Harrowing documents of Jews seeking passports to flee Hitler’s death camps handed over to Auschwitz Museum
A unique collection of photographs and papers that document the efforts of Polish diplomats to save the lives of Jews in the Holocaust has been acquired by the Auschwitz Museum.
The collection contains 83 photographs and accompanying documents of Jews who had sent them to Polish diplomats in Switzerland in a desperate last bid to save themselves from being gassed to death in Nazi-German death camps.
The Polish diplomats, known as the Ładoś Group, tried to obtain passports for South American countries to help them avoid being murdered by the Germans.
According to a current Polish diplomat involved in obtaining the archive, the photographs are most likely of Jews whom the group tried to save but time ran out before passports could be issued for them.
The documents, which are the second batch of the famous Eiss Archive, were acquired by the Auschwitz Museum after two years of negotiations with a private donor.
Museum director Piotr Cywyński described the photographs included in the documents as ‘sensational'.
They include a previously unseen photo of Rutka Laskier, the author of a Holocaust diary from Będzin, who is known as the Polish Anne Frank.
The Ładoś group obtained passports for several members of her family; however, Rutka was murdered by the Germans at Auschwitz-Birkenau probably on the same day that she arrived at the death camp.
For a few months, before being deported to Auschwitz, she kept a diary describing her experiences. It was kept safe by a non-Jewish friend for 60 years following the war, and was finally published in Poland in 2006.
The diary chronicles her thoughts, feelings, first love and descriptions of meetings with friends in the Będzin ghetto.
The passport photos include those of Wolf Begin, the father of future Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, as well as Dawid Wdowiński, a leader of the Jewish Military Union, an underground resistance organization operating during World War II in the Warsaw Ghetto, which fought during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Dr. Jakub Kumoch, former Polish ambassador to Switzerland and now ambassador to Turkey, who was involved in obtaining the collection, underlined the importance of the acquisition.
“The new part of the Archive importantly broadens knowledge of the scope of the Ładoś Group’s activities,” the diplomat said.
“I expected that one of the photos could show Rutka Laskier, as an important part of her more distant family was provided with passports.
The names of Wolf Begin and Dawid Wdowiński, as well as of right-wing Zionist leaders, constituted a surprise for me. This marks a new line of research,” he added.
According to Kumoch, there is no evidence that the people in the photographs actually obtained the passports.
He believes it is likely that there was not enough time to forge them and that photographs arrived probably after the Swiss police had discovered the passport operation and the South American consuls who sold them to the Ładoś Group had been fired.
The unique collection was acquired from a private owner in Israel thanks to the efforts of the Polish Embassy in Bern and Markus Blechner, a Polish honorary consul in Zurich.
Blechner, 79, is a descendant of Holocaust survivors. He played a crucial role in regaining the first part of the Eiss Archive in 2018, including 15 Paraguayan passports forged by Polish diplomats rescuing the Jews.
The wartime Polish diplomats and their Jewish partners attempted to rescue between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews from over 15 countries in occupied Europe.
To read more about the diplomats and their efforts click HERE.