80 years ago, in 1941 in the Swiss capital of Bern, Polish diplomats began the so-called passport operation in cooperation with Jewish circles, the aim of which was to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Aleksander Ładoś, Konstanty Rokicki, Abraham Silberschein, Chaim Eiss, Stefan Ryniewicz and Juliusz Kühl, otherwise known as the Ładoś Group, issued false passports and citizenship certificates of Latin American states to Jews under the threat of the Shoah. Their bearers would then be interned and later exchanged for German prisoners of war – they had a chance to avoid transportation to death camps and thus to save their lives.
For several years now the Pilecki Institute, in cooperation with Polish and foreign partners, has been conducting archival research and scientific studies into the activities of the Ładoś Group. One of the results is the 2019 publication of Lista Ładosia (The Ładoś List, English ed. 2020), which contains the names of more than 3,000 people to whom the passports were issued. Today we know that the operation of the Ładoś Group was not an isolated case, but formed part of broader activities of the Polish diplomacy both before and during the Second World War. Other Polish diplomats also offered assistance to Jews, for example in Leipzig, Istanbul and Tokyo. New archival findings and testimonies, discovered years after the fact, both inspire historical research and resonate with the public. The activities of Polish diplomats have recently been described among others in the “Daily Mail”, “Israel Hayom” and “The Jerusalem Post”.
Webinar (to register for the event, please click here) inaugurates the Year of the Ładoś Group established by the Polish Parliament, and is also part of the celebration of the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German Occupation. On this occasion, we will present our trilingual Polish-English-German website “Passports for Life”, which in an appealing form presents the current state of knowledge about the operation of the Polish diplomats based in Bern. We will meet with an international panel of experts, journalists reporting on the subject and witnesses to history – the descendants of the Survivors. We will discuss historians’ latest findings and future research perspectives. An analysis of individual operations aimed at rescuing Jews, which were undertaken by Polish diplomats in various circumstances and in different parts of the world, is conducive to a general reflection on the role of diplomacy when confronted with genocidal policies.
The German plan to exterminate all Jews in Europe, implemented alongside warfare, posed an extremely tough challenge for diplomatic posts across the continent. It presented them with new tasks and responsibilities as well as affected the decision-making process. How to respond to the pleas of those in need of rescue? How to handle subsequent waves of refugees? Is it right to limit the activities to providing consular protection to one’s own citizens? Can we today draw a line between the activities undertaken as part of official duties and those that resulted from a moral imperative or the ethos of public service?
Diplomacy is one of the tools of the state. Do the activities of individual diplomats and diplomatic posts testify to the countries’ varied attitudes towards the Holocaust? Do they help us better understand the responses of various political communities to genocide? What was the reaction of states experiencing different circumstances, such as the collaborators with the Third Reich, members of the anti-Hitler coalition, neutral countries? What were the actions of the states that retained their full traditional potential, and what were the actions of those that were destroyed and placed under occupation and thus continued to operate exclusively in the form of underground or émigré structures?
Inviting you to join us for a discussion with international experts, we hope that our reflection on the experiences of Polish diplomats during the Second World War will bring us closer to answering the above questions.
To register for the event, please follow the link: https://bit.ly/3cKjiVk
Duty and Compassion. Polish Diplomacy Working Against the Holocaust
Webinar, 22 March 2021
- 3.30–3.40 pm – Opening
Wojciech Kozłowski, Pilecki Institute
- 3.40–4.20 pm – Part I. Passports for Life
Presentation of the website passportsforlife.pl
Anna Miszczyk, Pilecki Institute
The Voice of Survivors
Chris Pleasance (“Daily Mail”) interviews Heidi Fishman – daughter of the Holocaust Survivor Ruth “Tutti” Fishman née Lichtenstern
- 4.30–6 pm – Part II. Wartime Diplomacy. How Governments Responded to the Holocaust (roundtable)
Jakub Kumoch, Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Turkey
Sławomir Dębski, Polish Institute of International Affairs
Wojciech Kozłowski, Pilecki Institute
Mordecai Paldiel, Yeshiva University and Touro College in New York
- 6.30–8 pm – Part III. Secret Diplomacy. Diverse Ways to Rescue Jews
Hanna Radziejowska, Pilecki Institute
Olga Barbasiewicz, Institute of Middle and Far East of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków
Eldad Beck, “Israel Hayom”
Bernd Karwen, Polish Institute in Berlin – Liepzig Branch
Monika Maniewska, Pilecki Institute