Current Search : Survivors from Nazi Europe aided by the Quakers

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After eight years of research Peter KURER has managed to obtain the agreement of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem Righteous Among the Nations Department to recognize the

help given by the Quakers Society of Friends to some 27000 Jews fleeing Nazi occupied lands.

An attempt is now being made to record the details of these people, similar in a way to the effort by Yad Vashem to collect 6 million Pages of Testimony for those who did not survive.





October  2009

In 1939 there were between sixty and seventy thousand refugees from Germany and Austria who had sought refuge in Great Britain.  These refugees were predominantly, although not exclusively, Jewish. Those with foresight had come in the early thirties, very soon after Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany in January 1933; others had been more optimistic.  They felt that Hitler would have only a limited time in power, here today and gone tomorrow, a sentiment shared by some politicians. Many Jews reasoned that as their parents had fought for Germany in the First World War they would be safe, especially if they themselves or a member of their family had been decorated for such military service. Such optimism was punctured by two events in 1938;  the Anschluss of Austria on 11 March, and the Kristallnacht pogrom on 9 November.  These events increased the flow of refugees to Great Britain. 
The contribution of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers, to saving the Jews of Europe has not yet been fully recognised, and it is the purpose of this paper to attempt to remedy this omission by highlighting what is known, and to indicate areas which warrant further research.
  There are several reasons why the Quakers may not yet have received the recognition they deserve, despite the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 to the Friends Service Council (London and Dublin) and the American Friends Service Committee for their work in relief and reconciliation. Quakers do not seek the limelight.  This is abundantly illustrated by the following statement from the Friends Service Council on accepting the prize in 1947:
In all this service, Quakers have been anxious to stress that their work they felt
able to undertake has been of modest proportion and that they have been more
concerned with personal relationships than with large-scale operations.

Another reason is that the Quakers are essentially a collaborative organization – they accept group wisdom.  In public service this way of working translates into a multi-agency approach, so that it is not always easy to discern the extent of the Quaker contribution. Nevertheless, what follows is an attempt to do precisely this.
            The Quaker presence in Germany and Austria had existed since the First World War, when the Friends worked to ameliorate the hunger and disease resulting from that conflict.   After 1925, the British and American Friends worked closely with the German Society of Friends, the German Quakers. Together they maintained offices in major cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, and renovated a large house in Bad Pyrmont which was run as a rest home and functioned as a convenient location for the German Yearly Meeting in the 1930s.  Quakers were also active in other German cities such as Nuremberg, Hamburg, Frankfurt an der Oder, Cologne and Dresden, although their numbers in the thirties and during the war year were comparatively small – membership of the German Yearly meeting was a little over 200.   There was also a Quaker office in the Austrian capital, Vienna. Bertha Bracey, an English Quaker working with young people in Nuremberg in the 1920s, became aware of the dangers of the Nazi philosophy.  She alerted the English Friends to this danger, and was appointed to Friends House in London full-time to raise awareness in Great Britain.  She became the Secretary of the Germany Emergency Committee which was set up on 7 April 1933, held its first meeting on 12 April and started functioning in Berlin in October of that year. At this time the main focus of the relief work was support for political prisoners and their families, but even at this comparatively early stage in the persecution of the Jews it was reported that a ‘large number of Christians who were of partly Jewish ancestry were also penalised as non-Aryans’.   On 1 April 1933, the day of the boycott of Jewish businesses, Corder and Gwen Catchpool, British Quakers representing the Friends Service Council, visited Jewish shops in Berlin. For this act of support the family was put under house arrest and Corder detained and interrogated for thirty-six hours at Gestapo headquarters.  
            In London the Germany Emergency Committee (later renamed the Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens) was based at Friends House where Bertha Bracey exercised outstanding leadership, presiding over a staff of 80 voluntary caseworkers who handled appeals for assistance from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.   In February 1939 the Committee moved to Bloomsbury House, where it shared premises with other refugee relief organizations such as the Jewish Refugee Committee, the Church of England Committee for Non-Aryan Christians (founded by Bishop Bell of Chichester), the Catholic Committee for Refugees from Germany and the Refugee Children’s Movement.
1. The Kindertransport                       
The events of the Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938 elicited some measure of sympathy for the Jews of Germany and Austria among the British public. The Jews of Britain tried to help in various ways. At that time prominent Jews in public life included Lord Bearsted (an industrialist and Chairman of Shell), Chaim Weizmann (President of the World Zionist Organization, later to be the first President of the State of Israel) and Viscount Samuel (formerly High Commissioner of Palestine, Leader of the Liberal Party and Home Secretary). On 15 November a delegation led by Viscount Samuel had a meeting with the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. This Jewish delegation requested that German and Austrian Jewish children and young people under seventeen should be allowed into Britain.  Chamberlain, who was still seeking to appease Hitler, did not support the project which the Cabinet debated the following day. Nevertheless, the Jewish community continued to pursue the issue. Meanwhile, Wilfried Israel, a Nuremberg Jewish leader who had connections with British Quakers, had asked Bertha Bracey to send four or five Quakers to go to different cities in Germany to report on the desperate plight of young Jews, and facilitate their emigration.   On receipt of up-to-date information Bertha Bracey went to the Home Office on 21 November with representatives of the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany (later renamed the Refugee Children’s Movement), a non-denominational umbrella organisation which, in addition to the Quakers, also included the British Committee for the Jews of Germany. She was accompanied by Viscount Samuel and Ben Greene, one of the Quaker delegates recently returned from Germany. Their purpose was to lobby the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, who himself came from a prominent Quaker family.  The delegation must have been persuasive for during the special debate on the issue that evening the Home Secretary, who had previously supported Chamberlain’s appeasement policy, proposed facilitated entry for child refugees and secured the consent of Parliament. The Quaker MP Philip Noel Baker too may have done his part in inducing Hoare to oppose the wishes of the Prime Minister in this matter. Bertha Bracey and the Quakers indubitably made a major contribution in obtaining agreement for this initiative, later to become known as the Kindertransport.  The first group of children, from a Berlin orphanage, arrived at Harwich on 2 December 1938 and the last group arrived from Holland on 14 May 1940, the day the Netherlands surrendered to Germany.   In this way 10.000 children were saved in sixteen months.

Implementing the Kindertransport

The Quakers made their contribution to the various organizational tasks connected with the Kindertransport. As it was becoming increasingly difficult for Jews to travel by public transport, the help offered by Quakers was crucial. The Quakers were outside the railway stations ready to receive the children who had been told to avoid demonstrative farewells on the station platforms, thus avoiding conflict with the police.  They had members travelling on the train to the Hook of Holland, ensuring the children were able to leave Germany. (It was not unknown for Jewish emigrants to be taken from the trains and humiliated, and on occasions preventing from leaving).  In London Quakers went to Liverpool Street Station to receive the children, organize refreshments, pass them into the care of a foster parent and, finally, arrange for the temporary accommodation of any child who was not met.
The recently erected memorials to the Kindertransport at Liverpool Street Station in London and at the Westbahnhof in Vienna constitute a public recognition of the importance of this project. .

2. Guarantees

A refugee could be admitted into Great Britain if that person could obtain a guarantee from a British Citizen.  Guarantors had to provide £50 (just under £2,500 in today’s money) as an assurance that the person admitted would not be a burden on the British State.  Through their network of centres in Germany and Austria the Quakers were able to identify people in need of such assistance, while the corresponding network of approximately 400 Meetings in Great Britain enabled them to obtain guarantors.
            The help requested by Wilfrid Israel, outlined above, illustrates the value of the Quakers’ contacts at international level.  British Quakers were requested to compile information, since at this time it was considered too dangerous for German Quakers to do so. However, help was also offered at national level.  Roger Carter, the last British Quaker representative in Berlin, was given a confidential list of twenty-two German Friends who could be trusted to give discreet support to Jews through the Friends office in London. Carter later gave the following report of the importance of the Quaker network in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht when his organization became the first port of call for the demoralised Jewish community: ‘For the moment the Jüdischer Hilfsverein, paralysed by the arrests, closed its doors and despairing and frightened people filled the courtyard outside the Quaker Centre.’   Working closely with the German Christian Churches to facilitate the emigration of so-called, non-Aryan Christians, the Quakers represented those of Jewish heritage with no Christian affiliation who for one reason or another were not recognised by the Jewish community. From this joint initiative it is estimated that Catholic Aid facilitated 2,270 cases, the Protestants under Pastor Heinrich Grüber between 1,700 and 2,000 cases and the Quakers 1,135 cases.   Not all of these people came to Britain or remained there.  As an international organization the Quakers were able to support emigration to throughout the world. A ten-year survey of the work of the London based Germany Emergency Committee published in l943 cites the USA, Canada, South America, Scandinavia, Africa, Australia and India as countries of settlement, but many did remain. Homes for the refugees in Britain were found by encouraging Quakers to become guarantors. By the time war broke out it is claimed that the Germany Emergency Committee had dealt with a high volume of cases of refugees from Germany and Austria.  Estimates of the number of cases vary; 6,000 is quoted by one source,   14,000 by another, the general trend being to revise upwards as more information comes to light.
The accuracy of these assessments is contested and it may never be adequately demonstrated, since many Quaker records did not survive the war. In the German centres few records were kept since the work was so politically sensitive. In London, many case notes from the Germany Emergency Committee/Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens were destroyed when Bloomsbury House closed in 1947.   However, the material that remains would reward closer scrutiny.  Friends House in London still has a substantial number of files from the Germany Emergency Committee from the years 1933-42, and from its successor, the Friends Relief Service, Refugees and Aliens Section, 1943-1948. Additionally, a large amount of source material on cases administered by the American Friends Service Committee held in the Balch Institute, Philadelphia, awaits further scrutiny.

3.  Domestic Permits

Another method of gaining entry to Britain was to obtain employment.  In effect, this meant applying for the type of job that could not be filled by a British person.  At this time such posts were predominantly in domestic service; butlers, maids and cooks. In common with other refugee organizations the Quakers assisted those who wished to use this method of escaping from Nazi Germany and Austria by matching applicants and posts.  For example, a domestic service pool was set up in Manchester. The minutes from just two months in early 1939 record 33 posts found and over 50 visas obtained.   This information from Manchester forms part of a detailed study described below, but it is to be assumed that such an initiative was not unique and that further regional studies would indicate the extent of the involvement in this area of refugee assistance.

To date the following three detailed analyses of this work, one in a German centre and two in English centres, have been made:

(i) Emigration - Bad Pyrmont
Mary Friedrich was married to a German who was eventually punished for assisting Jews by incarceration in Buchenwald, from where he was liberated by the Americans. Both were committed Quakers working at Quaker centres, first in Nuremberg, then in Bad Pyrmont.  As an Englishwoman Mary was ideally suited to organize guarantors in England (with the help of Bloomsbury House).  In 1939 she arranged for 59 people to emigrate, of which 35 went to England.  Access to her mother’s papers has enabled her daughter, Brenda Bailey, to compile a comprehensive list of the named individuals who were helped to emigrate in this way.

(ii) Immigration – Manchester
As part of his study of refugees in the Manchester Region 1933-1945 Bill Williams of the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester has analysed the records of the Manchester Quaker Refugee Committee (MQRC).  These records document over seven hundred refugees who were saved or given substantial assistance by Manchester Quakers.
Once the refugees had arrived in Britain, they needed moral and financial support. The minutes of the MQRC illustrate the range of the assistance offered by the Quakers in Manchester and environs:

  • To provide hospitality and housing for refugees (including Lamb’s Guildhouse, Manchester. I.V.S.P. hostel 14 Birch Polygon, 4a Palatine Rd. Hostel. Wilson House, Childrens Hostel at Newton Heath).
  • To provide clothing, bedding, furniture for refugees – air shelters, blackout curtains.
  • To provide tuition and training (school, university) for refugees (first aid classes, sewing classes, language classes)
  • To organise artists’ and handicraft exhibitions for refugees, music recitals and education lectures by refugees.
  • To help obtain work permits, to help setting up shops and businesses.
  • To provide medical and dental care.
  • To make personal visits to child refugees.
  • To assist with employment by, among other things, advertising vacancies in the British press (e.g. Manchester Guardian, 2 July 1940).
  • To assist refugees interned on the Isle of Man to secure an improvement in conditions (1940).


Manchester is, of course, a major population centre, but it can be assumed that Quaker Meetings in other large towns afforded similar assistance and would hold similar records which would reward detailed scrutiny.

Case studies from the Manchester area

Peter Kurer can cite the following from his own experience: 

         Nine of the Kurer family were saved by Manchester Quakers giving guarantees for their family. Guarantees for four members of the Kurer family were given by Horatio and Mary Goodwin, while the remaining five family members, including the great grandmother who was then 91 years of age, received guarantees from other members of the Manchester Meeting. Additionally, the Manchester Quakers paid for Hans and Peter Kurer to attend a Quaker Boarding school for two years, after which their father could afford to pay the school fees.  In the meantime all had shelter and food in the Goodwin’s house.
Another example is Dr. Muriel Edwards of Wythenshaw, Manchester, an unmarried General Medical Practitioner, who offered hospitality to Hans-Peter Einstein, Oscar Einstein and Otto Wangermann from Austria. She treated these young men as her own children and saw them through school and university.
There are many other examples of private hospitality which may regrettably never be known, but it is to be hoped that publishing these details might encourage the emergence of similar instances of generosity.


One way of facilitating entry into Great Britain was to offer a place in a school. There were twelve Quaker boarding schools in Great Britain (all in England) at this time and 100 scholarships were provided so that refugees could attend these schools. Additionally, other financial arrangements were possible, ranging from offering places if the parents could guarantee the first term’s fees to places at reduced fees. Once a young person was attending the school, it was the policy to offer assistance with fees or remission of fees if the parents could no longer meet this expense, and there are recorded instances of individual Quakers or Quaker meetings providing such assistance.

(iii)  Ayton School

The only one of these twelve Quaker boarding schools to have been studied in detail is that at Great Ayton in Yorkshire. Through an initiative of Gill Jackson of the Ayton Old Scholars Association approximately 40 refugee scholars were identified, and those that could be contacted invited to submit autobiographical accounts to the old scholars magazine. These were published in 2005 and have encouraged further responses from old scholars so that more details have emerged. Subsequently, this work formed the basis of an academic essay.
As this school was intended for children of mixed marriages, it is likely that it had a greater number of refugees than other Quaker schools, but it is probable that each school had some.
From his own experience Peter Kurer can state that  Friends’ School Wigton  in Cumberland had a total of 125 pupils, of which six were refugees.
As more people realize that this information is of interest, additional details are coming to light.  For example in December 2008 John Dunston, himself the grandson of refugees from Austria, paid tribute to Leighton Park School, Reading.  Writing in the AJR [Association of Jewish Refugees] Journal, he recounted the distinguished careers of two of the refugee scholars who received places at the school, to which he himself was appointed as Head in 1996. It is to be hoped that more details will emerge of the identity and careers of refugee scholars in Quaker schools in England.


This is not intended as a definitive document, but as a start to which more should be added.   It is in an attempt to encourage the filling of this vacuum in our history that this manuscript is submitted.  In the later thirties there were fewer than 20,000 Quakers in Britain. This short account shows that in proportion to their numbers the Quakers were among the most active group of rescuers in saving Jews from the holocaust. 


I am indebted to Peter Kurer for suggesting the outline of this paper, and to Peter Kurer and Bill Williams for providing the details of the Manchester Quaker Refugee Committee and other material from the Manchester area.  Grateful thanks are also due to the staff of the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London, for their assistance.

Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies,
Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London


Eric Hobsbawm

Peter Kurer is quite right. While everybody knows vaguely that the Quakers did wonderful work, including the saving of Jewish refugees, the full extent of their achievement has not been recognised. Neither all of the archive material nor the memories of those helped by the Quakers have been adequately explored, and it is most important that this should be done before the generation of the 1930s disappears. I think Peter Kurer is to be congratulated for initiating the idea of the Missing Chapter and contributing his own memories to it.
If he wants more supporters for this initiative I am ready to add my signature:

Professor Eric Hobsbawm CH, FBA, President, Birkbeck, University of London

Dan Stone

I concur. The important work of the Quakers ought to be recognised and, to that end, further research needs to be encouraged. Apart from the archives material in Friends House, London and in Philadelphia, I believe there are relevant papers in the archive of the Jewish Refugee Committee and elsewhere that could help to shed light on this vital, but woefully neglected history.  It would be wonderful if funding could be obtained to allow a PhD student or a more experienced researcher to carry out a substantial historical investigation into the role played by Quakers in saving the lives of Jews from the Third Reich; even better would be if that could happen soon, whilst the opportunity to interview the last survivors still exists.
I am happy to add my name to the list of supporters of Peter Kurer’s initiative.

.Professor. Dan Stone, FRSA.  Professor of Modern History. Royal Holloway, University of London  Egham Surrey  TW20 


Quakers as Rescuers


Edward Timms

The conclusion that the Quakers  ‘were among the most active groups of rescuers in saving Jews from the Holocaust’ is almost certainly correct.

That this most active group has not had appropriate coverage is a serious omission.

As stressed further research is needed and hopefully will continue.

It is important to remember that the Quakers are an international federation and branches in other countries were involved in rescue operations.

The case for greater international recognition by all Holocaust Museums and other international bodies is even stronger when account is taken of other publications about this period, including:

Michael Seadle, Quakers in Nazi Germany (Studies in Quakerism: Chicago, 1980)

Leonard Stout Kenworthy, An American Quaker inside Nazi Germany  (Quaker Publications, 1982)

Clifford Barnard, Two Weeks in May 1945: Sandbostel Concentration Camp and the Friends Ambulance Unit (London, Society of Friends, 1999)

William Howard Wriggins, Picking up the Pieces from Portugal to Palestine: Quaker Refugee Relief in World War Two (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2004)
An online search should make it possible to identify further documentation, for example:

There is some urgency in the recognition of the Quakers as rescuers, in particular in Holocaust Museums as there are still holocaust survivors alive who may be able to bear witness to published work and who may be able to initiate further research.

The history of Jewish survival from Nazi Europe is incomplete without the inclusion of detailed accounts of the work of the Quakers as rescuers.

To encourage the rectifying of this omission and further research along these lines and to introduce some urgency into this matter, we the undersigned support the authenticity of this work and express the hope that the information it contains will be added in appropriate museums and institutions around the world.

Professor Edward Timms OBE. Centre for German-Jewish Studies, Uni. of Sussex


Bill Williams

The Quakers of Manchester shared with the Jewish community the burden of supporting refugees arriving in the Manchester region from 1938. They found placements and guarantors for refugees who would otherwise have found it impossible to gain entry to Britain. They created a network of hostels for their accommodation and set up the Society of Friends Refugee Committee for Manchester and District, to supervise their welfare. Other Quakers gave help to refugees imprisoned as ‘enemy aliens’, working hard for their release.
Without Quaker support, many seeking entry to Britain would have been refused, and many who found their way to Manchester would have had much greater difficulty in the remaking of their lives.
At least 4,000 refugees were given support by Manchester Quakers. The Quakers also shared with the Jewish community the management of Region 10 of the Refugee Children’s Movement, with responsibility for nearly 1,000 Kindertransport children in the north of England.
Signatories to
The Missing Chapter:
How the British Quakers helped to save the Jews of
Germany and Austria from Nazi Persecution by Jennifer Taylor


Signature. -------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Peter F. Kurer; Contemporary Witness, Manchester.


Signature. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Professor E. Hobsbawm CH, FBA, President, Birkbeck, University of London.


Signature. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London.


Signature. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Professor  Dan Stone Prof. Modern History. University of London. TW20 0EX


Signature. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Professor Edward Timms OBE, Centre for German-Jewish Studies, University of Sussex.
Signature. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bill Williams  Research Fellow,Centre for Jewish Studies,University of Manchester.Honory President , Historic Adviser and a founder member of Manchester Jewish Museum.        


October 2009

Friends Service Council, ‘History of Organization’, < html> [accessed 30 December 2006] (p.5 of 71)

See Francois Lafitte, The Internment of Aliens (London:  Libris 1988), p.44.

See Heinrich Otto, Werden und Wesen des Quäkertums und seine Entwicklung in Deutschland, Vienna:  Sensen, 1972.

See Hans Schmitt, Quakers and Nazis – Inner Light in Outer Darkness (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), p.45.

See Lawrence Darton, Account of the Work of the Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens, First Known as the Germany Emergency Committee of the Society of Friends, 1933-1950 (London:  Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens, 1954), p.4.

Brenda Bailey, Address to ‘Commemorating the Kindertransport’, Friends House, London, 1 December 2008.

Darton, op. cit., p. 4.

Brenda Bailey, A Quaker Couple in Nazi Germany:  Leonhard Friedrich Survives Buchenwald (York: William Sessions, 1994), p. 65.

Cf. Sybil Oldfield, ‘”It Is Usually She”:  The Role of British Women in the Rescue and Care of the Kindertransport Kinder’, in: Shofar, vol. 23, No. 1 (2004), 57-70 (here 60).

Letter from Bertha Bracey quoted in Bailey, op. cit., p.95; Bailey spells Israel’s first name ‘Wilfrid’, Oldfield ‘Wilfried’.

See Hansard, House of Commons Daily Debates, 21 November 1938, quoted after  Sybil Oldfield, op. cit.,p. 60

‘Kindertransport, 1938-1940’, Holocaust Encyclopaedia, < Module id 10005260>[accessed 4 December 2008].


J. Roger Carter, ‘The Quaker International Centre in Berlin, 1920-1942’, Friends Historical Journal, Vol. 56, 1990, No. 1, 15-31 (here23).

See Schmitt, op. cit., p.121.

Bertha Bracey, A Ten Year’s Survey, 1933-43, London: Bloomsbury House n.d. [1943] p.11; copy in Friends House, London, Box 539/34.

See Schmitt, op. cit., p.121.

See Sybil Oldfield, op. cit., p.60.

Brenda Bailey, op. cit., p. 82.

Minutes of Manchester Quaker Refugee Committee (held at Friends House, Mount St. Manchester), 17 February 1939, Minute 11; 14 March 1939, Minute 9.

Brenda Bailey, op. cit., pp. 97-100; 102-3.

At the time of writing this work is awaiting publication.

Dated 23 November 1938 to 5 December 1944.

Library Guide 7: Quaker Schools in Great Britain and Ireland, issued by Friends Library.

Brenda Bailey, op. cit., p. 98.

‘Ayton’s Refugees – 1935-42’ (ed. by Gill Jackson) in Ayton Old Scholars Association Annual Report 2005, pp.28-36; accessible on school website:

Jennifer Taylor, ‘“Work […] of modest proportion”. Ayton School:  One Example of the Contribution of the Society of Friends to Saving the Refugees from Hitler’, in  ‘I didn’t want to float; I wanted to belong to something.’  Refugee Organizations in Britain 1933-1945, ed. by Andrea Reiter,Vol. 10, Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, Institute of Germanic and Romance Languages, University of London,  (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008), pp. 153-168.




After the occupation of Poland in September 1939 by the Germans and the Soviets, some 15,000 Jews managed to flee from Poland to then neutral Lithuania. When the Soviets then occupied Lithuania in June 1940, these refugees were trapped. The most desired destinations, Palestine and the U.S, were now practically inaccessible. To get out of Europe, they would need first a destination (immigration) visa to some place - almost any place -, then a transit visa for any country through which they needed to travel to reach that destination, and finally a permit from the Soviets to leave the "Soviet paradise". But where could they hope to go?

As practically all foreign consulates had already been closed, the refugees' chances were slim indeed. They became even slimmer when it became known, in July 1940, that the USSR was about to annex Lithuania, making it part of the USSR (it happened on August 3)

In late July, a scheme started to take shape that eventually saved some 2,200 lives. Somehow the idea was born of using Curaçao as a destination. Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean, was then a colony of the Netherlands. Holland itself had already been overrun by the Nazis, but its colonies remained free.

Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch Consul in Kaunas (Kovno), the Lithuanian capital at the time, provided a notation to the Jewish refugees that declared that entry into Curaçao required no visa (this was meant to be a ruse: only Curaçao's governor was authorized to admit aliens). This notation became known as a "Curaçao visa", because it appeared to legitimise Curaçao as a destination.

The only potential way to reach Curaçao from Lithuania at that time was by train across Siberia to Vladivostok, then by ship to Japan, and on from there across the Pacific. Therefore, a transit visa was required from Japan, allowing travel through that country and a limited time to stay there to arrange passage to Curaçao.

Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Consul in Kaunas, was cooperative and issued Japanese transit visas to all holders of Curaçao visas, even though he no doubt soon found out that these were not legitimate.

With both of these documents in hand, the refugees now needed one more vital document: a Soviet travel and exit permit to travel to Vladivostok and leave the USSR. Lithuanian citizens, who became Soviet citizens as of the annexation, in principle had no chance to get permission to leave: for a Soviet citizen to wish to leave was considered treasonous by the Soviet state. The Polish refugees, however, were still Polish citizens, and as such they were in a better position. No one knew how the Soviets, always unpredictable, would react to a request to leave. All the refugees feared that on their way through Siberia they might be pulled off the train. But it was their only chance. Not all took the risk of applying to the Soviets, but many did.

The Soviets, i.e. the NKVD (Stalin's secret police, later renamed KGB), for unknown reasons actually allowed the Jewish refugees, almost all Polish, to proceed to Vladivostok and to leave for Japan. As a result, about 2,200 Jews made it safely to Japan. None reached Curaçao, but that had not really been their intention. They survived, while those who remained behind in Lithuania were systematically killed after the June 1941 German invasion.

The Dutch and Japanese sides of this triangle have been widely researched and written about.
Both Zwartendijk and Sugihara have been recognized and honoured for their humanitarian acts. They have been honoured both by their own governments and by Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust Memorial Centre which bestowed upon them the recognition of "Righteous Gentiles".

About the Soviet side in the Curaçao Visas affair we remain totally in the dark, and it is this link we would like to illuminate.

Soviet experts believe that it has to have been a top-level Soviet decision, dictated from Stalin on down, that permitted the escaping Polish Jews to travel across the USSR to Vladivostok in order to get to Japan. But were there perhaps also "Soviet angels" at lower levels to help this along? While the Curaçao visas and the Japanese transit visas were issued in the last week of July and into August 1940, the Soviets issued their exit permits much slower, over several months, and actual travel of these refugees to Japan spread out into the spring of 1941.

The departure from the USSR of such a sizable body of people in a relatively short period of time would indeed suggest a high-level political decision - not likely motivated by humanitarian considerations. These people had not fled into the Soviet Union but into neutral Lithuania, and the Soviets' invasion into the Baltics had surprised and trapped them there. One may assume that the Soviets found it politically expedient to be rid of them for a ny number of reasons. But so far, we only have assumptions, nothing more.

What we're trying to find out about is the source of the decision to allow a couple of thousand refugees, citizens of other countries, mostly Poland, to move along toward Japan with their visas for Curaçao or other places.

So far we have found no one who has researched the NKVD files on this subject.

The most likely individuals who would have shaped this policy in 1940 were:

a. Stalin himself
b. Molotov, the Foreign Minister
c. Dekanozov, Molotov's deputy in charge of the process of incorporating Lithuania into the USSR in 1940
d. Beria, the NKVD chief

We are most anxious to learn of any records already known about from any Russian archives - and how one can gain access to whichever archive these records came from.

Would you be able to give us some guidance on this?

Would you be able to help us reach the NKVD and Russian Foreign Ministry archives?

Would you know, or know of, a Russian-speaking historian who could research such papers -- possibly a suitable PhD student ? We seriously believe that there is a Doctoral Thesis in this research.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has just finished an online version of the "Flight and Rescue" exhibition in 2001.  It is excerpted from that exhibition and the book.   The link: