November 25, 2004

Berlin plaque pays tribute to ‘Schindler of Stourbridge’

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A British spy who saved 10,000 Jews from the Nazi Holocaust by falsifying papers, freeing them from concentration camps and hiding them from the Gestapo in his flat, was honoured as a ”true British hero” in Berlin yesterday.

Officially, Frank Foley was a passport control officer at Berlin’s British embassy during the 1930s. However, the bespectacled, middle-aged bureaucrat was, in reality, the head of British intelligence in the German capital, a post he held until the outbreak of the Second World War.

He used his cover to save Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps, often bending the rules by which London was trying to limit Jewish migration to British-ruled Palestine.

Yesterday, 120 years after his birth, and 46 after his death, the British embassy in Berlin unveiled a plaque in his honour.At a ceremony attended by relatives of Jews whose lives Foley had saved, Sir Peter Torry, the British ambassador to Berlin, paid tribute to the former spy, describedduring the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann as the ”Scarlet Pimpernel of Berlin”.

”Without diplomatic immunity and at considerable personal risk to himself, this unassuming man chose to follow his conscience,” Sir Peter said. ”He went to the concentration camps to secure the release of Jewish prisoners; he issued thousands of visas to enable Jews to flee persecution in Germany. He was a very humane and honourable man, a true British hero.”

In a recent interview, Foley’s wife, Kay, recalled what life was like for her husband at the embassy in Berlin, where mile-long queues of Jews waited in the hope of obtaining a visa. ”He worked without a break from 7am to 10pm, personally handling as many applications as he could. Some people were hysterical, many wept and all were desperate,” she said.

”For them, Frank’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’, really meant the difference between a new life and the concentration camp,” she said.

Peter Weiss, whose mother was saved by Foley, said: ”My mother was virtually the only survivor of a very large family. All the children who survived from that time are his legacy.”

After Berlin, Foley embarked upon a hugely successful espionage career. He recruited scores of German double agents and organised an operation to save Norway’s gold reserves from the Nazis. When Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, flew to Britain in an abortive attempt to broker a peace deal with the British, Foley was called in as the interpreter.

Frank Foley’s heroism remained largely unrecognised after the Second World War because of the official secrets acts. Unlike other figures who saved Jews such as the German industrialist Oskar Schindler and the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, Frank Foley did not receive financial rewards for his exploits or enjoy diplomatic immunity. He died in Stourbridge in 1958. The town honoured him with a plaque describing him as ”The Schindler of Stourbridge” in 1999.