Visas For Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats Project
Nana Annan, wife of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and niece of Raoul Wallenberg, viewing Visas for Life exhibit at United Nations, 2000

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Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats Project

Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats is an exhibit and program that tells for the first time an important and untold story of the Holocaust.  If features the dramatic story of diplomats from diverse countries, cultures and backgrounds who saved tens of thousands of lives.

Diplomatic rescue took place between 1933 and 1945 by diplomats representing 27 countries.  They rescued Jews in more than 35 geographic areas.

Few are aware that there were diplomats willing to risk their careers and their lives.  Many are unaware that diplomatic rescue was even possible.  Thousands were rescued by individuals whose heroic deeds have remained largely unrecognized.

Rescue by diplomats took many forms.  Diplomats issued visas, including exit visas and transit visas, citizenship papers, protective papers and other forms of documentation that allowed Jews to escape the Nazis.  Some diplomats smuggled refugees across international borders.  Many diplomats established safe houses and some hid Jews in their embassies and in their personal residences.  Some diplomats were able to stop Nazi deportations to the death camps.  Some diplomats warned the Jews of impending actions and deportations.

Diplomats rescued Jews at the peril of their careers and, sometimes, their lives.  Some of the diplomats who aided Jews did so illegally, and in violation of the regulations and immigration policies of their countries.  Diplomats were censured or punished for their acts of courage.  Some diplomats were fired or were stripped of their ranks and pensions.  Others were ostracized in their home countries.

This Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats exhibit is based on original photographs and other archival materials collected from the families of the diplomats and other original sources.  The exhibit also draws on historical accounts by survivors and witnesses.  The exhibit has been widely acclaimed and has drawn enthusiastic praise. The exhibit premiered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in January 1995.  The exhibit showed at the United Nations headquarters in April 2000 and at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in July 2000.  The exhibit was displayed at the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in January 1999 and at the national conference of the American Jewish Committee in Washington, DC, and at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 2008.

Several heads of state have attended and participated in opening ceremonies of the Visas for Life exhibit, including the King and Queen of Sweden, the Prime Minister of Sweden, the President of Hungary, the President of Switzerland, the Prime Minister of Germany, and U.S. Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell.


Message from Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General of the United Nations

Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the opening of the exhibition "Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats" at Headquarters on 3 April 2000.  Kofi Annan is married to Nana Annan, niece of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.  

Dear friends,

This remarkable event, this heart-rending exhibition, and you yourselves all have a natural home at the United Nations. The yearning for a United Nations had its origins in the scourge of fascism and Nazism, and its Charter was written as the world was first learning the full horror of the Holocaust. Today, your struggle -- against hatred and intolerance, and for justice and remembrance -- is our struggle, as well.

The popular image  of diplomats is  not a  flattering one. One  familiar description  says that "diplomacy  is to  do and say the  nastiest thing, in the nicest way".  It is sometimes said that diplomats lack  a moral compass, passively  following the orders  of bosses  and regimes  regardless of their political or ethical character -- or lack thereof. The popular image of diplomats is not a flattering one. One familiar description says that "diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest thing, in the nicest way". It is sometimes said that diplomats lack a moral compass, passively following the orders of bosses and regimes regardless of their political or ethical character -- or lack thereof.

Maybe that is true of some. It was emphatically not true of the extraordinary people whose stories are told by "Visas for Life". Some famous, others known to just a few, they make up a gallery of courageous individuals who, in the face of an inhuman force that was destroying lives and societies alike, took enormous personal risks to rescue Jews and others facing persecution and peril. They were true heroes; indeed, they were among the foremost human rights defenders of their day. With genocide still stalking our world, they are models for our time, too.

The United Nations seeks to carry on in that tradition -- first and foremost, to save lives, but also to show that the popular image of diplomacy is an unfair caricature. That is why the United Nations tries to shine a spotlight on injustice, wherever it lurks. It is why we build institutions such as the International Criminal Court, so that no one -- from rulers to front-line soldiers -- can enjoy impunity from the rule of law. It is why, next year in South Africa, we will hold a world conference on racism at which, I should stress, anti-Semitism will be one of the forms of intolerance targeted for action. And it is why United Nations personnel continue to work in war zones and other risky places -- many of whom, like Dag Hammarskjöld, have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace.

I would like to express my congratulations to the many groups and individuals who have made this project possible. You are doing more than documenting stories worth passing on from generation to generation. You are teaching the world that each and every one of us has a responsibility to care and be aware, and to speak up in the face of suffering, prejudice and violence. Had there been more righteous diplomats and more righteous people in general over the years, our world might be a better place. With more such individuals in the future, it still can be. In that hopeful spirit, please accept my best wishes for a memorable evening.

 
History of the Visas for Life Project
 
The Visas for Life project began in 1994 by honoring Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who issued visas to Jews in 1940.  In April 1996, the Visas for Life project was expanded to include the stories of Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk, Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

An important part of the project has been to nominate diplomats for Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations program.  Diplomats have been officially recognized due to our efforts.  These include Jan Zwartendijk, Gennaro Verolino, Feng Shan Ho, and Dr. Harald Feller.

The Visas for Life Project has inspired a number of programs worldwide.  The Israeli foreign ministry and Yad Vashem, working with the Visas for Life Project, created a traveling exhibit, which has traveled to numerous foreign ministry venues around the world. 

The Visas for Life Project created an exhibit that tells the story of Holocaust survivor Solly Ganor (Zalke Genkind).  The exhibit depicts Solly’s life in the Kovno Ghetto, his experiences in the Dachau subcamps, and his subsequent liberation by Japanese American soldiers in May 1945.  It also tells of the special relationship that Solly and his family had with Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara.


The Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats Exhibit
 
The Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats exhibit originally premiered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.  It has also been shown at the Yad Vashem Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, Israel; and in Belgium; China; France; Germany; Great Britain; Hungary; Japan; Lithuania; Slovenia; South Africa; Sweden; Switzerland; as well as in many museums, schools, libraries and institutions throughout the United States and Canada.

This exhibit was prepared in cooperation with the families of these extraordinary diplomats.  In curating the exhibit, we had access to the families’ private photo collections (containing many never-before seen Holocaust era photographs).

You can become part of the history of the Visas for Life Project.  Our project depends on local communities for help with our educational mission.  Coordinators and participants everywhere agree that hosting the exhibit is a very rewarding experience and most feel that it has changed their lives in a positive way.

If you are interested in obtaining information on how to host the exhibit, please contact us at VisasForLife@cs.com.

 
List of Diplomats Honored (Partial)
 
This is a representative list of some of the diplomats whose stories are depicted in the Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats program.  These diplomats represent more then 27 countries.  They represent countries in Nazi occupied Europe, neutral Europe, and the free world.

The Visas for Life Project recognizes and honors diplomats who saved Jews and non-Jews during the Holocaust.  This list includes diplomats who issued visas and personally intervened to save the lives of anyone in danger from the Nazis and their collaborators.  This included Jews, anti-Nazis, labor leaders, political opponents, Communists, homosexuals, Roma (gypsies) and other refugees. 

Visas for Life recognizes Jewish diplomats who rescued their fellow Jews and other refugees. Examples are George Mandel Mantello, a Romanian Jew who represented El Salvador, Ambassador Laurence A. Steinhardt, who represented the United States in Turkey, Julius Kuhl, who represented Poland in Switzerland, and Gyorgy Adam, a Hungarian Jew who volunteered at the Vatican Nunciatura in Budapest, Hungary.

The Visas for Life Project also recognizes diplomats who rescued Jews and other refugees but did not necessarily risk their lives. Many diplomats operated from neutral countries in Europe and even from the free world.  Many of the diplomats honored in our program were influential in their home countries in creating laws, policies or regulations that were directly responsible for saving the lives of refugees. An example would be diplomats in the foreign ministries of the United States, Italy, Sweden, Mexico and other countries.

The Project honors individuals who were given diplomatic status but in some cases did not represent countries.  For example, Red Cross representatives throughout Europe did not represent a country but were given diplomatic status.  Nuncios, or representatives of the Vatican, were also recognized as diplomats.  Representatives of the US War Refugee Board were given diplomatic status as well.

We recognize individuals who posed as diplomats but had no official status as such.  These “diplomats” were still able to rescue individuals from the Nazis.  For example, Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian citizen, posed as the Spanish Minister to Budapest successfully.

Few of the diplomats depicted documented in the Visas for Life program have been recognized by Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, Yad Vashem.  Those who have been so honored are indicated on this list with an asterisk.

György (George) Adam, “Third Secretary,” Vatican Embassy, Budapest, Hungary, 1944-1945

Per Anger*, First Secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest, Hungary, 1944-1945

Count Folke Bernadotte, Swedish Red Cross, Germany, 1945

Hiram Bingham IV, US Vice Consul in Marseilles, France, 1940-1941

Friedrich Born*, Red Cross of Switzerland in Budapest, Hungary, 1944-1945

Gilberto Bosques, Mexican Consul General, Paris and Marseilles, France, 1939-1943

Carlos de Liz-Texeira Branquinho*, Portuguese Chargé d’Affaires in Budapest, 1944-1945

Monsignor Andrea Cassulo, Vatican Nuncio, Bucharest, Romania, 1936-1947

Giuseppe Castrucci, Italian Consul General in Salonika, Greece, 1943

Rives Childs, US Consul General in Tangier, Algeria, 1944

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz*, German Consul in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1943

Harald Feller*, Swiss Chargé d’Affaires in Budapest, 1944-1945

Frank Foley*, British Vice Consul in Charge of Visas in Berlin, 1933-1939

Dr. Raymond Herman Geist, American Consul General and First Secretary, US Embassy in Berlin, 1929-1939

Dr. Feng Shan Ho*, Chinese Consul General in Vienna, 1938-1940

Sandor (Alexander) Kasza-Kasser*, Secretary General of the Swedish Red Cross in Hungary, 1944-45

Dr. Julius Kuhl, Polish Consul in Bern, Switzerland, 1938-45

Dr. Valdemar Langlet* and Nina Langlet*, Swedish Red Cross Delegate in Budapest, Hungary, 1944-1945

Charles “Carl” Lutz*, Consul for Switzerland in Budapest, Hungary, 1942-1945, and Gertrud Lutz*, Wife of Consul Carl Lutz, Budapest, Hungary

George Mandel Mantello, Acting First Secretary for El Salvador in Geneva, 1942-1945 (Jewish diplomat)

Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes*, Portuguese Consul, Bordeaux, France, June 1940

Giorgio Perlasca*, “Chargé d’Affaires” of the Spanish Legation, Budapest, 1944-1945

Ernst Prodolliet*, Swiss Consul General in Bregenz, Austria, 1938-1939

Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) in Istanbul, Turkey, 1943-1945

Monsignor Angelo Rotta*, Italy, Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) in Budapest, 1944-1945

Don Angel Sanz-Briz*, Spain, Ambassador in Budapest, 1944

Henryk Slawik*, Polish Chargé d’Affaires in Budapest, Hungary, 1944

Laurence A. Steinhardt, US Ambassador to USSR 1939-1941, and Turkey 1942-1945 (Jewish diplomat)

Chiune Sugihara*, Consul for Japan in Kovno, Lithuania, 1940

Selahattin Ülkümen*, Turkish Consul General in Rhodes, July 1944

Father Gennaro Verolino*, Vatican representative in Budapest, 1944-1945

Ernst Vonrufs*, Acting representative of Swiss interests in Budapest, 1944-1945

Raoul Wallenberg*, Swedish Special Envoy in Budapest, Hungary, 1944-1945

Li Yu-Ying, Chinese Consul, Marseilles, France, 1940

Guelfo Zamboni, Italian Consul General in Salonika, Greece, 1941-1943

Peter Zürcher*, Acting Representative of Swiss Interests in Budapest, 1945

Jan Zwartendijk*, Acting Dutch Consul in Kovno, Lithuania, 1940

* Recognized by the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations.
Recognized by the State of Israel with Letter of Commendation.
Not included in Visas for Life exhibit.


Documentaries Produced

Diplomats for the Damned (1999) is a one-hour documentary produced in cooperation with the History Channel.  It depicts four of diplomats: Charles “Carl” Lutz, Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz and Hiram “Harry” Bingham, IV.

Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness (2000) is a one-hour documentary on the rescue activities of Japanese consul Chiune Sugihara.

50 Italians: The Men who Saved 50,000 Jewish Lives (2008) is a feature-length documentary that tells the stories of 50 Italian diplomats and other officials who helped as many as 50,000 Jewish individuals living throughout the Italian occupied territories to avoid deportation and death.

 
Honoring Diplomats

Nomination of a Diplomatic Rescuer for Recognition by the Visas for Life Proejct

This document is intended to help prepare documentation for ISRAH for inclusion in the registry of diplomats who saved Jews and others during the Holocaust, 1933-1945. 

At present, the Institute for the Study of Rescue and Altruism in the Holocaust, a nonprofit corporation (ISRAH), the Visas for Life Project, has documented the role of more than 300 diplomats who helped save Jews. 

Many families who were the beneficiaries of visas from diplomats did not even know the names of the diplomats who helped them.  Indeed, even the families of the diplomat rarely knew of the heroic deeds of their fathers. 

After more than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, there is precious little time to provide testimony for many of these unknown heroes.

We rely in part on survivors to provide us information and testimony about diplomats who helped saved their lives.

Please find below a document that will help you prepare documentation for ISRAH.

This document provides an outline of criteria that need to be addressed.  It is important that you fill out as much detailed information as possible.

Please provide ISRAH with a hard copy of your family testimony.  Also please provide photocopies of pertinent documents, photographs, etc.  (Again, do not send original materials.  Please retain them for your family records.)  The address for Visas for Life is: 

Eric Saul
Institute for the Study of Rescue and Altruism in the Holocaust, a nonprofit corporation
E-mail:  VisasForLife@cs.com

 
Documenting a Diplomatic Rescuer

Some, but not all, diplomats were protected by diplomatic immunity.  To be recognized by ISRAH, it is not necessary that the diplomat rescuer was in physical danger.  It was important that the diplomatic rescuer took the initiative to help Jews in danger of arrest or deportation.

Diplomats who helped Jews generally issued visas, transit visas, exit visas, entry visas, passports, affidavits, and passport stamps to refugees seeking to leave Nazi-occupied or –controlled territories.  The papers issued by diplomats were used to escape from the Nazis.  Papers issued were not necessarily for the destination marked on passports or visas.  Oftentimes, visas or documents were used merely as a ruse to escape or transit through Nazi-occupied or -controlled zones.  Diplomats issued these documents to more than just a few individuals, and to individuals whom they did not know.

Not all diplomats issued documentation to help Jews escape the Nazis.  Many diplomats prevented Jews from being arrested or deported.  This was the case of Italian diplomats in Yugoslavia, Croatia, Greece and southern France.

In other cases, in addition to issuing visas, diplomats provided substantive and sustained relief and places of hiding for Jews.  This is particular in the case in Budapest.  There, diplomats provided housing, food, medical supplies, as well as direct protection from arrest and deportation.  In Budapest, Jews were issued protective passes that were meant to prevent Jews from physically being arrested by Nazis or Arrow Cross.

When writing your personal or family testimony, please provide evidence of each of the following, if applicable.

1.      The diplomat rescuer extended aid to a Jew or Jews in danger of being killed or sent to a concentration camp, thus ensuring their survival.

2.      The diplomat rescuer was fully aware that by doing this he or she may have risked career, position, prestige, personal safety or even his or her own life.

3.      The diplomat rescuer’s role was active; the diplomat acted on his or her own initiative, was directly involved and personally responsible, and in effect “caused” a rescue that would not otherwise have taken place.

4.      The act of rescue or aid can be authenticated by evidence provided by the rescued persons or by other eyewitnesses and, whenever possible, by relevant bona-fide documentation (e.g., original passports, visas, affidavits, correspondence or other documents, or photographs).

Here are examples of information that would be helpful:

(a)   How the original contact was made between diplomat rescuer and rescued, e.g., did the diplomat approach the family to be saved, or did the family request visas at an embassy, consulate or legation?  Did more than one diplomat help you escape the Nazis?  If so, please prepare a separate document with this complete questionnaire.

(b)  What country did the diplomat represent?  Was the diplomat an Ambassador, Consul General, Consul, or other official?  Do you know if he or she was an honorary consul? 

(c)    Where was the consulate located?  Was it in Nazi-occupied territory, a Nazi satellite territory, or Nazi-controlled territory?  What were the conditions for your family?  Did you have resources, money or food to sustain you during the waiting period? 

(d)  How many people were aided by the diplomatic rescue?  Please include the names, ages and family relationships.  Were any of the members of your family Jewish?

(e)   What was the date that your family received protection from a diplomat?

(f)    Was there an active deportation, arrests, or roundup of Jews?  Were Nuremberg-style anti-Jewish laws in effect at the time that you received the visas?  Were there curfews or restrictions on your movements?

(g)   Specifically, what documents were provided by the diplomatic rescuer (e.g., passports, transit visas, exit visas, entry visas, affidavits in lieu of passport)?  What was the destination marked on your passport or visa?

(h)  Did the diplomatic rescuer offer any additional forms of aid, e.g., contact with underground, with smugglers, or with rescue and relief organizations?

(i)     Did the diplomatic rescuer coordinate directly with other diplomats or rescue and relief agencies?

(j)     To your knowledge, was the documentation provided to you in any way altered or changed to protect you or your family?

(k)  Did the diplomatic rescuer offer to hide you or provide you with any form of relief or funds?

(l)     Were there other people getting diplomatic papers and documents at the time that you received yours?  Were there long lines in front of the embassy, legation or consulate?

(m) Did getting diplomatic papers get you or a member of your family out of a concentration camp?

(n)  Where did your family go after leaving the area of the embassy, legation or consulate?  Please outline your journey to the point when you reached safety.  Did your family go to the US, Canada, Palestine, South America, Australia, etc.?

(o)   Did you or your family have personal contact with the diplomatic rescuer where you discussed your situation?

(p)  Did you or your family have contact with your diplomat rescuer after the war?

The following are things that would be nice to add to your testimony. 

(q)  How many descendants of the original visa recipient(s) are there in your family?

(r)    What contributions have members of your family made to society?  Did you or any members of your family make any special contributions in sciences, arts, culture, business, etc.?

Note: The foregoing list was adapted from Yad Vashem recognition criteria.

Your nomination will be documented in perpetuity the Visas for Life Project.

Perhaps you might think about conducting an extensive oral history with surviving family members who received diplomatic aid.  We would love to get a copy of this oral history, as we are preparing a history of diplomatic rescue during the war.  Perhaps your family’s story could be represented in this book.

Lastly, we will provide a copy of your testimony to the descendants of the diplomatic rescuers.  The Visas for Life Project is presently in contact with more than 50 families of diplomatic rescuers.  These families are gratified and pleased to hear from Jewish families who were saved.

If you need any help or have questions, feel free to contact the Visas for Life Project.