first sent to internment camps when detained. 

In all due to the valiant actions of the ‘Berne Group’ thousands of Polish, German, Belgian and Dutch Jews were saved.

The Holocaust was a the most tragic moment in human history. But is was during our darkest moments that the light was shined upon the heroic acts of people who risked their lives to save others. As it is written in the Talmud:

‘Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.’

Photography by the Embassy of Poland in The Hague.

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