Swiss museum opens exhibition on Polish diplomat heroes

The Jewish Museum of Switzerland in Basel opened an exhibition on Friday documenting the work of Polish diplomats in saving Jews during World War II. The group, under Ambassador Alexander Ładoś, rescued between 8,000-10,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

The exhibition 'Passports, Profiteers, Police: A Swiss War Secret' documents the history of a group of diplomats and their associates who supplied thousands of Jews from across Europe with falsified Latin-American passports, thanks to which they survived the war. The jews were registered under false passports issued by Paraguay, El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay and Haiti.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, the museum's director, Naomi Lubrich, said that "the Polish diplomats showed unparalleled bravery and humanity in undertaking such a risky project and in (the dangerous - PAP) games with the Swiss police and officials, who knowing of the network (of diplomats - PAP), strived to arrest their members." Lubrich added that this showed "unparalleled solidarity with the Jewish community."

Although around 120 people played an active role in the work of the so-called Bernese Group, the key-players were Polish diplomats and two Jewish associations - the Polish Ambassador in Bern, Alexander Ładoś, his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz, Consul Konstanty Rokicki and the attache of the Polish Mission, Juliusz Kuehl.

The diplomats worked closely with two Jewish organisations, RELICO under the leadership of Abraham Silberschein, a Zionist activist and Polish parliamentarian, and Chaim Eiss, the head of the Swiss branch of Agudat Israel, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish political party.

The exhibition features photographs, original passports and documentation related to the issue of the forged passports. Visitors can also listen to the testimonies of some of those who were saved by the operation. Although the organisers of the exhibition worked independently, the Polish Embassy in Switzerland and Poland's Pilecki Institute worked in close cooperation with the museum for many months and contributed documents and exhibits relating to the Bernese Group to the exhibition.

The official opening and private view of the exhibition took place on Thursday at the University of Basel and The Jewish Museum of Switzerland and will be open to the public from Friday.