April 5, 2018

Stefan Ryniewicz

Deputy Head of the Polish Legation in Bern, Switzerland, 1938-45

Stefan Ryniewicz was – alongside Aleksander Ładoś, Konstanty Rokicki and Juliusz Kühl – a member of the ‘Bernese group’ which illegally manufactured Latin American passports with a view to providing them to their fellow Jewish citizens in the German-occupied Poland. Due to his ‘double-hat’ portfolio (he was simultaneously a head of the Political and Consular Section of the Legation), Ryniewicz was involved not only in organizing a political umbrella for the scheme, maintaining contact with the Jewish organizations in Switzerland, but was also personally involved in transmitting blank passport samples of form the bribed Latin American consuls. Altogether with Konstanty Rokicki he personally persuaded head of the RELICO Committee, Abraham Silberschein, to undertake the risk of obtaining data of persons foreseen to receive South American passports and citizenship certificates and to use it for forgery.

As an experienced diplomat, Ryniewicz was responsible for maintaining contact with the representatives of Latin American legations in order to obtain blank passports and with the US mission in Switzerland to let the action roll. When the scheme was revealed to the Swiss authorities and Silberschein was briefly arrested, Ryniewicz was tasked with convincing the ill-fated top Swiss police officer, Heinrich Rothmund, and other federal offices to turn a blind eye on it.

He also vigorously protested when some of the consuls involved in the scheme (such as Jose Barretto of Peru) were dismissed and undertook diplomatic efforts aimed at recognizing issued passports vis a vis German authorities as valid.

After the war Stefan Ryniewicz and his family settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he died 1987, the last surviving member of the Bernese Group.

The Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland