Israeli daily says Polish WWII gov't-in-exile helped save Jews

According to the daily, at least two Polish foreign ministers and several other ministries of the Polish government-in-exile during WWII were engaged in the saving of Jews by Ładoś and his group. Israel Hayom

The Israel Hayom daily in its English edition on Friday wrote that during the Second World War the Polish government-in-exile supported actions taken by Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś to save Jews and allowed Jewish organisations to use the diplomatic postal service.

According to the daily, at least two Polish foreign ministers and several other ministries of the Polish government-in-exile during WWII were engaged in the saving of Jews by Ładoś and his group.

At first, efforts taken by the Ładoś group were treated as single rescue operations and were limited to the issuing of illegal Latin American passports to Jews.

The cable from the Polish Welfare and Labour Ministry of May 31, 1943, quoted by the daily, reads in part as follows: "There is a possibility of obtaining Latin American passports that could protect the people in Poland from the slaughter in the ghettos and will grant them the possibility of moving to detention camps. Getting those passports depends on certain expenses through the legation in Switzerland."

The daily also quotes other documents, including an approval by the Polish Foreign Ministry of the participation of Polish diplomats in falsifying documents and a mass-scale intervention of Polish diplomatic missions in Latin America for treating them as valid.

The operation, which was ordered in 1944 by the then Polish Foreign Minister Tadeusz Romer, made a few countries recognise these documents as valid during WWII.

"At the end of that year, Ładoś sent a cable to Poland's new foreign minister, Tadeusz Romer, with the following message: A German delegation has arrived in Vittel and began checking passports. Please engage all the governments so that all diplomatic missions operating in Berlin make sure that all the passports, which have been saving lives, are in fact valid," the daily reported.

Romer sent Ładoś' request to the Polish missions in Latin America and added that "this will save lives," the daily added.

"Hundreds of encrypted diplomatic cables were sent from the legation in Bern to the Polish government-in-exile's Foreign Ministry in London, to the Polish Embassy in Washington, to Polish missions in New York and Latin American countries, as well as to the Polish consulates in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in order to marshal their support for the operation."

According to the daily, some of them concerned single persons and others systemic rescue operations.

The author of the article and Berlin-based correspondent of the daily, Eldad Beck, has admitted that "initial reports on the horrors of the Holocaust can also be found in those cables. The cables made a plea to inform the US and British governments of the unfolding genocide and called on the Allies to bomb the railways to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp."

According to the journalist, the Ładoś cables, which could be found in Polish archives, were sent from April 1941 until May 11, 1945.

Beck also quoted opinions by two Israeli historians, Mordecai Paldiel, the former director of the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem and currently an adjunct professor for Jewish studies at Yeshiva University in New York, and Noami Lubrich, the director of the Jewish Museum of Switzerland in Basel, which has recently inaugurated a new exhibition called 'Passports, Profiteers, Police: A Swiss War Secret'. The exhibition details the entire rescue effort undertaken by Polish diplomats.

Paldiel described the rescue efforts undertaken by Ładoś and other Polish officials as "extraordinary."

According to Paldiel, "not only did Polish diplomats go out of their way to save Jews, they also joined forces with Jewish organisations and worked in close contact with them."

Paldiel said that "there is a big debate over the treatment of Jews by the Poles, over what Polish citizens did or did not do to save their fellow Jewish compatriots. But in this case, we are talking about an official Polish diplomatic mission on Swiss territory, with the head of the mission taking it upon himself to carry out this initiative, who says: 'I have to use everything at my disposal through this office to save Jews.'"

Ładoś also reinstated Polish citizenship to Jews who had been deprived of it by a law from the 1930s and issued at least two Polish passports to persons who had never had Polish citizenship. One of them went to Yosef Burg, one of the founding fathers of the State of Israel who would later be appointed as a minister in the Israeli cabinet, and the second to Pierre Mendes France, who later became the French prime minister.

Lubrich added that the role played by Ładoś had been confirmed by numerous documents in Swiss archives, and admitted that Swiss authorities and US diplomats were trying to stop the operation launched by Ładoś since they feared it might cause an intervention by the Third Reich or an inflow of German spies.

The article in Israel Hayom was published a few days after the presentation of "The Ładoś List" by the Pilecki Institute. The list comprises of 3,262 identified persons, who during WWII used illegal Latin American passports issued either by the Polish diplomatic mission in Bern or with its help.

In May, Yad Vashem wrote in a letter to PAP that Poland’s wartime consul in Switzerland, Konstanty Rokicki, was a key figure among other diplomats in Bern and is the only one to be named Righteous Among the Nations for his role in saving Jews.

Yad Vashem earlier announced that Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś and his deputy, Stefan Ryniewicz, would be granted letters of commendation for their role in saving Jews during WWII. All three are deceased.

The Bernese Group was comprised of diplomats of Polish and Jewish descent working in Switzerland who forged foreign travel documents to save European Jews from the Holocaust during WWII. The group included Ambassador Aleksander Łados, his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz, Consul Konstanty Rokicki and Juliusz Kuehl. The group also included Polish MP Abraham Silberschein and Rabbi Israel Chaim Eiss, leader of the Swiss branch of the Agudat Israel Orthodox organisation.

Polish diplomats mainly forged passports of South American countries which protected their holders from being transported from ghettos to extermination camps. Instead, they were directed to internment camps where many of them were held until the end of the war.

The operation was funded by Jewish organisations and the Polish government-in-exile.

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