Chronology of Rescue by Swiss Diplomat Charles "Carl" Lutz
Charles “Carl” Lutz, Consul for Switzerland in Budapest, Hungary, 1942-45, and Gertrud Lutz,* Wife of Consul Carl Lutz, Budapest, Hungary
Carl Lutz (1895-1975) was the first neutral diplomat in Budapest to rescue Jews. He is credited with inventing the Schutzbrief (protective letter) for Jewish refugees in Budapest. After March 19, 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary and the new government of Döme Sztojay closed the Hungarian borders to Jewish emigration. In tough negotiations with the Nazis and the Hungarian government, Lutz obtained permission to issue protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to Palestine. Using a ruse and interpreting the 8,000 “units” not as persons but as families, he and his staff issued tens of thousands of additional “protective letters." He established 76 Swiss safe houses throughout Budapest and, with the help of his wife Gertrud, liberated Jews from deportation centers and death marches. In 1942-43, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Lutz had helped 10,000 Jewish children and young people to emigrate to Palestine. Lutz worked with hundreds of Jewish volunteers who helped him process the protective letters and distribute them throughout Budapest. Lutz was told that as long as he stayed in Budapest, his protectees would survive. He is credited by Jewish relief agencies with saving 62,000 Jews from the Nazi Holocaust. Carl Lutz was made Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Authority in 1965. In addition, he has been declared an honorary citizen of the State of Israel. Carl Lutz died in 1975 at the age of 80.
March 30, 1895
Born in Walzenhausen, Canton Appenzell, Switzerland.
Apprentices and receives commercial training with a textile company in St. Margrethen, Switzerland.
Emigrates to the United States.
Works in Granite City, Illinois, USA.
Studies at Central Wesleyan College, Warrenton, Missouri, USA.
June – September 1920
Obtains summer job as correspondent at Swiss Legation in Washington, DC.
Lutz is named Chancellor at Swiss Legation, Washington, DC.
Enrolls at George Washington University (law and history).
Lutz is awarded Bachelor of Arts, Washington University, Washington, DC.
Serves as Chancellor, Swiss Consulate, Philadelphia.
Lutz is Chancellor, Swiss Consulate, St. Louis.
Carl Lutz marries Gertrud Fankhauser.
Lutz is named Vice-Consul at Swiss General Consulate, Jaffa; he is also responsible for the German interests and the Swiss Consulate, Tel Aviv.
Intervened on behalf of 2,500 German nationals in Palestine who were being deported as enemy aliens by the British.
Lutz serves as executive in Berne, Law Section of Federal Political Department.
January 2, 1942
Consul Lutz arrives in Budapest
January 1942 to April 1945
Lutz is Vice-Consul in Budapest, chief of the Department of Foreign Interests of the Swiss Legation. Also represents the interests of the United States, Britain and several other countries that had severed relations with Hungary because of its alliance with Germany.
Carl Lutz initiates the practice of issuing Schutzbriefe (protective letters) on the basis of Palestine Certificates, in cooperation with the Budapest office of the Jewish Council for Palestine. This document is designed to protect Jewish children waiting for immigration to Palestine. Carl Lutz helped 10,000 Jewish children and young people immigrate to Palestine.
March 19, 1944
The Germans occupy Hungary. Hundreds of desperate Budapest Jews besiege the American legation, where Carl Lutz has his headquarters. Jewish Council of Palestine office seized by pro-Nazi Hungarian officials. Hungarian borders are closed against immigration.
Consul Lutz has 8,000 persons register for immigration to Palestine. Lutz is not immediately aware of deportation plans. After receiving secret information about planned deportations, Lutz decides to appeal for help from other neutral legations, including the Vatican, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal, for an intervention with Hungarian officials. Angelo Rotta becomes spokesman on behalf of the neutral legations.
Lutz continues issuing Schutzbriefe (letters of protection). The bearer was protected by the Swiss Embassy while waiting to emigrate to Palestine.
May 15, 1944
Deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau begin. Deportations are mostly from the Hungarian countryside. Lutz places the staff of the Jewish Council from Palestine under his diplomatic protection, and renames it “Department of Emigration of the Swiss Legation.” Later moved to a building called the “Glass House.”
Lutz starts to issue tens of thousands of Schutzbriefe (protective letters), indicating applicants for immigration under formal Swiss protection. Lutz receives support by the newly appointed Swiss representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Friedrich Born.
Consul Lutz gives Raoul Wallenberg invaluable instructions on how to issue protective letters, which he often calls safe conduct passes, to save Jews in Budapest. Lutz’s activities also serve as a model for the Spanish, Portuguese, and Vatican embassies.
July 8, 1944
Horthy, ceding to international pressure, orders the stop of deportations of Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Almost all Hungarian Jews from the countryside have already been murdered. Only the 250,000 Jews of Budapest remain in Hungary.
July 24, 1944
Establishes the “Glass House” at Vadász Street in Budapest.
Based on a tentative understanding with the Hungarian authorities, Consul Lutz attempts to obtain a safe haven in Switzerland for at first 40,000 and later even for 200,000 Hungarian Jews. The Swiss Foreign Minister, Marcel Pilet-Golaz, accepts. The agreement is torpedoed twofold: a) Veesenmayer refuses to give German transit permits and Eichmann hints that he would murder the Jews en route, and b) the British refuse absolutely to have these people transferred from Switzerland to Palestine after the war.
Consul Lutz persuades authorities to let Jews protected by Switzerland be placed in 76 geschützte Häuser (protective houses) in the Szent-Istvan area of Budapest. There are over 30,000 persons carrying Lutz’s Schutzbriefe in these buildings. Later, 32 more Safe houses are added at the request of Raoul Wallenberg. Consul Lutz, with meager funds from the consulate, helps feed the inhabitants of this ghetto.
Lutz works with 500 Jewish Chalutzim (pioneers) who provide him with rapid communication with the entire community of Budapest and the Hungarian underground. This organization alerts Lutz to the transfer of Jews, deportations, death marches and actions by the Nazis and Arrow Cross. One hundred Chalutzim die in the fulfillment of their duty.
Lutz persuades pro-Nazi Arrow Cross to validate his letters of protection.
October 15, 1944
Hungarian Arrow Cross under Ferenc Szalasi take power and oust Horthy with the help of the German army. The Arrow Cross, supported by German, Croatian and Bosnian SS troops, murder tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest.
Four thousand Jews seek protection within the American legation, shielded by Consul Lutz.
Because of Lutz’s activities, the Szent-Istvan area escapes attack during this period.
Hungarian officials compel Lutz, Wallenberg and Born to transfer several thousand of their protected Jews to a fenced in ghetto in Pest. 70,000 people fill this ghetto, who suffer from starvation and cold.
Lutz continues to protect his Safe houses from the Arrow Cross bands. Lutz and wife, Gertrud, obtain releases of Jews from the concentration camp at Obuda. Lutz continues to rescue Jews from German and Arrow Cross death marches.
German minister Veesenmayer requests permission from Berlin to murder Consul Lutz. (Berlin never answers.) Consul Lutz evades Arrow Cross, who seem to be out to kill him.
Consul Lutz rescues hundreds of Budapest Jews from infamous German death marches.
Acting under the protective umbrella of the Swiss legation, the Chalutzim youth distribute thousands of forged protective letters to Jews in the death marches, saving them.
Occasionally, an entire death march column is rescued and returned to Budapest. The SS and Arrow Cross are greatly chagrined. Szálasi lodges a protest with the Swiss for “sabotaging the Hungarian-German war effort.” Minister Veesenmayer asks Berlin to kill the Consul.
Raids are conducted in the Swiss-protected buildings, looking for persons in possession of forged protective letters. Some are forced to go to Óbuda brickyards and on the death marches. Consul Lutz and his wife, Gertrud, frequently intervene and save people.
All foreign representatives are ordered to leave Budapest. Consul Carl Lutz stays on with the intention of protecting thousands of Jews in the international ghetto. This area is under the protection of various neutral governments. He stays on as “a matter of conscience.” Arrow Cross bands attack and destroy the Swedish Legation. Swedish Minister Carl Ingvar Danielsson barely escapes death.
December 25, 1944
Soviet army encircles Budapest. Consul Lutz and refugees are besieged in the residence of the British Legation in Buda. Lutz is cut off from his office at the American legation in Pest. Lutz appoints Swiss lawyer Peter Zürcher to be his temporary representative. Zürcher persuades SS commanders, on threat of war crimes prosecution, to protect the Jews of the Pest ghetto. As a result, most of the 70,000 Jews of the Pest ghetto survive.
Both Carl Lutz and Peter Zürcher contribute substantially to preserving the lives of the Jews of Budapest, of whom 124,000 survived. This is probably the largest rescue of Jews in the entire Holocaust.
January through March 1945
Lutz and his wife, along with Jewish refugees, hide in the air shelter of the abandoned British Legation on the right bank of the Danube. Pest is occupied by Soviet troops on January 17 and 18.
Lutz is stationed in Berne and Zurich, Section for Foreign Interests of the Federal Political Department.
Carl and Gertrude Lutz divorce.
Special Mission for the Lutheran World Federation in Israel in connection with German former missions.
Lutz marries Magda Csànyi, Budapest, Hungary.
Lutz is named Consul General in Bregenz, Austria.
Consul Lutz retires in Berne, Switzerland.
Yad Vashem honors Carl Lutz as a Righteous Among the Nations.
February 13, 1975
Carl Lutz dies in Berne at age 80.
Visas for Life project produces traveling exhibit on Charles Lutz; premieres in Los Angeles, California. The exhibit tours throughout Switzerland, Australia, Canada, etc.
Exhibit honoring Charles Lutz and other diplomats opens in Bern, Switzerland. In attendance is the President of Switzerland.
Agnes Hirschi, daughter of Carl Lutz, begins work on autobiography.
Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats exhibit opens in Budapest, Hungary, at the National Library. Attended by the President of Hungary and the diplomatic corps. Carl Lutz is honored in the exhibit.
Agnes Hirschi, daughter of Carl Lutz, who lives in Bern, Switzerland, becomes European Exhibit coordinator of Visas for Life.
Documentary film on diplomatic rescue, Diplomats for the Damned, premieres at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theater. Film is distributed along with student guide to schools and airs on the History Channel. The film honors Carl Lutz.
Book on Carl Lutz, Dangerous Diplomacy: The Story of Carl Lutz, Rescuer of 62,000 Hungarian Jews, by Dr. Theo Tschuy, is published. Book receives literary prize.
Swiss government issues postage stamp honoring Carl Lutz.
Consul Carl Lutz becomes honorary citizen of the State of Israel.
Becsület és batorsag: Carl Lutz és a budapesti zsidok (Honour and Courage: Carl Lutz and the Budapest Jews), by Dr. Theo Tschuy, is published in Hungary.
Carl Lutz is honored at the US State Department. Agnes Hirschi presents Carl Lutz medal to US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Members of Congress.
Carl Lutz is honored at a Visas for Life exhibition in Miami, Florida, at the Holocaust Center.
Carl Lutz is honored at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem, Israel. Carl Lutz medals are presented to VIPs.
July 26, 2004
Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats exhibition opens at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry building in Budapest. This is for a gathering of Hungarian diplomats in honor of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic rescue in Budapest. Agnes Hirschi, Visas for Life European Exhibit Coordinator, organizes this program.
Carl Lutz is honored in a Visas for Life exhibit at the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration, New York City. His daughter, Agnes Hirschi, is a featured speaker.
Updated November 5, 2017