Fact Sheet on Diplomatic Rescue


Fact Sheet – Diplomatic Rescue in the Holocaust, 1933-1945


Compiled by Eric Saul

Updated October 8, 2017


The purpose of this document is to provide a fact sheet on rescue of Jews and other refugees during the Holocaust by diplomats.  Diplomats were in a position to provide invaluable paperwork in order for Jews and other victims of the Nazis to leave occupied zones for safety.  These papers included passports, visas (entry, exit, and transit), letters of transit, proof of citizenship or nationality.  In addition, diplomats could actually protect victims of the Nazis by providing them safe haven within the confines of the protected areas.  Among the most significant mass rescues in the Holocaust were those accomplished by sympathetic diplomats who represented countries all over the world.  In addition to representing countries, diplomats also represented the Vatican, in Rome.  Some of these papal diplomats, called nuncios, also provided valuable paperwork enabling Jews to survive Nazi occupation.  Among these documents were baptismal certificates.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as Red Cross representatives from individual countries, also provided paperwork and documents to victims of the Nazis.  Red Cross representatives had diplomatic status.

The Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats program has been researching diplomatic rescue since 1993.  In that period, we have identified 347 diplomats who were engaging in the aid and rescue of Jews and other refugees, 1933-1945.  Some of these diplomats even represented countries allied or associated with the Nazis.  These countries included Italy and Hungary.  Surprisingly, there were a number of German diplomats who helped Jews to survive.

This document will provide a statistical analysis of the scope of diplomatic rescue.


“Visas!  We began to live visas day and night.  When we were awake, we were obsessed by visas.  We talked about them all the time.  Exit visas.  Transit visas.  Entrance visas.  Where could we go?  During the day we tried to get the proper documents, approvals, stamps.  At night, in bed, we tossed about and dreamed about long lines, officials, visas.  Visas.”

-          Austrian visa recipient


Number of diplomats who rescued or helped Jews: 347.

Number of diplomats officially honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations: 37.

Number of diplomats commended by Yad Vashem: 1 – Hiram “Harry” Bingham, IV

Number of countries diplomats represented (including Vatican/Holy See): 41.

Number of countries in which diplomats rescued Jews: 24.

Number of geographic regions in which diplomats rescued Jews: 38

Years during which diplomatic rescue took place: 1933-1945.

Estimated number of people who survived due to diplomatic rescue: 250,000 – 350,000.

Largest number of diplomats rescuing Jews in one area: 39 diplomats in Budapest, Hungary, 1944-1945.  The diplomats were aided by hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers.

Highest number of Jews saved by diplomats: more than 100,000 in Budapest (out of a population of 200,000 Jews); thousands of individuals were helped by Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux, France, June 1940; rescue action by Count Folke Bernadotte of the Swedish Red Cross in Germany: 19,839, of which approximately 7,000 were Jews.

Countries with the largest number of diplomats rescuing Jews: Italy (36), Sweden (25), Red Cross (24), USA (24), Switzerland (23), Turkey (23), Spain (21), Portugal (19), Romania (18), Hungary (15), Great Britain (14), Poland (12), Germany (11), The Netherlands (9), Vatican/Holy See (9), Argentina (8).

Number of diplomats killed: 2, Henryk Slawik, Polish Chargé d'Affaires in Budapest, Hungary, issued thousands of documents certifying that Jewish refugees were Christians.  He was caught and deported to Mauthausen, where he was murdered. Frango Puncuch, Yugoslavian Honorary Consul in Warsaw, Poland, 1939-1944, who was killed during the Warsaw uprising in 1944.  Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish diplomat in Budapest, was arrested by the Soviet authorities after the liberation of Budapest in 1945. His whereabouts have never been officially determined.  Dutch diplomat Herman Laatsman was deported to five concentration camps, along with members of his family.  His son was killed in reprisal for his rescue activities.  Turkish diplomat Selahattin Ülkümen's wife was killed by the Nazis in reprisal for his diplomatic rescue activities on the island of Rhodes.  Anna Binder, a Czech diplomat, was deported to Auschwitz for helping Jews.  She barely survived the war.

Diplomats who suffered the most economic hardship: Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes (Portugal), Chiune Sugihara (Japan).

Largest organized diplomatic rescue efforts: 33 Italian diplomats were active in the Italian zones of occupation of Yugoslavia, Greece and southern France and Tunisia.  Italian diplomats were responsible for saving tens of thousands of Jews in their zones of occupation.  The diplomats worked in cooperation with the Italian army.  Some estimates range as high as 45,000.  23 Turkish diplomats, all of whom were Muslims, were active in Europe saving Jews.

Heads of State and royalty who saved or aided Jews: 8 - King Christian X of Denmark; King Boris III of Bulgaria; Carl Gustav V, King of Sweden; Edvard Benes, President of the Czechoslovakian Government in Exile; Castenedu Castro, President of El Salvador; Jean-Marie Musy, President of the Federal Council of Switzerland; George Damaskinos, Regent for Greek Government in Exile and Head of the Greek Orthodox Church; Manuel L. Quezon, President of the Philippines.  Also deserving mention are Princess Alice of Greece; Elizabeth, Queen Mother of Belgium; Queen Mother Helena of Romania; and Queen Wilhelmina of Holland.

Prime Ministers who saved Jews: Per Albin Hansson, Prime Minister of Sweden, allowed tens of thousands of refugees to immigrate to Sweden; Prime Minister Miklós Kállay of Hungary; Prime Minister Calinescu of Romania allowed Jews to pass through Romania before the war broke out.

Foreign Ministers who saved Jews: Giuseppe Bastiannini, Italy, Governor of Dalmatia, 1941-43, and Undersecretary, Italian Foreign Ministry, 1944-45.  On at least two occasions, Bastiannini talked Italian dictator Mussolini out of deporting and handing over Jews to the Nazis.  Christian Guenther, Swedish Foreign Minister, negotiated the release of Danish and Norwegian prisoners of war held in German camps.  He later authorized the rescue of Scandinavian Jewish prisoners of war from German concentration camps.  Rolf Whitting, Foreign Minister of Finland, refused to cooperate in the deportation of Finnish Jews and Jewish refugees in Finland.  More than 2,000 Jews living in Finland were saved.

Most famous diplomat to save Jews: Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who became Pope John XXIII in 1958.  He is credited with saving thousands of Jews by issuing Vatican protective papers to Jews trapped in central Europe.  He served as Pope until his death in 1963. He was responsible for instituting the Vatican II.

Number of Vatican nuncios (diplomats) rescuing Jews in Europe: 9 - Monsignor-Archbishop Duca Francesco Borgonicini, Monsignor Giuseppe Burzio in Bratislava, Slovakia, Monsignor Philippe Bernardini in Bern, Switzerland, Monsignor Andrea Cassulo in Bucharest, Romania, Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Istanbul, Turkey, Monsignor Angelo Rotta in Sofia, Bulgaria and in Budapest, and Father Gennaro Verolino and Father Köhler in Budapest, Hungary, Father O’Flaherty in Rome.

Most successful rescue effort by a single diplomat: Carl Lutz, Swiss Vice Consul in Budapest, Hungary, 1942-45.  With the aid of the Jewish community in Budapest, Lutz is credited by the Jewish Agency for Palestine with materially aiding in the rescue of 62,000 Jews in Budapest.  Lutz was aided by hundreds of Zionist youth volunteers.

Swiss lawyers appointed by Carl Lutz: Peter Zürcher and Ernst Vonrufs, along with Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, were credited with helping to save the Pest ghetto, with over 70,000 Jewish inhabitants.  Zürcher, Vonrufs and Wallenberg threatened the German SS commander with war crimes prosecution if he carried out his order to destroy the Pest ghetto.

Most successful rescue effort by a diplomat unaided: Portuguese diplomat Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux, France, June 17-19, 1940.  Mendes has been credited with saving thousands of individuals in Bordeaux and Bayonne.

Number of Jewish diplomats who saved Jewish and non-Jewish refugees: 8 – Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt, US Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Turkey, 1938-1945; George Mandel Mantello¸ diplomat representing El Salvador in Geneva, Switzerland; Julius Kuhl, Polish diplomat stationed in Bern, Switzerland; Solomon Ezrati, Spanish Consul in Salonika, Greece, 1941-45; Zimmerman, aid to Polish diplomat Henryk Slawik; Sally Guggenheim, honorary consul for Yugoslavia; a refugee himself, Stefan Schwamm, posed as Red Cross diplomat in Rome; Willi Perl posed as a diplomat in various countries.  György (George) Adam posed as a Vatican diplomat in Budapest.

Most amount of money spent by a private individual in diplomatic rescue: George Mandel Mantello, Consul to El Salvador, spent tens of thousands of his own dollars printing and distributing protective papers throughout Europe.

Most unorthodox “diplomatic” rescues: Unauthorized diplomatic rescue was accomplished by Giorgio (Jorge) Perlasca, who was an Italian citizen and passed himself off as the Spanish Ambassador to Hungary, 1944-1945.  He is credited with saving thousands of lives.  Stefan Schwamm posed as a Red Cross representative in Rome in 1943 where he rescued Jews. Giuseppe Magno, honorary consul for Portugal in Milan, was relieved of his post for saving Jews, but refused to leave his position and continued to help Jews until the end of the war.  Willi Perl, an Austrian Jew, created Af-Al-Pi (“Despite Everything”), a rescue agency to help Jews emigrate from Central Europe.  Unable to get exit visas, he appointed himself a consul and printed his own.  György (George) Adam posed as a Vatican diplomat in Budapest and went on numerous missions to rescue Jews from deportation centers.

Number of women diplomats and wives of diplomats who rescued Jews: 8Aracy de Carvalho-Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, stationed in Berlin, Nina Langlet, Swedish Red Cross and wife of Dr. Valdemar Langlet, and Asta Nilsson, Swedish Red Cross in Budapest.   Gertrud Lutz, wife of Swiss diplomat Charles Lutz, was awarded the Righteous title by Yad Vashem for her lifesaving efforts in Budapest.  Carmen Santaella, wife of Spanish diplomat Dr. Jose Santaella, was also designated Righteous Among the Nations. Valerie Torres, Salonika, Solange Pinzauti-Fivé, French Consulate in Rome, Italy, 1943, helped Jews and other refugees in Rome during the Nazi occupation. Anna Binder, Czech diplomat.

Number of German diplomats who saved Jews: 11 – Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (Copenhagen), Gerhardt Feine (Budapest), Fritz Kolb (Berlin), Wilhelm Melchers (Berlin), Eitel Friedrich Möllhausen (Rome), Baron Wolfgang zu Putlitz (London), Dr. Riensberg (Stockholm), Werner Otto von Hentig (Berlin), Heinrich Wolff (Jerusalem), Timotheus Wurst (Palestine), and German Consul in Zagreb.

Number of diplomats who were from Nazi-allied nations: 36 – 33 Italian diplomats; Chiune Sugihara, Japanese consul in Kovno, Lithuania, 1940; Boyan Atanassov, Bulgarian Diplomat in Paris, France, 1940; and Kauko Supanen, Vice Consul for Finland in Vienna, Austria, 1938.

Largest percentage of Jews saved in a Nazi-occupied country, directly saved by the intervention of a foreign diplomat: 99.7% of Danish Jews (7,900 individuals) survived because of the intervention of German diplomat and intelligence officer Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz.

Number of Red Cross representatives helping to save Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe: 17Jean de Bavier, Swiss Red Cross, Budapest; Folke Bernadotte, Swedish Red Cross, Germany; Friedrich Born, International Red Cross, Budapest, Hungary; Edouard Chapuisat, International Red Cross in southeastern Europe, Georges Dunand, International Red Cross, Slovakia; Dr. Gyorgy Gergely, Red Cross Director, Budapest, Hungary, 1939-1945; Alexander Kasser, Swedish Red Cross, Budapest; Karl Kolb, International Red Cross, Romania; Valdemar and Nina Langlet, Swedish Red Cross, Budapest; Sarolta Lukács, Hungarian Red Cross, Budapest; Roland Marti, International Red Cross, Berlin, Germany; Asta Nilsson, Swedish Red Cross, Budapest; Vladimir de Steiger, Delegate to the International Red Cross in Transnistria; Hans Weyermann, Chargé of the International Red Cross, Budapest.  In addition, four Hungarians volunteered to work with the Red Cross in Hungary.

Number of Asian diplomats who saved Jews: 6.  Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara saved approximately 3,500 Jews in Kovno, Lithuania, in July and August 1940.  A Chinese diplomat issued thousands of visas to Austrian Jews in Vienna in 1938-1940.  The visas they issued were unauthorized, and both diplomats were reprimanded for their actions.  In addition, there were Chinese diplomats helping Jews in Berlin, Milan, Hamburg and Marseilles.

Diplomats who saved famous Jewish refugees: Hiram “Harry” Bingham IV, US Vice Consul in charge of visas in Marseilles, France, in 1940-1941; Gilberto Bosques, Mexican Consul General in Vichy, in 1940-1943; and Vladimir Vochoc, Czech Consul.  These diplomats worked closely with Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee.  They helped save such notable Jewish artists and intellectuals as Marc Chagall, André Breton, Max Ernst, Heinrich Mann, Leon Feuchtwanger, and several Jewish Nobel Prize winners.

First diplomat to save Jews: Frank Foley, British consul in charge of visas, stationed in Berlin, Germany, 1933.  Foley is credited with issuing 10,000 visas.  Foley worked with US diplomat Raymond Hermann Geist.

Diplomats related to royalty – 1: Count Folke Bernadotte was nephew to the Swedish King Carl Gustav V.  King Gustav approved of the rescue of Danish Jews and protested the deportation of Hungarian Jews.


Officially Recognizing Diplomatic Rescuers of the Holocaust

The Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats project has identified 347 diplomats who were involved in the aid and rescue of Jews in the Holocaust.  They represented 41 separate countries, which included the Vatican and the International Committee for the Red Cross.  Diplomats operated in 38 distinct geographic areas within Europe, which included 24 countries.  These were Nazi-occupied territories, or satellite countries of the Nazi empire.  Diplomats also operated in neutral countries, such as Spain, Turkey, Switzerland and Sweden.  

Yad Vashem has only officially recognized and honored 37 diplomats for rescuing Jews.  Diplomats represent a special case for Yad Vashem, as a number of diplomats were protected from reprisals and punishment by the Nazis by virtue of international diplomatic laws and protocols.  Diplomats, by treaty and convention, are immune from arrest and punishment in the countries in which they are serving.  Despite this, a number of diplomats were arrested for aiding Jews and other refugees.  Two diplomats were murdered. 

The Visas for Life Project has nominated a number of diplomats that we believe to be worthy of recognition for aiding Jews and others.  Only a handful of these individuals have been recognized.  Yad Vashem believes that most of these diplomats do not meet criteria for recognition.  The reasons they stated were that their lives were not in danger or that they were not in violation of their country's policies regarding the aid of Jews.  Below is a commentary on the process and policies for honoring individuals for the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.


The total number of individuals honored and recognized by Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center (26,513 as of 10/8/2017) does not reflect the actual number of people who rescued or aided Jews in Europe.  Yad Vashem’s list, in fact, represents only a fraction of the individuals who actually saved Jews in Europe. 

Probably the most important reason that Yad Vashem does not recognize many thousands of additional rescuers is that it does not conduct original research to identify individuals who aided or rescued Jews in the Holocaust.  They only recognize people who are nominated.  Most nominations come from individuals who were rescued or their descendants.  In the case of mass rescue, a number of individuals who were saved were not aware specifically of who was responsible for their survival.  As a result, they could not possibly submit a nomination or recommendation for memorialization.

Yad Vashem has very narrow criteria for who is honored and recognized.  The criteria for recognition were decided in legislation created by the Israeli parliament (Knesset).  In addition, Yad Vashem has developed a clarification of its criteria since then.  Among the criteria for recognition is “acknowledged mortal risk for the rescuer during the endeavor – during the Nazi regime, the warnings clearly stated that whoever extended a hand to assist the Jews placed not only their own life at risk but also the lives of their loved ones.”[1]

Furthermore, the decisions rendered by the administrators and the Committee of the Righteous on who is to be honored are very often subjective.  An individual who is honored must have been at “acknowledged mortal risk” as a consequence of their efforts to save Jews.[2]  Assessing mortal risk can be highly subjective.  There are, in fact, numerous individuals who have been nominated and for various reasons have not been approved for recognition or memorialization.  For example, Mexican Consul General Gilberto Bosques, stationed in Marseilles, France, and his staff aided an estimated 1,400 Jews by protecting them during roundups.  Bosques housed, fed, and protected these Jews for many months.  They were kept on consular grounds, where they were protected by his diplomatic status.  Bosques also helped many thousands of Spanish Republican soldiers who fled to Southern France.  In addition, Bosques was responsible for having Mexico break diplomatic relations both with France and with Germany.  Mexico then sided with the Allies against Germany.  For these actions, Bosques was arrested along with members of his staff.  Yad Vashem refused to recognize Bosques or his staff because their imprisonment was not under particularly harsh conditions.[3]

These are some additional examples. 

There were more than 50 Italian diplomats who rescued or aided Jews in their zones of occupation, which included Southern France, Athens, and Croatia.[4]  Tens of thousands of Jews were aided by these diplomats, who refused to cooperate with the Nazis in the arrest or deportation of Jews.  These diplomats were nominated in extensive documents provided to Yad Vashem by the Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats project.  These documents were based on original sources from the Italian Foreign Ministry and on testimony of Jewish community leaders.  Not one of these Italian diplomats has been honored or recognized by Yad Vashem for their courageous actions and initiatives in saving Jews.  There are numerous other examples of rescuers who have not been recognized.

Yad Vashem officially only recognizes 22 Danes for aiding Jews during the planned deportation in October 1943.  Yet there were literally hundreds of additional Danes who participated in the mass rescue of the nearly 8,000 Jews in Denmark.[5]

The Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) was an American rescue organization that participated in aiding more than 2,000 Jews and others in Marseilles, France, in 1940-1941.  They were more than 50 individuals who were part of this rescue network.[6]  Yet, only Varian Fry, the first leader of the organization, has been honored from this organization.  Attempts to have other individuals recognized have been to no avail.  Yad Vashem, in an official statement, said that they only recognized leaders of organizations.

As a rule, the numerous Holocaust museums worldwide, including the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, DC, do not display or have materials on rescuers other than those officially recognized by Yad Vashem.[7]

Yad Vashem, with a few exceptions, does not recognize organizations for rescuing or aiding Jews.  There are a few exceptions, such as Zegota (Polish Council to Aid Jews).

Thousands of Jews rescued their fellow Jews throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, neutral countries, and throughout the world.  Jews were at a much higher risk than others for being killed for saving Jews.  No public institution, including Yad Vashem, honors these courageous individuals.

Yad Vashem is the only organization in the world that documents and honors individuals for saving Jews during the Holocaust.  No other institution carries on this work. 

Yad Vashem is to be commended for taking the initiative to honor individuals who saved Jews during the Holocaust.  At the time, this was a unique historical program.  Very few countries or institutions have taken on the responsibility of honoring outsiders for their altruism and for risking their lives.

Nonetheless, the small number of individuals recognized by Yad Vashem for saving Jews in the Holocaust skews the research to make it appear as though very few individuals or organizations were active in rescuing Jews.  This gives the wrong impression that might be interpreted to mean that there were very few people willing to put themselves out to aid Jews.  This problem is compounded by the fact that all of the Holocaust research institutions and museums worldwide defer to Yad Vashem and their research on this matter.  This is a disservice to the thousands of courageous individuals who aided the Jewish people in the time of their greatest need.


[1] Yad Vashem website, downloaded 10/8/2017

[2] Yad Vashem website, downloaded 10/8/2017

[3] Barros Horcasitas, 2001, DeSierra, 1998

[4] Alfieri, 1948; Carpi, 1970; Carpi, 1972; Carpi, 1981; Carpi, 1994; Carpi in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Aid to Jews by Italians”, 729-730; Caracciolo, 1986; Herzer, 1989; Michaelis, 1978 Poliakov and Sabille, 1955; Verax [Roberto Ducci], 1944; Zuccotti,1987

[5] Bauer & Rozett, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Estimated Losses in the Holocaust,” pp. 1799-1800; Benz, in Laqueur, 2001, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, s.v. “Death Toll,” p. 145, states 116 lost; Flender, 1980; Goldberger, 1987; Valentin, 1953; Werner, 2002; Yahil, 1969

[6] Fry, 1945; Ryan, 1996

[7] Conversation with Director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sarah Bloomfield.  Bloomfield stated that the Museum decided during its early planning that it would not recognize anyone other than those honored by Yad Vashem.  The exhibit on rescue in the museum has the names of approximately 9,000 rescuers.  This list is based on Yad Vashem’s list.  There are no names on this list that are not recognized by Yad Vashem.


Bibliography: Diplomatic Rescue in the Holocaust, 1933-1945

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