March 30, 2011

The anniversary of the birth of Carl Lutz

The inventor of the passports to life

The deeds of the diplomatic rescuers during the Holocaust can be used as an outstanding educational tool. Their category of “extreme cases” makes them a unique source of learning.

Hundreds of men and women who worked in foreign services careers helped the victims of Nazi persecution, while putting their own lives and the lives of their families in great danger. Most of the time, they were also disobeying the orders of their superiors.

March 30 is the anniversary of the birth of Carl Lutz (1895-1975), a member of a devout Christian family and the first neutral diplomat in Budapest to rescue Jews condemned to death by the Nazis. He was vice consul of the Swiss diplomatic mission from 1942 to 1945 and the creator of the “Schutzbrief” or “Letter of Protection” for Jewish refugees. The same strategy was later used by Raoul Wallenberg between July 1944 and January 1945.

In tough negotiations with the Nazis, Lutz got permission to issue protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews allowing them to immigrate to Palestine. Using deception, he and his staff issued thousands of additional protective letters.

By 1943, in collaboration with the Jewish Agency in Palestine, Lutz had helped 10,000 children and young Jews to immigrate to the land that in 1948 would become the State of Israel. He also established 76 protective houses for Jews and continued rescuing them from deportation centers and death marches.

After the WWII he was doomed to oblivion for disobeying exact instructions from the Foreign Ministry not to engage in the “Jewish problem.” In fact the Swiss government prevented progress in Lutz’s diplomatic career. According to his daughter, Agnes Hirschi, Lutz was declared persona non grata after the war.

“Over twenty years after his death the Swiss government acknowledged the actions of my father by issuing a stamp in his honor,” said Hirschi, for whom the recognition, besides being small, came too late.