Carl Lutz

Swiss Vice-Consul Carl Lutz arrived in Budapest in early 1942. As chief of the Swiss Legation’s Department of Foreign Interests in Budapest, he was in charge of the interests of 14 belligerent nations – among them the United States and Great Britain. Lutz established his home at the British Legation at Szabadsad ter in Pest. Among his duties was the protection of 300 Americans, 300 English nationals, 2,000 Romanians, and 3,000 Yugoslavs who were stranded in Hungary.

When the Germans occupied Hungary on 19 March 1944, persecution of the Jews grew more and more flagrant.

Thousands seeking Lutz’s protection besieged his offices every day. As an engaged Christian, Carl Lutz felt he had to protect these people. At that time he had already helped 10,000 Jewish children and young people to emigrate to Palestine. He cared for refugee Jews who had come to Hungary from many nations and for Hungarian Jews who were within British and Palestine interests.

When deportations to Auschwitz began on 15 May, Lutz decided to place the staff of the Jewish council for Palestine under his diplomatic protection and to rename it the ”Department of Emigration of the Swiss Legation”. A special relief organization had to be created for this stupendous task. With the aid of volunteers, Lutz increased his staff from 15 to 150.

Taking advantage of the fact that neither Hitler’s proconsul in Hungary, Edmund Veesenmayer, nor the Sztojay government had formally challenged the right of 8,000 to emigrate to Palestine, Lutz kept ”negotiating” with the German and Hungarian authorities. In the process he changed his objective. He wanted to save as many Jewish lives as possible.

As a ruse, he and his staff started to issue tens of thousands of added ”protective letters”, even though these were no longer backed by any Palestine certificates. In Order to hide the new approach, Lutz was always careful to repeat numbers one to 8,000 and never to surpass them. Each 1,000 names were grouped together into one Swiss collective passport. This meant that the applicants stood under formal Swiss protection.

As the Hungarian authorities insisted on concentrating all Budapest Jews into one large ghetto, Lutz placed part of the Jews protected by Switzerland – about 30,000 people – in 76 protected houses. The inhabitants of these houses were precariously fed and helped out by the Consul meager financial and material resources. Meanwhile, the young Jewish Chalutzim (pioneers) provided communications within the entire Jewish community and the underground.

In 1941 about 742,800 Jews lived in Hungary. In Budapest, some 124,000 survived the war. Between 15 May and 9 July, 437,402 people died in Auschwitz. Carl Lutz helped 62,000 Jews to survive.

Life Milestones

  • (1895) – March 30 Born in Walzenhausen, Canton Appenzell
  • (1910-1913) – Apprenticeship and commercial training with a textile company in St. Margrethen, Switzerland.
  • (1913) – Emigration to the United States
  • (1913-1918) – Worker in Granite City, Illinois, USA
  • (1918-1920) – Study at the Central Wesleyan College, Warrenton, Missouri, USA
  • (1920) – (June-September):Summer-job as correspondent at Swiss Legation inWashington
  • (1920-1926) – Chancellor at Swiss Legation, Washington. Enrolment at George Washington University (law and history)
  • (1924) – Bachelor of Arts, Washington University, Washington D.C.
  • (1926-1934) – Chancellor, Swiss Consulate, Philadelphia and St. Louis
  • (1935-1941) – Vice – Consul at Swiss General Consulate, Jaffa, also responsible for the German interest and the Swiss Consulate, Tel Aviv
  • (1942) – (January-April) 1945 Vice- Consul in Budapest, chief of the Department of Foreign Interests of Swiss Legation. During this time he was responsible for saving the lives of more than 62,000 Jews.
  • (1945-1954) – Berne and Zurich, section for Foreign Interests if the Federal Political Department
  • (1951) – Special Mission for the Lutheran World Federation in Israel in connection with German missions.
  • (1961) – C.L. retires from the Consular Service
  • (1975) – February 13, 1975, deceased in Bern