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English Section

Polish WWII diplomats helped save top Israeli politician: report

17.10.2019 13:20
A group of Polish diplomats who helped Jews during World War II contributed to the rescue of a man who would later become one of the founding fathers of Israel, according to a report.
A Bern-based group of Polish World War II diplomats is credited with producing hundreds of fake passports to help save Jews from the Holocaust.
A Bern-based group of Polish World War II diplomats is credited with producing hundreds of fake passports to help save Jews from the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of the Polish culture ministry

The Polish diplomats, based in Bern, Switzerland, fabricated passports for Jews to save them from the Holocaust.

Among those helped by the group in the early stages of the war was Yosef Burg, a Jewish man who later became one of the founding fathers of the state of Israel, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency has reported.

It cited Poland’s current ambassador to Switzerland, Jakub Kumoch, as saying that Burg, a Jew born in Germany in 1909, was in 1940 provided with a fake Polish passport in the Swiss capital to help him escape Nazi-controlled Europe.

"Burg was born in Dresden, he was a German Jew,” Kumoch said, as quoted by the IAR news agency. “Without this document he wouldn’t have been able to travel and would have risked deportation."

After the war, Burg worked as a minister in several Israeli governments from 1951 to 1986; he served as the country’s interior minister for several years during the 1970s and 1980s, the IAR news agency reported.

He died in 1999 at the age of 90.

The Bern-based group, led by the Polish ambassador to Switzerland at the time, Aleksander Ładoś, and including Jewish activists, is credited with helping hundreds of Jews escape from Poland at a time when the country was under Nazi German occupation.

After nearly 75 years Poland’s government in August last year said it had recovered a historical archive documenting the effort in which its diplomats helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust during World War II.

The collection originally belonged to Chaim Eiss (1867-1943), an Orthodox Jewish activist who was a member of the Bern-based group led by Ładoś.

It is estimated that the diplomats produced from several hundred to several thousand fake passports, most of them of various Latin American countries between 1941 and 1943.

One of the Polish diplomats who was a member of the group, Konstanty Rokicki (1899-1958), was earlier this year posthumously recognised by Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial centre as a Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The Righteous Among the Nations award is the highest Israeli civilian distinction. Recipients receive a medal with a quote from the Talmud saying: "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

A total of 26,973 people from various countries, including 6,863 Poles, had received the honour by January 1 last year.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday praised a group of Polish Righteous Among the Nations for their courage during World War II.


Source: IAR