Polish diplomats in Bern tried to save 10,000 Jews during Holocaust, new research reveals

Polish diplomats in Bern tried to save 10,000 Jews during the Holocaust, new research reveals

Polish diplomats based in Bern, Switzerland during World War II attempted to save between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews from Nazi deportation by providing them with fake Latin American documents, new research undertaken by the Warsaw-based Pilecki Institute has revealed.

The English version of The Ładoś List, a comprehensive publication presenting previously unrevealed details about the Ładoś Group (also known as the Bernese Group), as well as a full index of the names of the 3,253 Jews who received or were meant to receive these documents, was presented under the patronage of the World Jewish Congress on Thursday, at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City, following its Polish-language premiere in December.

The publication of the Ładoś List, named for then-Polish Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś, who served in Switzerland 1940–45 and directed the forged certification efforts, is the result of two years of painstaking research conducted by the Pilecki Institute, together with the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, and the Polish Institute of National Remembrance. It is one of the most comprehensive Holocaust research projects conducted in recent years and was made possible through access to various reputable archives, including Bad Arolsen, Yad Vashem, the Polish Central Archives of Modern Records, and others, according to Pilecki Institute Director Dr. Wojciech Kozłowski.

Between 26 and 46 percent of the 3,253 Jews who received the Polish-forged documents are confirmed to have survived the Holocaust, and several dozen of them are still alive. But the real number of the survivors is much larger, said Dr. Jakub Kumoch, Polish Ambassador to Switzerland and the editor of the study. “We estimate that the Ładoś group contributed to the rescue of between 2,000 and 3,000 people,” Kumoch said, adding that thousands more Jews are believed to have benefited from these efforts, though their names remain undocumented.

From left: WJC Associate Executive Vice President and General Counsel Menachem Rosensaft, Pilecki Institute archivist and co-author of The Ładoś List Monika Maniewska, and Mordechai Paldiel, former director (1984-2007) of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem and moderator of the 27 February 2020 book launch in NY. Photo: The Pilecki Institute

Background on The Ładoś List

The list of Jews who were saved by the Ładoś Group includes several heroes of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, including Zivia Lubetkin and Yitzchak Zuckerman, as well as leaders of the Jewish resistance from Slovakia, France, and Italy. Among the thousands of survivors were also Mirjam Finkelstein, mother of British politician and associate editor of The Times, Lord Daniel Finkelstein, who recounted his family’s story during the English premiere in London, as well as the best friend of Anne Frank, Hannah “Hanneli” Goslar.

Ambassador Ładoś, who represented the London-based Polish government in exile during the Nazi German occupation, authorized his diplomats to fabricate documents from third-party countries in an attempt to help rescue at least some of the more than 3.5 million Jews living in Poland at the time. The operation was made possible through close and loyal cooperation between the Polish Legation, the World Jewish Congress and Agudath Yisrael (who funded the efforts), under the direct protection of Ładoś, and with the support of the Government of Poland and private individuals.

The Ładoś documents aimed to protect the Jews in possession from being deported to the Nazi German death camps. The documents were sent to citizens of more than a dozen European states interred in concentration camps and ghettos across occupied Poland and the Netherlands.  Nearly half of the passports and citizenship certificates were forged by Ładoś’s vice-consul, Konstanty Rokicki, with the help of his deputy, Stefan Ryniewicz, and a Jewish employee of the embassy, Juliusz Kühl.

Additional personal documents, passports, and certificates ascribed to Honduras, Haiti, and Peru were also illegally purchased from the honorary consuls of these countries, with authorization by Ładoś, and two Jewish members of the Ładoś Group: Abraham Silberschein, representing the World Jewish Congress, and Chaim Eiss, representing Agudath Yisrael, who were the driving forces on behalf of Jewish organizations at the time. In 1943, the Government of Poland gave its full support to the operation, pressuring Latin American states to recognize these forged documents for humanitarian reasons.

Pilecki Institute Director Kozłowski said that although 3,253 names of Jews who received these documents have been confirmed, some 5,000–7,000 are still unknown. “We sincerely hope to receive the help of Jewish communities worldwide to find out the identities of these additional people. We believe that there is no further possibility to identify any other names by archival research. During the last two years, the authors have done really very much. Now it’s time for the families of survivors and victims to tell their story,” Kozłowski said.

Media contacts
Martyna Wojtkowska
Pilecki Institute Press Office
+48 539 537 646
m.wojtkowska@instytutpileckiego.pl

Aliyana Traison
Director of Public Relations
World Jewish Congress
+1-917-244-9660
aliyana.traison@wjc.org

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