24.03.2021 History

The Polish National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German Occupation

At the height of the Second World War, the Nazi regime murdered millions of Jews, in Germany, as well as in the countries under German occupation. Non-Jews witnessed atrocities against their neighbours and colleagues. Hiding or helping Jews, in any way, was penalised. Depending on the country this could result in physical violence, imprisonment, and in many cases, a death sentence. Many watched passively or even took advantage of the desperate situation of the Jews, but some selflessly helped. Among them were people of all social classes: factory workers and doctors, seamstresses and aristocrats, peasants and artists. They used whatever means they could, and sometimes risked their own lives, to help those in need.

One of them was Aleksander Ładoś, the Polish ambassador in Switzerland during World War II. Ładoś and his associates saved thousands of Jews from death by providing them with false Latin American passports. Although Ładoś was in neutral Switzerland, which was as far from the front lines as was possible in 1941 in Europe, he fought a secret battle there to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. In three years of operation the Ładoś Group issued false documents for 10000 people, making this rescue operation one of the largest during World War II. The Ładoś Group was led by Ładoś and was composed of Polish diplomats and Jewish activists. Its headquarters were in Bern. It forged South American, predominantly Paraguayan passports, which were then smuggled to those in need. In the early stages of the operation the majority of recipients were Polish Jews, it later expanded to include significant numbers of people from the Netherlands and Germany. Some passports were also issued to citizens of Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland. Initially the group kept their activities a secret, but by May 1943 the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affair was aware of the operation and encouraged it.

This week you can watch a short film, “Righteous Diplomacy”, dedicated to the Ładoś Group, and other diplomats’, efforts to facilitate the Jews’ escape to safety.

Project implemented by European Network of Rememberence and Solidarity



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