Rescue in the Holocaust by Diplomats - Hiram Bingham, IV

 United States postage stamp honoring diplomatic rescuer Hiram "Harry" Bingham, IV.  Issued June 2006.

United States postage stamp honoring diplomatic rescuer Hiram "Harry" Bingham, IV.  Issued June 2006.


Hiram Bingham: Historic Background of Rescue in France



The purpose of this document is to provide a comprehensive survey of documents and information on the rescue and aid to refugees by Vice Consul Hiram “Harry” Bingham IV, who was the vice consul in charge of visas at the Marseilles consulate, 1937-1941.



Hiram “Harry” Bingham IV, was the Vice Consul in charge of visas, US consulate in Marseilles, France, 1940-41

After the fall of France and the Low Countries in June 1940, tens of thousands of refugees flooded into Southern France seeking refuge.  Many of these Jewish refugees were from Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg and the northern provinces of France.  Refugees sought escape at a number of consulates in southern France.  Few helped.  Because of the initiative of Hiram “Harry” Bingham IV in issuing visas and coordinating with refugee organizations, the US consulate would be a source of escape for many refugees.

During the crucial period of 1940-1941, Vice Consul Harry Bingham was in charge of the visa section at the United States consulate general in Marseilles.  His sympathies were with the refugees.  Bingham worked with the French resistance and at least one sympathetic officer in the French police. 

Bingham worked with numerous rescue and relief organizations in the Marseilles area, including:  the American Friends’ Service Committee (Quakers), the Unitarian Service Committee, the Mennonite Committee, the American Red Cross, the AFL/CIO, and the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC).  He did this on his own initiative.  Bingham received several commendations from these organizations for his work, including his work with the Unitarian Committee under Martha and Waitstill Sharp.  He was commended for arranging for papers to rescue Jewish orphans.  The Sharps were recently honored by Yad Vashem with the title of Righteous among the Nations for their efforts to save Jews.

Hiram Bingham is best known for his work in saving well-known European intellectuals with the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC).  This was documented in Varian Fry’s book Surrender on Demand.  However, the largest, and perhaps most important, part of Bingham’s work involved saving many of the non-famous refugees trapped in Southern France.  These were people who had no protection whatsoever, and could not receive the so-called “emergency” or “unblocked” visas.  Bingham often issued visas to these people liberally and within very short time periods.  Sometimes he issued visas within hours.  In one example, he issued visas to the entire Leichter family within one day.  Issuing visas this quickly was a violation of the Breckinridge Long State Department directive of June 26, 1940.  This directive required a lengthy investigative process by consuls in the field.  This investigative process was designed to ensure that refugees would not be a security threat to the U.S., that they would not have close relatives in Axis-controlled countries, and that they were not likely to become a public charge.  These investigations could drag on for weeks, or even months.

In one case, Bingham issued visas to 52 members of the Zucker family.  Bingham even helped the Zucker family obtain Spanish transit visas.

On several occasions, Hiram Bingham visited French concentration camps.  He did this on his own initiative and at his own expense.  He did this in order to expedite and streamline the issuing of visas to refugees in the French concentration camps.  While in the camps, he wrote an elaborate report on the harsh conditions in these camps.  This report was widely distributed to refugee agencies and even to the Secretary of State.

There is important evidence that Hiram Bingham issued thousands of visas in Marseilles.  According to a HICEM (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) report in 1940, the US consulate in Marseilles was issuing between 30 and 40 visas a day.  This would indicate that he was issuing between 150 and 200 visas per week, or between 7,500-10,000 visas total for the 13 months that he issued visas.

Further indication of the number of visas is given by the serial numbers on the visas issued.  On October 10, 1940, visa #27 was issued to the Lichtenstein family.  The visa issued to the Schachter family dated February 7, 1941, was #5,149.  Thus, it can be assumed that in the space of four months, more than 5,000 visas were issued by the US consulate in Marseilles.

Later, Bingham used his contacts in the underground to help two newly arrived American rescue agencies in their operations.  One was Dr. Frank Bohn, representing the American Federation of Labor.  The other was the Emergency Rescue Committee, headed by Varian Fry and numerous volunteers from America and Europe.  In coordination with these rescue groups, Bingham continued issuing hundreds of visas for endangered refugees. In addition, he issued some documents and visas with aliases to help provide cover for the refugees.

Bingham's humanitarian actions were in violation of U.S. State Department immigration policies and regulations and threatened official neutrality in Nazi-occupied France.  In regard to helping refugees, Secretary of State Cordell Hull sent a telegram to the US consulate in Marseilles.  In the telegram, Hull warned officials at the consulate not to cooperate with “Dr. Bohn and Mr. Fry and other persons, however well meaning their motives may be, in carrying on activities evading the laws of countries with which the United States maintains friendly relations.”  

Because of the danger of the war, Bingham sent his family back to the United States.  Diplomatic protection for Consul Bingham was not assured.  For example, Czech Consul Vladimir Vochoc, who was also stationed in Marseilles and worked with the Emergency Rescue Committee distributing ersatz Czech passports to refugees, was arrested and detained by Nazi and French authorities.  Brazilian ambassador de Sousa Dantas and Mexican Consul General Gilberto Bosques were both arrested by German and Vichy authorities in 1942.  Both were imprisoned in a German prison until 1944.

During this period, Bingham used his villa as a safe house for some of the most wanted refugees, including Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta as well as Thomas (Golo) Mann Jr.  In early August 1940, Bingham told Feuchtwanger, who was hiding in his villa, that he was in great personal danger according to Feuchtwanger’s diary published by Aufbau Verlag in Germany. 

In addition, many clandestine meetings were held at Bingham’s house.  At his villa, Bingham introduced Varian Fry to Captain Du Bois, an anti-Nazi member of the Marseilles police.  Du Bois provided secret information regarding French and Nazi arrests and internments to Bingham, Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee.  Du Bois also provided invaluable assistance in planning escape and rescue efforts. 

At first, the U.S. Consul General in Marseilles, Hugh Fullerton, ignored Bingham's activities.  Soon, however, Fullerton began to oppose Bingham's effort as a matter of State Department and local consulate policy.  Fullerton even threatened to have Varian Fry, Frank Bohn, and other American volunteers of the Emergency Rescue Committee arrested and deported from France.  Despite orders to the contrary, Bingham secretly continued to work with these underground organizations and continued to provide visas, papers and other assistance to refugees.

This statement was made by Miriam Davenport, Varian Fry’s assistant in the Emergency Rescue Committee:

“There were two more influential, albeit not publicized, backers of Varian’s work: in the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, and, in Marseilles, the American Vice-Consul, Hiram Bingham.”  [Davenport, 1999]

On one occasion, Fry and more than a dozen others in the rescue network were arrested and incarcerated on a prison ship by pro-Nazi French authorities.  Consul Bingham intervened to help get them all released.

Despite the risk to his career, Bingham continued his efforts on behalf of Jews and anti-Nazi refugees hiding in occupied France.  Bingham continued to provide special papers for refugees detained in French concentration camps.  These papers enabled the refugees to be released so that they could travel to the consulate and complete their paperwork.  Bingham would then issue affidavits in lieu of passports and visas to the U.S. Bingham had again far exceeded his authority by assisting those he knew were planning “illegal” escapes.  In addition, Bingham coordinated with the rescue organizations to develop escape plans for the refugees.  Dr. Frank Bohn said of him, "He is the Vice Consul in charge of visas...he has a heart of gold.  He does everything he can to help us..."

Despite the dangerous obstacles, Bingham, Fry, Bohn and other members of the Emergency Rescue Committee, including Mary Jane Gold, Charles Fawcett, Albert Hirschman, Bill Freir, Miriam Ebel and others, were able to rescue an estimated 2,000 or more Jews and other refugees who otherwise would have perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. 

Among those saved were notable artists and intellectuals, including: Andre Breton, poet; Marc Chagall, artist; Marcel Duchamp, artist; Max Ernst, artist-, Lion Feuchtwanger, historical novelist and author; Friedrich Bedrich Heine, a member of the executive of the German Social Democratic Party; Jacques Lipchitz, sculptor; Heinrich Mann, writer, brother of Thomas Mann; Andre Masson, artist; Dr. and Mrs. Otto Meyerhof, Nobel prize winning physicist, and their son Walter; and Franz Werfel, author of The Song of Bernadette and The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

In an impressive rescue, Bingham aided in the rescue of best-selling author Lion Feuchtwanger.  Feuchtwanger, an anti-Nazi German author who had been considered for the Nobel Prize in literature, had been arrested and interned in a French/Nazi concentration camp.  Lion Feuchtwanger was one of the men most wanted by Hitler in France as a result of his scathing attack on Hitler in his anti-Nazi historical novel The Oppermanns, published in 1934, which detailed the horrors of Nazism after Hitler rose to power.

American Consuls Harry Bingham and Miles Standish planned and implemented the rescue and escape of Lion Feuchtwanger from the concentration camp at Nimes.  Feuchtwanger was dressed in women’ s clothing and passed through several German checkpoints.  Feuchtwanger was taken to Bingham’s villa disguised as Bingham’s mother-in-law from Georgia.  There he was reunited with his wife Marta, who had also been released from a concentration camp.

In the summer of 1941, Bingham was transferred out of the visa section in Marseilles.  He was replaced by a Foreign Service officer opposed to granting visas to Jews and political refugees.  Bingham was reassigned to Lisbon and ultimately denied numerous promotions in the ensuing years. 

Varian Fry’s passport was not renewed and he was forced to leave France.

Consul Bingham always felt that his actions in Marseilles brought him into disfavor within the State Department.  He continued to be denied promotions and preferred assignments in the U.S. State Department.  In the fall of 1941, Bingham was ordered back to the U.S. and was reassigned to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In Argentina, Bingham reported on Nazi activities in South America.  The U.S. State Department refused to heed his repeated warnings of Nazi infiltration and smuggling of looted gold.  As a result of State Department inaction, Bingham submitted his resignation from the United States Foreign Service in early 1946.

Bingham always cherished the memory of his actions to save the lives of these courageous artists, intellectuals and political freedom fighters in southern France.

Hiram Bingham maintained lifelong friendships with many of the people he helped save.

After the war, Varian Fry wrote his account of the Rescue Committee in France after being deported by French authorities.  The book was titled Surrender on Demand. Fry personally inscribed a copy of this book to Bingham after the war with the words, “To Harry Bingham, my partner in the crime of saving human lives.”

Hiram "Harry" Bingham, IV, died on January 12, 1988, in his home in Salem, Connecticut.

On June 27, 2002, Bingham was honored by the US State Department.  US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented him posthumously with a Constructive Dissent award from the American Foreign Service Association for his humanitarian rescue actions in Marseilles. 

In June 2006, the US Postal Service honored Bingham with a commemorative US postage stamp.


References to Harry Bingham in Primary Sources

According to the book The Holocaust & The Jews of Marseilles (University of Illinois Press, 1996), author Professor Donna Ryan says Bingham frequently “acted against the wishes of the American consul, Hugh Fullerton, and directives from his own government.” 

Bingham played a key role in the strategic planning of the operations for the relief and rescue of Jewish refugees and was even involved with rescue operations before the arrival of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee in Marseilles.  Bingham established a safe house (which was his own residence) to hide some of the most endangered refugees, and he used this house to plan strategic meetings with Varian Fry and members of his ERC, and Dr. Frank Bohn of the American Federation of Labor.  Also, Bingham introduced Captain Dubois, a member of the Marseilles staff of the Sûreté Nationale, to Varian Fry at his home.  Dubois was sympathetic to the work of aiding refugees in escape.  In his memoirs, Surrender on Demand (Johnson Books, 1945), Fry wrote:

“…Harry Bingham invited me to dinner at his villa, to meet Captain Dubois.  Captain Dubois was a member of the Marseille staff of the Sûreté Nationale.  Though a Vichy policeman, he was friendly to England and America, and Harry thought it would be useful for me to know him.

It was.  Dubois was the first French official I had met who was familiar with my case and willing to talk about it.”  [Fry, 1945, p. 89-90]

When Varian Fry wrote his book in 1945, Bingham was still in the State Department, stationed in Argentina.  In his book, Fry downplayed the role of Bingham in the rescue of the Jews of Marseilles, to protect Bingham.  In his book, Fry quotes Dr. Frank Bohn:

He’s [Bingham] the Vice-Consul in charge of visas, and the son of the late Senator from Connecticut.  I believe his brother’s the editor of Common Sense.  Anyway, he has a heart of gold.  He does everything he can to help us, within American law…”  [Fry, 1945, p. 10]

The phrase “within American law” was not accurate but rather was written to protect Bingham, who was still working for the State Department.  Certainly, Fry knew that Bingham was issuing visas when he knew refugees were planning illegal escapes.  He also knew that Bingham was altering information on the visas to protect the refugees.

In his book, Fry quotes Bohn telling of the rescue of Lion Feuchtwanger:

“I’ve promised Harry Bingham not to breathe a word of this to anybody,” he said, after he had closed the door, “but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my telling you.  It was Harry who got Feuchtwanger out of that camp.  He arranged it all with Mrs. Feuchtwanger in advance, and she got word of their plans to her husband.  Luckily she wasn’t interned, you see.  A few days after the armistice Harry drove his car out to a place near the camp where the men were allowed to go and swim, and Feuchtwanger met him there.  Harry had brought some women’s clothes along, and Feuchtwanger put them on and Harry drove him back to Marseille.”

“Gosh,” I said, “he really is a prince, isn’t he!  Where is Feuchtwanger now?”

Hiding in Harry’s villa,”
Bohn said. [Fry, 1945, p. 11-12]

Because of the secret nature of these operations, and because Bingham wished his work to be anonymous, Fry was careful not to include him in his 1945 book Surrender on Demand

In their first conversation, Fry had asked Bohn about the cooperation at the American consulate (referring to Bingham). 

“’How do you find the Consulate?’ I asked.  ‘Have they co-operated?’ ‘Splendidly!’ Bohn said.  ‘Splendidly!  Don’t you worry.  If anything should happen to us, the Consulate and the Embassy would back us up to the hilt’” (Fry, 1945, p. 10). 

In Fry’s autobiography Surrender on Demand, he further talks about Bingham’s cooperation at the American consulate: 

“Fortunately for me, the first of the refugees to come to the Splendide in response to my summons were Paul Hagen’s German socialist friends and some of the younger Austrian socialists.  They were all young and vigorous and not at all lacking in courage.  Most of them had already received American visas.  All they needed, they said, was money.  With enough money in their pockets for the trip to Lisbon, they would take their chances with the French and Spanish police and the Gestapo in Spain.  They would get Portuguese and Spanish transit visas and go down to the frontier and cross over on foot.  I gave them money and they went.  All of them got to Lisbon.  It was as simple as that” (Fry, 1945, p. 14).

Hiram Bingham generously issued affidavits in lieu of passports to needy refugees.  He did this very liberally and often outside of the normal State Department regulations.  Fry discusses this in his autobiography: 

“The saddest cases were the apatrides, the men and women who had been deprived of their nationality by decree of the Nazi government.  Not only could they not get legal passports, but they were presumably in the greatest danger of being picked up by the Gestapo, for they had already been singled out as enemies of the Nazi state.  The French had given most of them green, accordion-folded documents called titres de voyage—a kind of refugee passport—but the Spanish didn’t recognize these, and everyone who went down to the frontier with one had to come back again.  Luckily, when an American visa had been authorized for an apatride, or man without a country, the American Consulate usually gave him a paper called an ‘affidavit in lieu of passport.’  For a while this worked, provided the man was willing to take the chance of going through Spain under his own name.  In fact, many minor French and Spanish officials obviously took the bearers of such documents for American citizens, and treated them with the special deference European under-officials somehow almost always reserve for Americans—or used to.  I was not inclined to correct the false impression” (Fry, 1945, pp. 17-18).

In Fry’s memoirs, he talks about Leon Feuchtwanger receiving an affidavit in lieu of passport from the American consulate.  This affidavit was from Harry Bingham.  Bingham had altered the document and put the name James Wetcheek, which was the translation of Feuchtwanger.  Bingham also issued an affidavit in lieu of passport to Feuchtwanger’s wife Marta. 

“He [Feuchtwanger] had an American ‘affidavit in lieu of passport’ in one of his pen names, James Wetchek (sic), and his wife, who was still at Sanary, had one in her own name” (Fry, 1945, p. 57).

Howard L. Brooks, a rescue activist with the Unitarian Service Committee of the United States, described Harry Bingham’s boss at the U.S. Consulate in Marseille, Consul General Hugh Fullerton.

“Fullerton understood Fry’s job and was sympathetic to it.  He was fully alive to the suffering all around him among both the French and the refugees.  Whenever he could help, he did.  But Mr. Fullerton was timid.  Having been a long time in the consular service, he understood the enormous importance of remaining on good terms with the government to which he was accredited.  Like the majority of the American consuls in France, he didn’t understand that in these times the really important thing was not to be on too good terms with the new French government, any more than with Hitler’s government.” (cited in Marino, pp.188-189)

Fry knew how absolutely important it was to have at least the appearance of the proper paperwork in order to have refugees pass through borders and checkpoints.  It was often necessary for them to have an exit visa, a transit visa, and a destination or end visa.  If passports were not available, as stated earlier, Harry Bingham would provide an affidavit in lieu of passport.  When Fry was active in Marseilles in 1940 and early 1941, both the Spanish and the Portuguese consulates were still issuing transit visas.  This allowed refugees to travel through to the final country of destination.  The Spanish wanted to see a Portuguese visa, and the Portuguese wanted to see a Spanish visa.  Bingham provided the destination of the United States of America.

Visas were the key to the successful operations of the Emergency Rescue Committee in Marseilles.  Although Washington authorized a very limited number of visas, local consuls in various areas actually issued them.  Much of the decision to issue visas to refugees was at the discretion of local embassies and consulates.  Almost all embassies chose not to be cooperative in issuing US end visas.  Hiram Bingham, of the United States, was an exception.  There was enormous pressure from Bingham’s supervisors not to issue visas so liberally.  Internal memos in the State Department encouraged that local consulates refuse to cooperate in issuing visas.  This has been documented in numerous volumes.  There was a saying in the State Department: “issue all the visas you want, but not to those people who apply for them.”

Fry was continually at loggerheads with the Consul General in Marseilles.  He said:

“The Consul-General kept telling me I’d be expelled any day if I were lucky enough not to be arrested and held on charges” (Fry, 1945, p. 86).

Bingham helped Fry on numerous occasions.  On one occasion, Fry wrote a letter to the commandant of the French concentration camp at Vernet, requesting the release of four prisoners. 

“…There were four friends of Paul Hagen’s in the camp at Vernet he had asked me particularly to help, and I didn’t want to go until I had gotten them out of France.  The first step, obviously was to get them out of Vernet.  We had sent letters to the commandant in the name of the committee, and Bingham had sent him letters and telegrams in the name of the Consulate—all to no avail” (Fry, 1945, pp. 86-87).

Mary Jayne Gold, of the Emergency Rescue Committee, was able to secure their releases.  Fry relates:

“The four men came to Marseille, went to the American Consulate, and got their American visas the same day, thanks to Harry Bingham(Fry, 1945, pp. 87-88).

US consulates all over France were resisting helping refugees.  There was a pro-fascist American vice consul in Nice, France, named Francis Withey.  He asked a German Jew from the Gurs concentration camp, who was seeking a visa:

‘What would you do if you were admitted to the United States and someone asked you to do something against the interests of the Italian or German governments?’  The refugee thought for a moment, and then answered, ‘I would do what was in the interests of the United States.’  ‘Visa refused!’ snapped Withey.  ‘We don’t want anyone in the United States who is going to mix up in politics.’  ‘Bewildered and heartbroken, the man went back to Gurs,’ noted Fry.  ‘He is still there, still wondering why his answer was wrong.  His wife and daughter have been refused visas because the man can’t get his’” (Fry, unpublished manuscript, Columbia University).

Varian Fry sought out help from the American embassy in Vichy.  He received no help there.  This was in stark contrast to the aid he was receiving from Harry Bingham at the American consulate in Marseilles.  The following is an excerpt from Fry’s autobiography, which discusses the American embassy’s complete lack of sympathy for the rescue of refugees and helping the Emergency Rescue Committee:

“At the American Embassy [in Vichy] they were neither very polite nor particularly sympathetic.  As the Chargé d’Affaires was always too busy to see me, I finally saw the Third Secretary.
‘We can’t do anything for you, Mr. Fry,’ he said.  ‘You don’t seem to realize that the Sûreté has a dossier on you.’
When I said that the Sûreté had a dossier on everybody and asked if he knew what was in mine, he answered that I was suspected of helping refugees escape from France.
‘You must understand,’ he said, ‘that we maintain friendly relations with the French government.  Naturally, in the circumstances, we can’t support an American citizen who is helping people evade French law.’
‘How about helping me get some exit visas then?’ I asked.
To my surprise, he agreed, and when I got back to Marseille I had a list made and sent it to him.  But when the list, which contained a few dozen names, reached the Chargé d’Affaires, he wrote me a letter saying that I must have misunderstood the Third Secretary.  ‘For obvious reasons,’ the Embassy ‘could not…obtain individual exit visas for the many thousand refugees who wish to leave France, much as we sympathize with the desire of these poor unfortunates to find a haven overseas,’ he wrote
(Fry, 1945, p. 128).

After Fry’s visa had expired, he tried to get the US embassy in Vichy to renew it.  Again, he relays the brick wall that was laid out in front of him:

“As my own French visa had just expired, I made inquiries about having it renewed while I was in Vichy, but was told to go back to Marseille and make the application at the Prefecture there.  As all the other American relief workers had provided themselves with Swiss visas and French exit visas, so as to be able to leave France for Switzerland at a moment’s notice in case of trouble, I also called on the Swiss Minister and asked him to put a visa on my passport, as he had on the others.  The Swiss Minister seemed friendly enough, and said he would be glad to give me a visa if I would bring him a letter from the American Embassy asking him to do so.
‘It is a pure formality,’ he said, ‘but my instructions require me to have it.’
But at the American Embassy they refused to give me the letter.
‘How many times do we have to tell you,’ they asked, ‘that we can’t do anything for you?’
(Fry, 1945, 128-129).

Fry eventually was expelled because he couldn’t get his visa renewed.

On one occasion, Vice Consul Bingham was able to have Varian Fry and other members of the Emergency Rescue Committee released from custody after arrest.  This was the occasion when the president of Vichy, Petain, was visiting Marseilles and there was a general roundup of dissidents.  Varian Fry, Mary Jayne Gold, and others were taken to a prison ship called the Sinaïa, anchored offshore in Marseilles harbor.  At the time, they did not know why they had been arrested or where they were.  Fry was able to get a message to Harry Bingham to secure their release.  As Fry was complaining to the captain of the ship:

“…a cabin boy came in and announced that Monsieur le Consul des Etats-Unis was waiting below.  Much impressed, the captain instructed the boy to bring the Consul up at once.
When Harry Bingham walked through the door and shook hands with us, whatever doubts the captain may previously have had about us were immediately dissipated.  His manner became perceptibly more cordial.  He took out a key ring from his trousers’ pocket and unlocked a cupboard, revealing a large collection of half-filled bottles.  He selected a bottle of cognac and took down four small glasses.
‘Voilá, messieurs, dame,’ he said, pouring us glasses of the brandy.  ‘A votre santé.’
As we drank, Harry told us that he had called up the Prefecture several times to find out why we were being held and for how long.  But all the high officials were out with the Marshal, or busy protecting him, and he hadn’t been able to get any information.  He hoped to do better tomorrow, when the Marshal would be on his way back to Vichy and things would be returning to normal in Marseille.  A great many people had been arrested in honor of the Marshal’s visit, he said, at least seven thousand, and most of them would probably be released in a few days.  Whether we would be released or not he couldn’t say, but he would do his best to see that we were”
(Fry, 1945, p. 147).

They were eventually released, through the efforts of Harry Bingham.

This statement was made by Miriam Davenport of the Emergency Rescue Committee.

“There were two more influential, albeit not publicized, backers of Varian’s work: in the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, and, in Marseilles, the American Vice-Consul, Hiram Bingham.”  [Davenport, 1999]

What follows is a telegram sent by Cordell Hull, US Secretary of State, to the US Embassy in Marseilles in mid-September 1940.  The document ordered the US Consul General to inform Dr. Frank Bohn and Varian Fry, of the Emergency Rescue Committee, to stop their “activities evading the laws of countries with which the United States maintains friendly relations.”  This demonstrates that the US State Department was not in favor of the activities of Fry and Bohn, in which Vice Consul Bingham was active.  Bingham’s logistical and strategic support to the operation and to Varian Fry specifically continued throughout his stay in Europe until the fall of 1941, when he was transferred to Argentina from Lisbon.


Telegram Sent

Department of State

1940 Sep 18

          Your 539, September 11, 10 a.m. and 566, September 14, 6 p.m.
          You should inform Dr. Bohn and Mr. Fry in personal interview if this can be arranged immediately that while Department is sympathetic with the plight of unfortunate refugees, and has authorized consular officers to give immediate and sympathetic consideration to their applications for visas, this Government can not repeat not countenance the activities [as reported] of Dr. Bohn and Mr. Fry and other persons, however well-meaning their motives may be, in carrying on activities evading the laws of countries with which the United States maintains friendly relations.
You are requested in your discretion, to inform the appropriate officials of the Foreign Office that while aliens who qualify for and obtain visas at American consular offices as meeting the requirements of American immigration laws have the required visa documentation to proceed to the United States, this Government does not repeat not countenance any activity by American citizens desiring to evade the laws of the governments with which this country maintains friendly relations.  You may also ask Mr. Hurley to inform the Prefect at Marseille in this sense.  Consul at Marseille should also be informed that Dr. Bohn has been requested to return to United States immediately.  You may also advise Embassy Paris and Consuls at Bordeaux and Nice regarding situation.  Keep Department advised of developments.

811.111 Refugees/267                                           [signed]
Enciphered by ENC                                                       Hull


Because of his violation of the policy of his supervisors, Bingham was transferred by the U.S. State Department to a posting in Argentina.  He was transferred by the highest authorities, by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull. 

In Andy Marino’s book, The Quiet American, he talks of Harry Bingham being transferred.  Unfortunately, Bingham was being transferred at a time when the Rescue Committee had been at its busiest.

After Bingham’s transfer, Fry was disappointed with his replacement.  He states in his memoirs:

“Then Harry Bingham was recalled, and his place at the head of the visa service at the American Consulate was taken by a vice-consul who seemed to delight in making autocratic decisions and refusing as many visas as he possibly could.  He was also very weak on modern European history, but very strong on defending America against refugees he regarded as radicals.”  [Fry, 1945, p. 215]

Fry concluded that the loss of Bingham and the tightening of U.S. immigration policy were a devastating blow to the Emergency Rescue Committee’s work:

By the end of June, the American Consulates in France received new instructions forbidding them to grant any visas at all except on specific authorization from the State Department.  Even transit visas had to be authorized by the Department, and all the refugees who had been patiently building up immigration-visa dossiers at the Consulates now had to begin all over again in Washington.  No one with a close relative in Italy, Germany or any of the occupied countries, including the occupied part of France, could get a visa under any circumstances.”  [Fry, 1945, p. 216]

In Argentina at the conclusion of World War II, Bingham began gathering information on Nazi transfers of money and gold from Germany to South America.  He also reported on the immigration of former Nazis to South America.  His reports on these matters made the U.S. State Department uncomfortable.  He insisted that this information be utilized by the State Department to prevent Nazi infiltration of South America.  When the U.S. State Department refused to act on his recommendations, he resigned from the State Department in disgust.

Charlie Fawcett, one of Fry’s important assistants, wrote of Bingham:

“You know the American Consulate didn’t like us very much.  Hugh Fullerton was the Consul General and his instructions were to get us out as quickly as he could.  And then when he became director of the hospital in Paris, the American Hospital, I became quite friendly with him, and he said—he sort of apologized, he said, You know, there was nothing I could do.   Had to follow instructions.

Harry Bingham was our friend.  He really helped us.”

Another assistant to Varian Fry in the Emergency Rescue Committee, Daniel Bénédite, wrote of Bingham:

[Lion Feuchtwanger] avait été libéré d’un camp d’internement sur l’intervention personnelle d’un vice-consul des Etats-Unis, Hiram Bingham, qui n’hésitait pas à se compromettre au point d’héberger le suspect à son domicile.”…

Si le consul général des Etats-Unis à Marseille, Hugh Fullerton, diplomate amène et distingué mais circonspect et conservateur comme la plupart de ses collaborateurs, n’appréciait pas particulièrement l’activité quelque peu brouillonne de Varian, celui-ci pouvait compter sur l’amitié compréhensive d’un des vice-consuls, Hiram Bingham.  Ainsi, il y avait un antidote pour chaque poison.”

Varian Fry’s unpublished manuscript describing Harry Bingham

The following are excerpts from the original manuscript of Varian Fry's book Surrender Upon Demand, which goes into more detail than Fry’s published book does. [The manuscript is in the possession of the Rare Book and Manuscript Section of the Columbia University Library.]:

Excerpt from page 62:

"Everyone agreed that it was going to be extremely hard to save Feuchtwanger, wherever he was. He was Public Enemy No. 1 to the Nazis, they thought."

Fry talks about Harry Bingham leaving the consulate and the great loss it will be to the refugees.  Excerpt from unpublished manuscript, Columbia University, page 534:

"Wednesday, May 7. Harry Bingham told me this morning that he has just received instructions to go to Lisbon. He is closing his house and packing his things. "His going will be a great loss to the refugees, and may seriously cripple our work. He has been the one man at the Consulate who had always seemed to understand that his job now is not to apply the rules rigidly but to save lives whenever he could without actually violating United States law. Without his help, much of what we have done we could [not] have done. Especially since the opening of the Martinique route, he has worked very hard, minimizing formalities and always showing a sympathetic attitude towards candidates for immigration. His behavior has always been in sharp contrast to that of most other American Consuls in France. I hate to think what it is going to be like here after he has gone."

Fry talks about Harry Bingham’s unhelpful replacement.  Excerpt from unpublished manuscript, Columbia University, page 556:

"Sunday May 25 "The new man in charge of visas at the Marseille Consulate is young and inexperienced. This is his first post. Afraid of making mistakes, he tries to solve his problems by refusing visas whenever he can. But he is also a snob. The other day I talked to him about just two cases, both women. One was a German Social Democratic underground worker. She had a good affidavit. The other was the Countess X. She has no affidavit at all. "B______ refused to give a visa to the German political refugee. " 'How do I know she won't do underground work in the United States if I let her in?' he asked. "But when I mentioned the Countess X he became sweet as honey." "'Oh, I'm sure there'll be no difficulty about her visa," he said. " 'Just tell her to come in any time she wants to and ask to see me personally. I'll fix her up right away.' "He didn't even ask what the Countess's politics were. "She got her visa the next day."

Following is a note from Marc Chagall to Harry Bingham (transcription from a hand-written note in the Bingham archives).  Chagall was referring Bingham to help Mr. Dijour, Vice President of the Jewish relief agency HICEM.

Cher Monsieur Bingham
Je me permit de vous presente mon bon ami M. Dijour, vice-president de "Hicim" de qui je vous ai parle l'autre soir. C'est un homme tres (con------)(sp?) et profondemont (devoue) a sa tache. Je peut esperer que vous lui reservere un bon accueil. Merci d-avance. L'espere que nous vous serrons encore about notre deport. Bien affectienensement a vous. Marc Chagall


May 28, 1941
Dear Mr. Bingham
Permit me to present to you my good friend Monsieur Dijour, Vice President of HICEM (Note: Hebrew Immigration Refugee Organization) of whom I spoke to you the other night. He is a man very concerned and profoundly devoted in this awful mess. I would hope that you would reserve a good reception for him. Thanks in advance. I hope that we will see you again before our departure. Very affectionately towards you. Marc Chagall

Author Thomas Mann, whose family Harry had helped to escape, wrote in a letter to Harry Bingham from Marseilles, 1940:

"I want particularly to be able to thank you personally for your sympathetic help to the many men and women, including members of my own family, who have turned to you for assistance...Yours Very Sincerely, Thomas Mann."

Fred Buch, who was a Jewish refugee interned at Les Milles concentration camp, gave the following testimony regarding Harry Bingham:

“It was a brick factory and we lived in the ovens.  Only there was no fire.  We had emptied the ovens and we didn’t have gloves. It was miserable work, the skin came lose.  Huge ovens, with hay.  We slept on hay on the floor.  In winter it was bitter cold.

… Bingham…God, it was such a relief.  Such a sweet voice.  Such a wonderful man.  He looked like an angel, only without wings.

And you felt so safe there in the consulate when he was there, so safe and…  You felt that new life would start.  If a guy is cold you feel the frigidaire.  If a man is warm, you have a feeling that it is for him such a relief to be able to help.  And also his word, his encouragement for the future.  He was the angel of liberation.

This is the last visa, by Bingham.  He ways that I declare that I’m Fritz Buch born on so-and-so, that I reside in Marseille and he is a former Austrian and ‘he is unable to obtain the valid travel document on account of conditions prevailing in France at the present time.’  And he takes the responsibility of… ‘Subscribed and sworn before me, Bingham.’  March 6, 1941.

And a consul he gives you an affidavit!  And with that, it’s a passport.  But he trusts me.  Based on

He was a mensch.”

Lillian Stuart Smith, a survivor whose family was saved by Harry Bingham, wrote:

"Hiram Bingham, who did not hesitate to issue visas for our entire family. I learned later that he helped many people who were in danger from the Germans. His courage and generosity cost him much. The Germans complained of his activities to the Vichy government, who then complained to Washington. It was still the time when President Roosevelt, by sending Admiral Leahy to Vichy, hoped to influence [Marshal] Petain. Hiram Bingham was transferred out of Marseille and sent to a South American post [Buenos Aires]. He was eventually to resign from the Foreign Service.”

Ralph Hockley, a survivor whose family was saved by Hiram Bingham, wrote:

"I do want you to know that Hiram Bingham had me (when I was a 15-year old boy in Marseille working for the Quakers) into his office and told me how he would issue my family a visa to the US after we had obtained the release of my father from the Gurs Concentration Camp...I could write a treatise about what Consul Hiram Bingham did to save refugees during his posting as US Consul at the American Consulate in Marseille, France in the 1940-1941 period. He definitely helped to save my life and that of my parents and sister."

Rabbi Joseph Schachter, who was saved by Bingham, wrote:

"I and my entire immediate family (six persons in all) had received the life-saving visas dated Feb. 7, 1941...My sister, who has the originals, hastened to let all those to whom I had forwarded the news story know that it was more than just a supposition that he had issued the visas - but that she had the original documents...I was just 10 years old at the time and do not remember any details other than a sense of relief that we were going to be able to escape the impending disaster having already had three 'brushes' with the Gestapo... Our parents - Salomon and Gitta Schachter accompanied by four children aged 17, 10, 8, and 7 were able to embark on Feb 17 by way of the Antilles and reach US territory, the Virgin Islands in March. Our parents are gone now, but there are quite a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren scattered in many parts of the United States and Canada, and some of us now reside in Israel. We have, as a result of the news story, passed on the very aspect of their existence as having been dramatically affected by the actions of Hiram Bingham IV...To paraphrase my mother's saying: "When he reaches Paradise he will find a multitude of greeters welcoming him and thanking him!"

Varian Fry wrote his account of the Rescue Committee in France after being deported by French authorities.  The book was titled Assignment Rescue: An Autobiography (New York: Scholastic, 1945).  When Fry wrote and published the book, Harry Bingham was still on active duty with the State Department.  In the book, Fry concealed Bingham’s role in the rescue activities to protect Bingham’s career.  However, Fry inscribed a copy of this book to Bingham after the war with the words,

“To Harry Bingham, my partner in the crime of saving human lives.”

Because of his actions, Bingham’s lifelong career as a diplomat was ended.  For the rest of his life, he eked out a living as a small businessman.  Although Bingham was born into a wealthy patrician family, he had sacrificed his position for his humanitarian beliefs.

Getting Diplomatic Papers in Marseilles

The best way for a Jewish refugee to avoid arrest and deportation by the Nazi’s was to emigrate from Nazi controlled areas.  Leaving Europe and Nazi occupied territories was possible between 1933 and the latter part of 1941.

In fact, Nazi policy was devised to force Jews to emigrate.  This was done by denying them their civil rights, removing their ability to earn a living, and appropriating their property and funds.

After 1938, thousands of Jewish community leaders were sent to German concentration camps in an effort to get them to leave Germany and Austria.

Between 1938 and 1940 thousands of Jews and other refugees were able to be released from the Nazi concentration camps on the strength of holding a transit visa or destination visa.

Hiram Bingham was able to have Jews released from French concentration camps on the strength of his visas or affidavits in lieu of passport.

A refugee could either leave by legal means or by extralegal methods.  Leaving Nazi areas by “legal” emigration was an extraordinarily complex and difficult procedure.  The refugee was required to run a gauntlet of endless bureaucratic procedures.  The process ultimately required the refugee to obtain at least four documents.  First and foremost, the refugee needed a passport.  (When a passport was unavailable, an affidavit in lieu of passport might be obtained.)  Further, a refugee needed an entry visa for the country to which the refugee was fleeing; an exit visa from the country where the refugee was trapped; and transit visas for crossing through countries and across international borders through Europe. 

Unfortunately, many refugees were forced to flee their home countries without proper documentation and were thus considered “stateless.”  This was particularly true of German, Austrian, Romanian or Hungarian Jewish refugees who had fled to France.  In addition, many refugees possessed documents that were marked with a large red letter J, which signaled border patrolmen that the holder of the passport was Jewish. 

Even for refugees with valid passports, obtaining the life-saving visas took enormous amounts of energy and time.  Conflicting foreign ministry regulations and changing rules further confused the frustrating process.  Many frustrated refugees committed suicide in desperation during this process. 

Some sympathetic diplomats and foreign service officials would issue these stateless refugees passports, affidavits in lieu of passport, visas, identification papers and safe conduct passes, often against the policies and regulations of their foreign ministries.

There were other barriers to “legal” emigration as well.  In Germany and Austria, refugees were required to register with the Gestapo and turn over most of their money and assets.  Most were left destitute.  Their financial state made it virtually impossible for the refugee to obtain an entry visa to the desired country. 

In addition, a refugee was required to have a large amount of cash, usually in dollars.  Many refugees had fled carrying almost no possessions.  Jewish refugee and relief agencies could sometimes provide cash to refugees.

The Nazi police and SS also required proof of holding a ticket for a ship or train with a departure date. 

More than a million Jewish refugees left Nazi occupied Europe between 1933 and the end of 1941, when the Nazis made emigration illegal.

The story of Hans and Lisa Fittko’s escape from Marseilles eloquently depicts the plight of refugees.  Hans and Lisa Fittko were Austrian refugees.  Hans was Christian and Lisa was Jewish.  They were both wanted by the Nazis.

“In the apocalyptic atmosphere of 1940 Marseille, there were new stories every day about absurd escape attempts; plans involving fantasy boats and fictitious captains, visas for countries not found on any map, and passports issued by nations that no longer existed.  One got used to hearing via the grapevine which sure-fire plan had fallen apart like a house of cards that day.” [Fittko, 1991, p. 105]

“Governments of all countries seemed to be involved in this ‘era of new decrees,’ issuing commands and instructions, revoking them, first enforcing and then lifting them again.  In order to get through, one had to learn to slip through the cracks and loopholes, using every trick and stratagem to slither out of this labyrinth, which was continually taking on new configurations.” [Fittko, 1991, p. 113]

“My husband, Hans, had scant confidence in all the plans about mysterious ships and ocean voyages; up until now every one of them had fallen through, one after the other.  Hans felt more secure on solid land.  And these crackpot ideas involving consulates and transit visas, foreign exchange permits, and choosing between North or South America—they all sounded as if they came from some fantasy-world a man clutches at when he can’t cope with the improbably reality.  People like us, people without connections, papers, or money, where could we go?  All of the neutral countries shunned us like the plague.” [Fittko, 1991, p. 93]

“There was a lot of discussion among the refugees about Portugal.  Portugal was neutral and would probably remain so.  A few emigrés who had American visas were able to obtain Portuguese transit visas.  At once a variety of ideas were hatched along the lines of managing to get a transit visa without first having the American visa.
          “In order to get a transit visa one had, of course, to have an entry visa for some other country.  For that, first of all, one needed a passport.  The Portuguese required in addition a paid transatlantic fare, to make certain that a person would be off their hands.  The fare had to be paid in dollars, which for most émigrés was absurd: they had hardly any money at all, and for sure none of them had a dollar permit.
          “To travel from France to Portugal one also needed a Spanish transit visa.  That, however, one could only apply for when one had the Portuguese document; every country was afraid that the emigrés would settle in with them like bedbugs.
          “And, then again, one needed money, the money to pay for complying with all these formalities.”
[Fittko, 1991, pp. 93-94]

          “To procure a transit visa from the Portuguese consulate one had to line up the evening before.  I well remember how cold it was on the street during the night and how hungry we were, but the next morning our turn came at last.  We actually had Portuguese transit visas.  Unbelievable!
          “The line in front of the Spanish consulate was so long that we had to stand there three evenings in a row before our turn finally came.”
[Fittko, 1991, pp. 95-96]

“Now we and several of our friends had all our papers together, and shortly others would also be that far along.  Until then I hadn’t even mentioned the visas de sortie, the French exit visas one needed to leave the country, because it hadn’t even occurred to us to apply for them.  Why?  Because the visas were issued in Vichy, obviously under German supervision.  Therefore we would have to cross the border illegally.” [Fittko, 1991, p. 96]

A Jewish refugee describes getting papers to leave France:

“…these miserable people seeking to leave who run around checking at every consulate, collecting the most exotic visas in order to be considered as individuals on the verge of departure.  The awful situation in which many of them found themselves was simply unimaginable.  More rumors about such and such possibility for leaving the country were being spread every morning, and every evening these mirages would vanish.  Some people were spending their very last resources and awaiting the future with anxiety.” [Hermann, cited in Poznanski, 2001, p. 168]

The Nimes Committee summarized the documents necessary to emigrate from the French occupied zone to Shanghai, China:

permit to disembark at Shanghai
traveling paper or national passport
French exit visa
travel pass of the Ministry of Colonies
transit visa for Indochina
registration of the dossier at the prefecture of the Department of the Bouches-du-Rhône, or at the military service department of the Ministry of Colonies
letter from the prefecture or the Ministry of Colonies authorizing the steamship company to deliver a space on the emigrant’s boat

[Marrus & Paxton, 1981, p. 163]

Translation of Feuchtwanger Diary 1940 - Selected Entries

(Original German version courtesy of Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections, University of Southern California)

Marseille, Monday 22 July

Bingham is an awkward, friendly, puritanical, dutiful, somewhat sad New Englander, who is very attached to his wife.  He very much misses her and his children who have been removed to America.  The servants are bad and not very friendly.  Bingham tells about all the work that emigrants are making for him.  He is always tired and exhausted…

Marseille, Sunday, 28 July

…With Bingham personal understanding is getting better.  Towards evening, however, while I am speaking with him, he gets a telephone call from his consul-general, which puts him into a sharp conversation.  It's about a quite unimportant matter, but he is totally troubled, and I fear that my own thing will be unfavorably influenced by this coincidence. Nevertheless, he explains very confidentially about his difficult position in the Consulate, and our personal relations improve.

Marseille, Monday 29 July

At noon Lilo arrives.  In the camp on the day of my abduction French officers, who were supposed to bring me away, were looking for me.  When they can't find me, there is great excitement and poor Wolf is suspected of an abduction in collaboration with the Nazis.  Everything a bit dark.  Lilo's husband is in Sanary[French town where Feuchtwanger had been living for 8 years -- ed].  In our house a certain Joachim, a refugee is also lodging.  In the evening Bingham is in a happier mood.  For the moment, his clash with the consul-general has had no consequences.  General conversation about national economic problems.

Sunday, 4 August

Bingham hints that I should leave, he fears that it will be too dangerous for him if I stay too long in his house.  After that he made a portrait of me.  I read.  Worked.  Bingham expresses regret and explains that of course he still wants to keep me here. 

Monday, 5 August

…Just after she [Marta- ed] left, my tent friend Wolf [a fellow transit camp internee - ed] telephones. That's very pleasant.  It's also good that the maid believes that the caller is Golo Mann and not Wolf, because Bingham is not supposed to know that with the exception of Golo Mann, no one knows that I am living in his house.

Wednesday, 7 August

Slept very badly.  Wonderful weather.  Standish and his wife are there for breakfast, I am awkward.  Then, quite unexpectedly, Lilo arrives with her husband…She says it is too dangerous for me to return to Sanary and advises that I should dog Bingham as long as possible and that I should try hard to obtain a fake French document.  But Mr. Brousse, through whose intervention that might work, is not here. In the afternoon, spoke to kind Loewenbein, but he also had no advice.  In the evening Standish is here again; he wants to speak with a flyer about whether he would perhaps fly me to Portugal.

Saturday, 10 August

…At noon come Bingham and Standish.  The latter explains that it won't work with the fake papers, they cost 50,000 Franks…

Sunday, 11 August

… At noon Bingham brings the man from the American Federation of Labor [Frank Bohn? - ed].  He explains that with regular procedures there is absolutely nothing that can be done.  But he wants to put a smuggling boat at my disposal.  Everything very adventurous but not quite hopeless.

Marseille, Monday, 12 August

Wonderful weather.  Slept OK.  The prospect of escape lifts my mood, but the impending hardships and dangers make me nervous.  Worry about whether I can take Marta with me.  But Bingham takes it as obvious. Worked a bit.

Saturday, 17 August

…I try to suggest to Bingham that he should give me a visa with the name Wetcheeck.  He goes along with it and is happy that he thought of it himself.  We have a lively conversation.

…Then Bohn phones, and shares that the boat will indeed go, wants gas from the Wolfs.  Bohn and another American from his people, Fry, eat here in the evening.  Many problems emerge.  Gabbed quite a lot with Bingham.

Thursday, 29 August

Bingham in a bad mood.  I did not sleep long enough. A lot of unpleasant little things to think about. Then Wolf arrives and reports that the whole story with the exit visa and Toulouse has gone out the window and that they will probably be keeping careful watch on Mrs. Wetcheek and Mrs. Feuchtwanger.

Big panic.  Back and forth, what should one do if someone comes to Bingham inquiring about Wetcheek and so forth.  A half hour later he calls, everything is over.  It turns out that it certainly is not so simple but rather that the people with our passes have been arrested and now a big bribe must be paid to the police.  Then Heinrich Mann arrives and reports in a depressed manner that the story about the boat come to naught again.  Then I'm supposed to meet an influential communist, but instead of that Kantorowicz stands in for him.  Very tired.  Evening with Bingham and Fry who comes late.  I let the meal pass by without inquiring what exactly is wrong. Then I ask, and it turns out that the boat is not going and never will go. Instead of this, Fry suggests that we should under his protection simply go over the Spanish border illegally.  The plan immediately takes shape and I quickly agree without delay.  A lot of individual technical difficulties, but I am in a good mood because finally there is a tangible plan…

Courtesy of Feuchtwanger Library, University of Southern California

Postscript by Marta Feuchtwanger in 1987 book "Der Teufel In Frankreich," by Lion Feuchtwanger:

"Bingham's advice was again accurate. He had told us that one could achieve a lot in Spain with Camel cigarettes and he had filled my backpack and the pockets of my suit with many packs. So I went into the Customs House and told them I had heard that there was a high duty on cigarettes and I decided not to take them, I preferred leaving them here - and I threw a whole bunch of packs on the table. They all grabbed the packs, and one of them quickly stamped a paper I gave him without looking at the name. I have never gone down a mountain so fast."

Dangers for Diplomats Who Issued Visas

Having diplomatic credentials in Marseilles and Vichy in 1940-41 did not guarantee the safety and security of a foreign diplomat. Vladimir Vochoc, Czech Consul in Marseilles, France, 1940-41, was arrested by Vichy authorities pending deportation, his diplomatic immunity notwithstanding.

Consul Vladimir Vochoc worked closely with Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee.  He distributed ersatz Czech passports on his own authority to Jews and anti-Nazis who wanted to escape from Marseilles to Spain and Portugal.  Vochoc also worked closely with Dr. Donald Lowrie of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in supplying Czech visas.

Miriam Davenport, in her autobiography, writes of poet Walter Mehring getting a Czech passport: “early in September [1940] Walter Mehring set off for Lisbon armed with a beautiful Czech passport fully visaed and his American visa in his pocket.”

For his life-saving activities, Vochoc was arrested by Nazi and French authorities pending possible deportation.  Two months later, he managed to escape to Lisbon.

Varian Fry describes the arrest of Vochoc in an unpublished portion of his Surrender on Demand manuscript:

          “The order for Vochoc’s arrest was signed by the new police chief, de Rodellec du Porzic, a Breton naval officer and great friend of Darlan, who appointed him.  It was based on a telegram from the Ministry of the Interior.
“After spending the night in an armchair at the prefecture, Vochoc was taken this afternoon to the little village of Lubersac, Corrèze, near Perigneux—and the demarcation line.  The prefecture says he is to be put in
résidence forcée there, but the Czechs think it is only a step on the way to Germany, as Arles was a step for Breitscheid and Hilferding.
“The entire Consular corps of Marseille, headed by Hugh Fullerton, the American Consul-General, went to the prefecture today to protest against Vochoc’s arrest.  Getting no satisfaction there, Fullerton sent Hiram Bingham to Vichy to ask Admiral Leahy to intervene.  Apparently the American authorities can be militant enough when the rights and safety of consuls are concerned, even when the consuls are ‘aliens.’  Too bad they can’t be equally militant in defense of a simple American citizen like me, or the poor devils of refugees who have spent the last eight years fighting Hitler, and now seem likely to pay with their lives for it.
“I knew Vochoc so well, and worked with him so long, that his arrest has shaken me even more than the extraditions of Breitscheid and Hilferding.  He is a member of the Legion of Honor and always wears the rosette in his buttonhole.  Surely France will not hand over the Germany a man who has received a decoration for his services to France!
(Dated “Wednesday, March 19 [1941].” Varian Fry, unpublished manuscript for Surrender on Demand, p. 483, Varian Fry Papers, Butler Library, Columbia University, New York)

Another diplomat who was not protected by his diplomatic status was Luis de Souza Dantas, the Brazilian Ambassador to France between 1922 and 1943.  Ambassador Dantas issued visas to hundreds of Jews in occupied France after the Nazi takeover in 1940.  In March 1943, the Nazis broke into Dantas’ embassy in Vichy and arrested him.  He was deported to Germany and was incarcerated along with other diplomats.  This was for his actions in helping Jews.  Dantas was eventually freed in 1944, with the direct intervention of Portuguese Prime Minister Oliveira Salazar.  Dantas issued the visas against the strict order of the pro-fascist Brazilian government headed by Getulio Vargas, and at great risk to his diplomatic career.  The Brazilian government eventually reprimanded him for issuing these visas without authorization from Rio.  Several of the Jews arrived in Brazil and were detained by the Brazilian government, but were later released. Dantas was designated Righteous Among the Nations in 2003.

[Milgram, Avraham, translated by Naftali Greenwood.  “The Jews of Europe from the perspective of the Brazilian Foreign Service, 1933-1941.”  Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 9 (1995), 94-120.  Fry, Varian. Surrender on Demand. (New York: Random House, 1945), p. 128. Eck, Nathan. “The Rescue of Jews With the Aid of Passports and Citizenship Papers of Latin American States.” Yad Vashem Studies on the European Jewish Catastrophe and Resistance, 1 (1957), pp. 125-152.]

Mexican Consul General Gilberto Bosques, who was stationed at the Mexican embassy in Paris and was in charge of the Mexican Marseilles consulate, issued visas for Jewish refugees to go to Mexico.  For this, Bosques was arrested by Vichy officials and placed under house arrest.  He was later repatriated to Mexico under a prisoner exchange.

In addition, the honorary consul of Lithuania, who had helped Fry by issuing visas, had been taken away (Marino, p. 242).

In the recently published book The Holocaust & The Jews of Marseilles (University of Illinois Press, 1996), author Professor Donna Ryan says the following of Hiram Bingham:

Many contemporary sources describing conditions in Marseilles during 1940 and 1941 suggest that the U.S. vice consul, Hiram Bingham Jr., expedited exit visas with letters promising that U.S. entry visas would be issued immediately afterward.  Bingham, however, often acted against the wishes of the consul, Hugh Fullerton, and directives from his home government.  [Ryan, 1996, p. 130]

Later Professor Ryan says:

Although obtaining all the necessary visas remained difficult, in the early days of [Varian] Fry’s work there was enough inconsistency in government policy for Fry and his clients to exploit.  U.S. entry documents tended to flow steadily, though not profusely.  This trend continued as long as Hiram Bingham remained Vice-Consul in charge of visas, that is, until June 1941, when U.S. official immigration policy changed.  It appears that the situation in 1940 and early 1941 might have been much worse without Bingham, for the consul general, Hugh Fullerton, distrusted Fry, perhaps because he appeared sympathetic to leftists at a time when fear of Communist infiltration to the United States reigned supreme. [Ryan, 1996, p. 142]

Professor Ryan further notes of Bingham’s participation:

Without legal exit visas, Lion Feuchtwanger, Heinrich and Nelly Mann, Golo Mann, and Franz and Alma Mahler Werfel escaped to New York via Spain and Lisbon with ERC help.  Unfortunately, Feuchtwanger, eager to exaggerate his own courageous participation in these events, gave away the details of his escape, including his rescue from the camp at Saint Nicolas with the help of Miles Standish, the U.S. Vice-Consul, and his concealment at Hiram Bingham’s house.  His description probably alerted officials to the need for tighter border control. [Ryan, 1996, p. 144]

In the book A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry, Andy Marino attests to Bingham’s illegal activities in issuing visas to the family of Thomas Mann:

Bingham was already involved in such illegalities, as the secret presence of Golo Mann at his residence attested.”   [Marino, 2000, p. 99]

Marino further goes on to talk about Bingham’s cooperation at the consulate in Marseille.  This information indicates that he was at odds with then-Consul General John P. Hurley:

Harry Bingham…That name again, the byword for help and cooperation.  The consul general, John P. Hurley, was a different proposition, Bohn added: he was no help at all.  The idea that success at the consulate was a matter of potluck and who was in the office on a particular day.” [Marino, 2000, p. 117]

This information refers to Bingham who “worked to speed up the process of getting visas to refugees, but it meant disobeying direct orders:”

          “On the afternoon of the Friday he met Bohn, Fry caught the same trolley car to Montredon that he had taken the day before.  He intended to see Harry Bingham and give the man a piece of his mind, but it didn’t turn out that way.  Fry was greeted warmly by the tall, bespectacled vice-consul.  Bingham’s father was the late Senator Hiram Bingham, who had also been a historian and found fame as the discoverer of the legendary lost city of the Incas, Macchu Picchu.  Bingham was a cut above the usual employees of vice-consular rank in France.  He had the sort of kindly face—as befitted a former theology student—that Fry could not remain angry at for long.  Around forty years of age, he was also older than most of his vice-consular colleagues and wise in his outlook, and very sympathetic to refugees.  The two men quickly discovered they had a lot to talk about.
          Bingham explained to Fry that the Marseille consulate was notoriously slow in issuing visas, partly because of the contradictory orders it received from Washington—whose general directive was best summed up as ‘issue all the visas you want, but not to those people who apply for them.’  There was also the problem of Bingham’s boss, Consul Hugh Fullerton, who was not an evil man but a nervous one, and keen to do nothing that might antagonize the Vichy authorities.  Bingham himself actively worked to speed up the process of getting visas to refugees, but it meant disobeying direct orders.  He and his deputy, Myles Standish, were doing all they could, but they were outgunned.
          Fry was impressed that Bingham did not mention the fact that he was hiding Feuchtwanger and Golo Mann: it seemed to prove that he was serious.  There was nothing in Bingham’s conversation that glamorized himself, and he seemed genuinely embarrassed and chagrined to be associated with the behavior of the other consular staff.  Bingham invited Fry to visit him at his villa, midway between Montredon and the center of Marseille, and that was how Fry met Feuchtwanger and persuaded him to ship out on Bohn’s boat.  Soon, Fry would be regularly taking the streetcar along the rue Paradis for about a mile and a half, then getting off and walking the long block of the rue du Commandant Rollin, to the steep Boulevard Rivet.  There in the evening, in Bingham’s three-story, yellow stucco villa with its large overgrown garden, the men would swim in the shallow pond and then eat together, talking over the day'’ difficulties and planning to cooperate however they could.  Fry had found another collaborator, and a true friend.”  [emphasis added; Marino, 2000, p. 120]

Bingham, on a number of occasions, went on missions to protect Jewish refugees from arrest and deportation.  On one occasion, during the arrest of writer Walter Mehring by the French police, Miriam Davenport of the Emergency Rescue Committee called on Bingham for help:

“Miriam had to think fast, and the first thing she thought of was to telephone trusty Harry Bingham.  Then she confronted the police in Mehring’s bedroom with a torrent of abuse and exhortation, which consisted of belaboring the point that Mehring was an accomplished artist, foremost among the practitioners of modern German literature, and that they should be ashamed to be arresting somebody—a sick man! —who had never broken the law, and that France would be plunged into ignominy by their act.  The policemen looked hesitantly at each other and shrugged.
          In the midst of Miriam’s inspired harangue, Bingham walked through the door—a coup de théâtre that set up Miriam’s punch line: ‘And there behind you, gentlemen, is living proof of my government’s concern for the welfare of Mr. Mehring!’” [Marino, 2000, p. 186]

In Miriam Davenport’s memoir, she recalls the attempted arrest of Walter Mehring.

“After some minutes of ringing changes on these themes—interrupted at intervals by apologetic police protestations that they were only following orders, that they had no authority to change their orders, that their superior had given them firm instructions, etc.—I caught sight of Hiram Bingham’s imposing figure pacing the lobby not far off, bless him!  His towering height and prematurely white hair made everyone else in the lobby look insignificant.  In triumph, I was able to conclude, ‘And, Messieurs, if you have any doubts about the truth of my statements, you have only to look over there where the American Consul is carefully observing this scene, so great is his interest in the outcome!’
That did it.  There was a short police huddle.  Then one broke away to tell me that they would telephone to their chief.  On his return, he told me that the chief had agreed to give us ten minutes to get a new doctor’s certificate for Mr. Mehring and, if we succeeded, they would leave him free.” [Davenport, 1999]

Sheila Isenberg, in her book A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry, relates the story of the rescue of Lion Feuchtwanger by Harry Bingham with the help of Myles Standish.

Feuchtwanger was a popular and widely read historical novelist and dramatist whose first anti-Hitler novel, Success, had been published in 1930.  "As he became known to the world for his novels, he also became a target of the Nazis." Feuchtwanger escaped from Germany in 1933 and lived with his wife in Sanary-sur-Mer, in the south of France, until he was arrested by Vichy in the summer of 1940.  He was interned in Les Milles, an experience he described in The Devil in France.  Many of his works concerned German émigrés who "had to flee because of their political beliefs," who were "forced into leaving their homeland only because they or their parents were listed as Jews." He also wrote of non-Jews who left Germany "voluntarily because they simply couldn't breathe the air of the Third Reich any longer."

In July, a month before Fry arrived in France, President Roosevelt himself had helped secure U.S. emergency visitors' visas for Feuchtwanger and his wife.  But the writer was still imprisoned.  From Les Milles, he had been moved to St. Nicola, "the health resort of concentration camps," where he was not heavily guarded and was allowed by the camp commandant to take outings and swim in the river.  One day in August, Feuchtwanger and some friends from the camp were walking along the road toward the river, unguarded.  A woman he recognized as a friend of his wife's walked up to him and handed him a note.  Amazed, he opened it and saw that it was from his wife.  "Do exactly as you are told," Marta Feuchtwanger had written.  "Do not stop to consider.  It is all straightforward and perfectly safe." A man wearing a white suit and knit gloves emerged from a car waiting nearby and beckoned to Feuchtwanger.  The writer said good-bye to his friends, donned the dark glasses and woman's coat and shawl handed to him by this mysterious man, and climbed into the car, which sped away.

His rescue, he soon learned, had been organized by U.S. vice consul Hiram "Harry" Bingham, one of only two American consular officials who went "out of his way" and took "a personal risk and a personal initiative" to help refugees.  The scion of a prominent American family, Bingham felt a sense of personal obligation toward others, perhaps because of his privileged background.  His great-grandfather was a founder of Tiffany & Co., his father was a U.S. senator, and his brother was editor of the magazine Common Sense.  "Bingham was a great guy," said Mary Jayne Gold.  "He was the only man in the consulate who was sort of for us." The other helpful American vice consul was Myles Standish, the man in the white suit who came to get Feuchtwanger that day.

After Standish whisked Feuchtwanger from the camp, Bingham hid him at his villa while the writer recovered from dysentery, which he had contracted in the camp.  Fry visited Feuchtwanger and told him of his plan to organize an escape for Werfel and several others.  He invited the writer along, and for weeks Feuchtwanger waited for the plan to take shape.

But just before they were to leave, Fry received word that Spain was no longer admitting stateless refugees from Germany, Austria, or other vanquished countries whose citizenship had been stripped from them either because they were Jewish or because they were anti-Nazis, or both.  This was bad news for the Feuchtwangers, German Jews who fell into this category.  Fry told them that they must remain behind, but promised to find another way to get them out.  He would send word, addressing them in code as "Harry's friends," when he found out more about Spain's new regulations.

In addition to the Feuchtwangers, Bingham was sheltering Golo, Heinrich, and Nellie Mann.  Golo, described as the "most solidly grounded of Thomas's six gifted children.

[Isenberg, 2001, pp. 75-76]

Isenberg’s account of Bingham’s help in preventing the arrest of Jewish writer Walter Mehring:

Miriam Davenport, alerted that Mehring was about to be arrested, rushed to the hotel.  Upstairs, in Fry's room, she told Lena Fischman to call U.S. vice consul Bingham.  Then she returned to the lobby and held the police off until Bingham showed up.  There were six plainclothesmen wearing 'purple and green and blue suits with pointy-toed shoes, looking like pimps." In the fine tradition of resistance that characterized Fry and his staff, Davenport invented a title for herself, general secretary of the Centre, and told the police it was "absolutely impossible" for Mehring to be arrested.

I suddenly became conscious of the power and prestige of my country... I proceeded to explain ... the international renown of our desperately ill poet-and by then he really was ill-the great concern for his welfare of a good many influential men and women in the United States, not the least of whom was Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, wife of the President.

Finally, she warned them off their prey.  "If they valued America's feelings of good will towards their suffering country," she said, "they would be well advised to leave Mr. Mehring in peace."

Davenport's arguments were supported by the arrival of the distinguished Hiram Bingham, whose "towering height and prematurely white hair made everyone else in the lobby look insignificant." The colorfully dressed officers gave up and left, believing that this brazen and talkative young woman spoke for the U.S. government. [Isenberg, 2001, p. 83]

In Isenberg’s book, she relates how most of the staff of the US consulate in Marseilles, including Consul General Fullerton, treated Fry as a pariah.  Vice consul Bingham was the exception.

Feeling betrayed by Fullerton and by his own government, Fry was demoralized.  The State Department had accepted Vichy's and Fullerton's charges against him without even bothering to talk to him.  Since his first day in Marseille, he had received nothing but coldness from his own consulate, no support or encouragement.  After this incident, American representatives, including consulate "clerks, doormen, and secretaries" who had heard of him and his operation, treated him like a pariah.  They insulted him, "slandering and libeling our organization and the Americans active in it." Fullerton tried for months to force Fry to leave Marseille and would be instrumental, later on, in reassigning the American official who was most helpful to Fry, Hiram Bingham. [Isenberg, 2001, pp. 85-86]

Adam, Pauline and their two-year old son, Michael Kaufman, were issued visas by Hiram Bingham.  Adam was a former Communist revolutionary who had fled from Lodz, Poland, to Czechoslovakia and was later arrested.  His wife, Pauline, joined him in Czechoslovakia.  They fled to Paris and then to Marseilles.

The Kaufmans immediately took a train to Marseille.  To ensure that the trip would be as uneventful as possible, Adam wore his army uniform.  It worked, and he was even saluted in the Marseille train station.  On September 14, at the American consulate, the Kaufmans presented their precious telegram and received U.S. emergency visitors' visas, which were signed by Hiram Bingham.  As they left the consulate, someone "took us in hand and put us in this hotel." It was probably Fry, according to Michael Kaufman. [Isenberg, 2001, p. 89]

This quote from Sheila Isenberg’s book relates to Bingham’s help of Charlotte Brand, a German artist.

Fry's mandate was to help artists who had been labeled "degenerate" by the Germans.  In most cases, their names were on his original list, provided by the Museum of Modern Art's Alfred Barr.  Because she was an art student, Miriam Davenport helped Fry decide which artists should be added to his list.  But as much as he wanted to, he could not save every artist.  "We couldn't.  That was not our mission," said Davenport.  "A guy who goes over with a list of 200 names to be rescued and $3,000 taped to his leg can't help everyone."

One day, Charlotte Brand, a German artist in her twenties, came to the Centre and was interviewed by Davenport. [Charlotte Brand was number 153.]  Brand had been a student at the Bauhaus but had grown tired of modern design and had gone to Rome to paint watercolors.  By the time she arrived in Marseille, she had a portfolio of paintings that were "quite beautiful," according to Davenport.

Brand was hungry, homeless, and in danger because she "was probably Jewish," Davenport recalled.  "It didn't count if you were raised Protestant or if, like Hirschman, you had been baptized a Protestant.  It was racist.  If you had a Jewish ancestor, that meant you had Jewish blood.  That meant you were Jewish."

"I can certainly see to it that you have enough money to pay for a roof over your head and to keep you fed modestly," Davenport told Brand.  "And I will see if there is any chance of our getting an American visitor's visa for you so that you can immigrate." With Fry's approval, she gave the young woman money from the Gold List.  Brand had not been labeled as "degenerate." Recalled Davenport, "Her watercolors were not non-objective, so one could recognize them.  They were flowers, buildings in Rome, Roman landscapes." When she suggested Brand leave her portfolio behind so her work could be shown to Fry, the young painter "looked a little brighter." That evening, during the conference on cases held in Fry's hotel room, Davenport brought up Charlotte Brand.  "Here's this young artist who's gifted.  She has had the best training.  She was in the Bauhaus with Walter Gropius and she's been working in watercolors lately.  We should do everything we can to get her a visa.  We could put up a show of her work in your office, and ask Hiram Bingham to see it."


Fry looked at the portfolio and thought the paintings were wonderful.  He told Davenport to go ahead with her plan.  They stuck the paintings on the walls of Fry's office with thumbtacks, and Fry invited Bingham: "Come take a look and see if she's worth a visa." Within a day or two, the accommodating vice consul was there to see Brand's art.  "This is very good," he said.  "I think she deserves a visa.  I'll see what I can do."

With Bingham's intervention and Fry's help, Brand got a visa, a first step in her eventually successful emigration.  When she arrived in New York, her first stop was the Museum of Modern Art.  To her disappointment, "they weren't the slightest bit interested in her.  They wanted no part of her."

"Charlotte didn't last long.  She finally did get a dealer in New York, but not soon enough to do her any good," recalled Davenport.  Brand developed tuberculosis and went for a rest cure in White Sands, New Mexico.  "But she didn't get better and she came back to New York, where she was in a nursing home.  She died of cancer." [Isenberg, 2001, pp. 124-125]


In this section, Sheila Isenberg relates how most US consular officials in France were of little or no help to Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee.  Again, an exception was vice consul Bingham in Marseilles.

Back in Marseille, Fry went directly from the train station to his office.  He could barely contain himself as he recounted to his staff what had happened.  Fry, who always had a short temper, was outraged after being left to cool his heels for weeks in Vichy.  He refused to accept "a purely negative attitude on the part of our Foreign Service" and expected "diplomatic support" and "consent and approval" from the American government in order to facilitate his refugee work.

Of course, Fry had lied to Matthews.  He had broken the laws of France and intended to keep on breaking them, but he believed that saving lives justified lying—and he expected the State Department to back him in this subterfuge.  "The continued liberty and perhaps in some instances the very lives of scores of writers, artists and scientists depend upon the continued existence of my Committee and its good standing in the eyes of the French authorities." But his single-minded dedication to his refugees did not take into account U.S. foreign policy at a time when America was more concerned with maintaining good relations with Vichy than with the fate of the mainly Jewish refugees.

He followed up his expedition in Vichy by sending a furious letter to a U.S. vice consul in Marseille, Lee Randall.  While Fry was away, Randall had talked about him with a British officer, Captain Fitch, at Fort St.-Jean. In a discussion between the two men about escape attempts by British officers and enlisted men, Fitch had mentioned that he saw the sympathetic Fry often.  Randall warned Fitch to stay away from Fry, telling him that "all such organizations, including Fry's, were under surveillance by the French authorities." When Fry expressed indignation at Randall's warning to the British officer, Randall defended himself.  This was a time, Randall wrote, of "the wildest sort of rumors" about the "German authorities demanding the return of many of these refugees." The United States was therefore "concerned with Mr. Fry's well being" and its own "position." This was not true, however, as U.S. officials in Marseille, with the exception of Bingham and Standish, were not at all concerned about Fry, except as he interfered with American foreign policy and position. [Isenberg, 2001, pp. 141-142]

Vice Consul Harry Bingham issues a visa to Albert Hirschman.  Hirschman was an important assistant to Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee.

When Hirschman returned from his brief foray to Toulouse, Fry warned him that the police were looking for him and he would have to leave France immediately.  Hirschman had never applied for a visa, believing he would remain in France, but as it happened he had one.  Earlier, before he was reassigned, Vice Consul Bingham, who knew Hirschman only under his nom de plume, Albert Hermant, told the startled young man that a visa had come for an Albert Otto Hirschman.  Did he know this Hirschman?  Hearing this exciting news, Hirschman responded, "I will tell you a secret.  That's me, you know." The visa had come about as the result of efforts by a University of California at Berkeley professor with whom Hirschman had worked in Paris in 1938.  The professor had applied to the Rockefeller Foundation for both a visa and a fellowship for Hirschman, and they had been granted.  "It was a total surprise to me," recalled Hirschman.

"It's interesting to me and I believe you," said Bingham, hearing that Hermant and Hirschman were one and the same.  But, to obtain the visa, Hirschman needed documentation to prove his identity.  He had left a birth certificate and identity papers in a hotel room in Paris and paid one of the couriers who went "back and forth between the occupied and unoccupied zones" to fetch it.  When the courier returned to Marseille with his papers, Hirschman showed them to Bingham and received his visa.  When he heard from Fry that Spain was refusing to grant transit visas, the resourceful young German took a train to Toulouse and successfully applied for a transit visa there.  He knew "from living in authoritarian countries with bureaucracies... they are not all that well organized... and you must find your way through the various meshes of the net." [Isenberg, 2001, pp. 152-153]

Isenberg relates how Bingham was replaced because of the work he had done helping refugees and cooperating with Fry and the ERC.  Bingham’s help to the ERC stands in stark contrast to his replacement and American refugee policy.

…Their best friend at the consulate, Hiram "Harry" Bingham,* was replaced because of the work he had done saving refugees and cooperating with Fry.  The new vice consul was antiforeigner, anti-Jew, and anti-Fry.  He "seemed to delight in making autocratic decisions and refusing as many visas as he possibly could." When Fry talked to him about Largo Caballero, who had been arrested back in December, the vice consul said, "If [Caballero] has any political views at all, we don't want him.  We don't want any agitators in the United States.  We've got too many already."

More than ever, the refugees felt "the air of fear, depression and hopelessness of the Marseille immigration." And suddenly "everything seemed to go to pieces at once." By the end of June, America had ceased issuing any visas at all; a short time later, they were issued again, but under even stricter, slower-moving regulations.  When the U.S. emergency visitors' visa program ended a month later, "3,268 emergency visas had been authorized, but only 1,236 of these had actually been granted." Immigration into the United States slowed to a trickle, remaining that way throughout the war years.

*Bingham never recovered from his demotion and reassignment to more and more obscure locations.  He finally quit altogether, and retired to his family home in Connecticut.  "He was doing what he thought was the right thing to do.  The loss of his career and the [dis]approval of his family would be the resulting punishment for listening to his conscience.... On April 26, 1941, in a telegram Secretary of State Cordell Hull sent to the American Consul in Marseilles, Harry was relieved of his post.  It was emphatically stated in the telegram: "This transfer not made at his request nor for his convenience.' . . . From there on in, Hiram Bingham IV would be repeatedly denied any further advancement in the Foreign Service."

[Isenberg, 2001, pp. 192-193]

Ms. Susan Morgenstein, curator of the Varian Fry exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, mentioned that her research definitely indicated that Vice Consul Hiram Bingham was of great help to the rescue committee in issuing visas.  The curator mentioned that Bingham acted against the wishes of his supervisors.  The curator recommended Bingham for inclusion in the Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats exhibit.

In a catalogue prepared by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for the opening of the exhibit “Assignment: Rescue: The Story of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee,” they state:

Although Fry received little help from United States officials, the actions of one American diplomat stand out.  Hiram Bingham, vice-consul and head of the visa service at the Marseilles consulate, smuggled German novelist Lion Feuchtwanger out of a French internment camp disguised in women’s clothing.  Feuchtwanger stayed secretly in Bingham’s home in Marseilles until Fry’s committee was able to help him flee France.

Elizabeth Berman, Research Curator, Varian Fry Exhibit at U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, stated:

“Without Harry Bingham, Varian Fry’s work would have been completely stymied.  Fry needed someone at the Consulate to facilitate issuing visas and to help track down all the people on the emergency list.  Harry Bingham not only issued visas and helped find the people, but he also harbored some of the people on the emergency list in his home.” [6/25/2003]

Rescue in France Historic Background

Between the first deportations of Jews in 1940 to the liberation of France in August 1944, nearly 75,000 Jews from France were deported and murdered in the Nazi killing centers in Poland.  Auschwitz-Birkenau was the destination for nearly 70,000 of these deportees.  There were 79 transports that left France for Auschwitz. Only 2,500 Jews survived these deportations.

Even though France was occupied by German forces in June 1940, and was continuously occupied for more than four and a half years, it had one of the highest per capita survival rates for Jews in all of Europe.  86% of native French Jews survived and 72% of foreign born Jews survived.

In fact, France had the highest survival rate of any country in Western Europe.  Only Denmark, Bulgaria and Italy had a higher rate of survival per capita.

Himmler and Eichmann consider the deportation of Jews from France to be a dismal failure.  Himmler concluded that the total removal of Jews from France was “extremely difficult” because of the “very strained relations with the French military administration.”

The French bureaucratic system was determined to force Jews to leave France and, at the same time, threw up a web of complicated bureaucratic procedures to impede their emigration.  Overlapping French agencies, petty governmental rivalries, and a general lack of organization made fleeing France an almost impossible task.  Many emigration regulations were vague, confusing and largely incoherent.  A regulation in force one week would be rescinded or changed the following week.  In the end, Vichy was at cross-purposes with itself, both encouraging and complicating emigration at the same moment.

Requesting an exit visa from Vichy was virtually impossible.  Requests were often lost.

Emigration was possible between 1940 and the end of 1941.  After 1942, the legal escape routes were closed.

Ironically for refugees, the safest place to escape was to a fascist country. These countries were Italy, Spain and Portugal. 

Between 1940 and 1942, more than 50,000 Jews escaped through emigration, both legal and illegal.

United States Visa Policy, 1938-1943

Between the Evian Conference of July 1938 and the entry of the US into the war in December 1941, the US State Department did little to liberalize its policy in regard to helping endangered Jewish refugees in Europe.  There was much discussion by both the State Department and the Executive Branch, but in fact very little action was taken.  Countless refugees who otherwise might have been saved were caught in a bureaucratic tangle of rules and regulations that were created for the express purpose of making it difficult, if not impossible, to leave Europe and enter the United States.

The refugee crisis reached a boiling point on March 13, 1938, when Austria was annexed by Germany (the Anschluss).  Austria became a province of the German Greater Reich and was renamed Austmark.  As a result of the Anschluss, the Roosevelt administration combined both the German and Austrian immigration quotas together.  Thousands of Austrian Jews caught in the Nazi web desperately sought to escape.

Shortly after the Anschluss in Austria, a group of American rescue and relief organizations convened in the US on April 14, 1938. They met to

“…undertake a preliminary consideration of the most effective manner in which private individuals and organizations within the United States [could] cooperate with this government in the work to be undertaken by the International Committee which will be shortly created to facilitate the emigration of political refugees from Austria and Germany.” 

This committee became known as the Presidential Advisory Committee on Political Refugees (PACPR).  The committee could report directly to President Franklin Roosevelt.

The President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees (PACPR) met at the US State Department on May 16, 1938, and appointed James G. McDonald as Chairman and Samuel Cavert as Secretary.  It became one of the leading activist and advocacy groups working on behalf of European Jewish refugees.

As a result of the continuing international refugee crisis, representatives from 32 countries and 39 private organizations, 21 of which are Jewish, met at Evian, France, from July 6-15, 1938.  The intent was to discuss international refugee policy. 

In reality, none of the 32 participating countries attending had any real intention of admitting the thousands of Jewish refugees who were trying to escape Nazi Germany and Austria. 

During the conference, the US did nothing to help refugees.  The US State Department explicitly declared, “No country would be expected to make any changes in its immigration legislation.”  There was desperation among the Jewish organizations attending the conference.  The conferees concluded that “The world is made up of two types of countries: the kind where Jews could not live and the kind where Jews could not enter.” 

The lack of support for Jewish refugees at Evian signaled to Hitler that the world was unconcerned about Jews.

On November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a pogrom against the Jews known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).  The pogrom was launched in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland.  Thousands of Jews were beaten, hundreds killed; 200 synagogues were set on fire and destroyed; 7,500 Jewish shops were looted; 171 Jewish homes were destroyed; 30,000 German, Austrian and Sudeten Jews were sent to concentration camps (Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen), 15,000 from Austria.

The US Ambassador to Germany, Hugh Wilson, sent an extensive report about the Kristallnacht pogrom to the US State Department.  Wilson recommended that strong diplomatic action be taken against Germany for the persecution of Jews.

As a result of the Kristallnacht pogrom, President Roosevelt met with State Department officials to discuss the continuing refugee crisis.  The only response of the State Department was to issue a directive to US consuls to issue fewer visas.

To relieve some of the pressure, President Roosevelt announced that visitor’ visas for approximately 15,000 refugees would be extended.  This was in response to the Kristallnacht pogroms.

In 1939, 300,000 Germans, 90% of them Jewish, applied for visas to the United States.  Only a few were allowed to immigrate to the United States.  This was only a fraction of the German and Austrian quota.

Sixty anti-alien proposals were introduced into the US Congress in 1939.  These proposed laws were supported by so-called patriotic and nativist organizations.  American public opinion polls indicated that attitudes against changing immigration laws to favor refugees went from 67% in 1938 to 83% in 1939.

On February 9, 1939, the Wagner-Rogers bill was introduced into the US Congress.  It proposed to allow 10,000 refugee children under 15 years old to be admitted to the US in 1939-1940.  The Nonsectarian Committee for German Refugee Children lobbied for this legislation.  The Committee proposed that refugee children be taken care of with private money and assistance.  Though the bill was supported by Eleanor Roosevelt, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, Francis Biddle, and former US President Herbert Hoover, it was stalled and eventually put aside.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland.  World War II began. 

As a result of the continuing refugee crisis, the Intergovernmental Committee met in Washington on October 16, 1939.  FDR called for a major plan to resettle Jewish refugees from Europe into a “supplemental national home.” A number of major proposals were submitted to Roosevelt.  Because of Roosevelt’s indifference and lack of interest, no plan was adopted.

In January 1940, President Roosevelt appointed Breckinridge Long as Assistant Secretary of State for Special Problems.  Long supervised 23 of the 42 divisions of the State Department.  Among his duties were overseeing the visa section, civilian internees, overseas relief, prisoners of war, immigration and refugee policies.  From the outset of his appointment, Long was opposed to helping refugees escape Nazi Germany and its occupied territories.  He claimed that refugees entering the country posed a major security risk, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Throughout the war, Long and his subordinates in the State Department implemented anti-Jewish immigration policies.  These policies lasted until he was replaced and the War Refugee Board was created in 1944. 

To impede immigration, Long exploited divisions among American Jewish groups.  He stated in his diary, “there is no cohesion, nor any sympathetic collaboration—rather rivalry, jealousy and antagonism…” 

On February 16 and 23, 1940, Assistant Secretary of State Adolph A. Berle, Jr., tried to persuade US Secretary of State Cordell Hull to protest treatment of Jews in Poland.  His request was based on a report by the Chargé in Warsaw, Alexander Kirk.  Berle sated:

“We should register a protest.  We did so during the far less significant, though more dramatic, riots of a year ago November; and I see no reason why we should not make our feelings known regarding a policy of seemingly calculated cruelty which is beginning to be apparent now.” 

The idea of a formal protest was ultimately quashed by Breckinridge Long.

On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.  Germans enforced anti-Jewish measures in each area.  In the wake of the German invasions, more than 8 million persons were displaced all over Europe.

On May 12, 1940, Germany invaded France.

In June 1940, US embassies and consulates in Nazi-occupied Europe (Germany, Austria, France, Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Luxembourg) were ordered to begin closing.  The US embassy in Paris was moved to Vichy France.

During this period, visa regulations for refugees were severely tightened by State Department policy and US law.  A refugee seeking to enter the US had to prove that they could return to the country of their origin from which they are fleeing.  This was, in most cases, impossible because refugees were subject to arrest if they returned to their home country.

One of the most devastating setbacks for refugees occurred when the Bloom-Van Nuys Immigration Law was passed on June 21 and took effect on July 1, 1940.  Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long had lobbied for this bill.  It was meant to require US consuls stationed in Europe to deny entry to the US for refugees based on the possibility that they constituted a security risk.  This law applied to immigrants from Germany, Austria, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, occupied France, Poland and the Balkans.  This restrictive law was clearly intended to cast suspicion on refugees trying to escape Nazi tyranny.

A provision of this law, called the “close relative clause,” denied visas to refugees with relatives in Nazi-occupied territories.  The “close relative” clause stated:

“…the fact that a relative of the first degree of consanguinity [father, mother, brother, sister, wife, children], with whom the applicant had maintained close family ties, remains abroad in any country or territory under the control of a country whose form of government is opposed to the form of government of the United States may be considered with other evidence that the ties between such relative and the applicant would make the entry of the applicant prejudicial to the public safety or inimical to the interests of the United States.”

Since almost all refugees had family members trapped in their home countries, particularly in Germany and Austria, few could meet this “security” requirement.

The Bloom-Van Nuys Act sent a clear message to US ambassadors and consular officials that help to refugees was to be restricted and discouraged.  This act imposed upon immigrants five complicated levels of visa application review.  This review was designed to take authority away from local consuls to make independent decisions regarding the eligibility of the immigrant to enter the US. 

Decisions by diplomats to issue visas were often reviewed by the Department of State, Navy and Army intelligence, the Department of Justice, and the FBI.  Refugees who were denied visas faced a long, complicated appeals process that took up to five months.  During this period, more than half of all visa applications were rejected by the US State Department.  The entire visa application process was so cumbersome and bureaucratic that only 121 visas out of 985 were approved by September 1941. 

In addition to the above, all refugees were required to get the endorsement of two sponsors living in the US.  One sponsor must vouch for the financial solvency of the refugee and the other must attest to their moral qualifications.  Under these regulations, refugees were forced to go through three separate review committees: a primary committee, an independent visa review committee, and, if the application was denied, a Board of Appeals.

An elaborate visa application was then filled out in sextuplicate and distributed to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI, Military and Naval Intelligence, and the State Department.  It took 3-6 weeks to process the forms.  As a result, the application process fell 4-5 months behind schedule for each applicant. 

Applicants were divided between “friendly aliens” (not escaping from Nazi-occupied countries) and “enemy aliens” (escaping from Germany, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria or Hungary). 

Applicants who were rejected had to wait six months to reapply for a visa.  They were not told the reason that their visa was turned down. 

If the applicant cleared all these hurdles, the local consulate was cabled by Washington and the visa could be approved at the discretion of the consul if the immigration quota was not yet filled. 

The strict provisions of the Bloom-Van Nuys Act were not rescinded until after the war ended in May 1945.  For the rest of the war, only a small fraction of US immigration quotas for German, Austrian, French and other European refugees were filled. 

Breckinridge Long and the State Department imposed further restrictions on immigration.  They required that potential refugees obtain exit visas from the countries they were leaving, to include Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Southern France, before they could obtain an entry visa to the US.  These exit visas from the Nazi government were difficult to obtain.  Refugees also had to obtain transportation to the point of departure and, ultimately, to the United States.

The visa application process was time-sensitive.  If the refugee could not secure paperwork from the Nazi authorities and arrange transportation, the US visa application could be cancelled and the whole process started over. 

Long understood that these regulations would tie up refugees in elaborate rules and regulations of government red tape.  He stated,

“We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States.  We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to resort to various administrative advices which would postpone and postpone the granting of visas.”

James McDonald, of the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees (PACPR), was outraged by the Bloom-Van Nuys Act.  He complained:

“The so-called relative rule should be cancelled or substantially modified.  Our experience with refugees has convinced us that it is unnecessary, illogical, ill-adapted to the purposes claimed for it, and cruelly burdensome on the refugees affected by it.”

A number of US diplomats independently subverted the intention of the Bloom-Van Nuys Act and provided visas to a number of Jewish refugees.  Among these were: Vice Consul Hiram “Harry” Bingham, IV, in Marseilles; Consul General Rives Childs in Tangiers; Consul General Raymond Hermann Geist in Berlin; and others.

Breckenridge Long’s Special Problems Division of the State Department was lobbied by these organizations to help refugees.  He wrote disparagingly of this pressure: “There is a constant pressure from Congressional and organized groups in this country to have us proceed on behalf of non-Americans….  So far, I’ve been able to resist the pressure.”

James Grover McDonald complained that certain refugees, particularly those with political affiliations, such as labor leaders, Spanish nationalists and intellectuals, were targeted for stricter screening regulations by the State Department. 

Long wrote in his diary in 1940, “The list of Rabbis has been closed and the list of labor leaders has been closed and now it remains for the President’s Committee to be curbed.” 

Many rescue advocates were well aware of Long’s obstructionism.  Long was aware of this criticism by both refugee advocates and Jewish community leaders.  In his diary, Long writes: “[James Grover] McDonald…has developed a very definite and violent antagonism to me, he thinks I have been non-cooperative and obstructive…”

After the invasion and occupation of France in June 1940, tens of thousands of new refugees were trapped in the occupied and unoccupied zones of France.  Rescue organizations intensified their efforts to save trapped exiles.  Among these rescue groups were the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton and the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Scholars (University in Exile).  These organizations and others helped place hundreds of intellectuals in universities, colleges, and other institutions throughout the US.  The US government was to provide only limited help to these organizations by providing visas.

On June 14, 1940, The President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees (PACPR) submitted a list of 600 refugees to be issued special emergency visas.

On June 27, 1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and influential refugee advocates, including Thomas Mann and Joseph Chamberlain, influenced the President to authorize the issuance of emergency visas to notable Jewish artists, labor leaders and other refugees in France who were endangered.  As a result, the National Coordinating Committee for Aid to Refugees also drew up a list of prominent refugees to receive temporary emergency visas to the US.  In all, the list included the names of 3,286 individuals of “superior intellectual attainment, of indomitable spirit, experienced and vigorous support of the precepts of liberal government, and who are in danger of persecution or death at the hands of autocracies.”  This rescue project was undermined by Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long and senior State Department officials in Washington.  The State Department cut the list down and slowed the processing of temporary emergency visas.  By December 19, 1940, only 238 emergency visas were issued by the State Department.  When the rescue effort was ended in January 1941, only 1,236 emergency visas had been issued.  The editor of The Nation magazine Freda Kirshway stated: “The State Department does not refuse visas, it merely sets up a line of obstructions stretching from Washington to Lisbon to Shanghai.”

Nativist, isolationist and xenophobic groups and other elements were a constant source of lobbying against the liberalizing of federal legislation to promote rescue of refugees.  These had a significant impact on Congressmen and Senators in Washington.  One proposal, HR 9999, proposed “that every alien in the US shall be forthwith deported.”

On October 3, 1940, Breckinridge Long met with President Roosevelt and convinced him to implement a policy that would let local US consuls make the final decision regarding visas to be issued to refugees.  Long did this because he believed most US consulates would deny visas on the issue of a possible threat by the refugee to “national security.”  He stated in his diary, “I found that he [Roosevelt] was 100% in accord with my ideas.”

Prominent rescue advocates, such as Myron C. Taylor, James Grover McDonald and Stephen Wise, found it very difficult to meet with President Roosevelt.

On October 8, 1940, James G. McDonald and other representatives of rescue groups met with FDR to complain that Undersecretary Breckinridge Long and the US State Department were unjustly using “security” as a rationale to block the legitimate rescue of endangered refugees.  McDonald argued: “[I] cannot believe, that those without visas present threats to the national interest.”  Specifically, McDonald criticized some US consuls in Europe.  The names of 567 refugees were submitted to the State Department in August and September, yet only 40 visas were issued.

James McDonald further complained that refugees, despite reaching Portugal:

“…are still refused visas.  To close this last avenue of escape is to condemn many scientists, scholars, writers, labor leaders and other refugees to further sacrifices for their belief in democracy and to bring to an end our tradition of hospitality to the politically oppressed.  The original arrangements were wisely and soundly planned.  Their purpose is still to be achieved.” 

Throughout the war, Breckinridge Long continued to defend his policies on the basis of national security.  After the complaint by McDonald, Long stated:

“In view of reports indicating that Nazi and other totalitarian agents are endeavoring to enter the United States in the guise of refugees, it has been considered essential in the national interest to scrutinize all applications carefully.” 

Reports by the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover stated that there was negligible entry of foreign agents into the United States during World War II. 

On November 13, 1940, Avra Warren, head of the Visa Division of the US State Department, serving under Long, criticized and vetoed a plan to permit 12,000 German Jews residing in Portugal safe refuge in the US Virgin Islands.

By mid-1941, the United States, a non-belligerent in the war, had more rigid screening procedures for refugees than did Britain, who had been fighting for two years.  As a result of the US State Department’s interference and antisemitic policies, many European Jews were unable to obtain refuge in the United States.  In the crucial year of 1941, only 47% of the immigration quota for Germany and Austria was filled.

The New Republic magazine wrote a scathing series of articles in 1941 calling for an inquiry into antisemitism in the US State Department.  The articles categorically stated that there was “widespread antisemitism in the Foreign Service.”

On July 15, 1941, US consulates in Nazi occupied Europe were closed.  These included consulates in Germany, Austria, France, Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium.  Escape routes from these areas were cut off from legal emigration.

On July 28, 1941, former US diplomat Alfred Wagg published a series of articles in the New Republic magazine highly critical of the visa policy of the US State Department.  He accused the State Department of widespread antisemitism and anti-refugee sentiments in the US Foreign Service.

On August 15, 1941, the German government stopped issuing exit visas to Jews.

In September 1941, US Representative Emanuel Celler introduced a bill into the US House of Representatives that called for letting refugees from France enter the US.  Celler’s bill died in committee.

On September 2, 1941, Francis Biddle and James G. McDonald convinced FDR to liberalize the “close relative clause” and the visa policy for refugees.  In a small way, this helped refugees in their appeals process.  The rate of visa rejection was lowered by 15%.

In October 1941, only 4,800 visa applications out of 9,500 were approved by the US State Department for refugees.  The US State Department and Department of Justice disagreed on refugee visa policy and security issues.

In his book, No Haven for the Oppressed, Saul Friedman writes:

“After 1942, all concerned with the refugee-rescue effort were aware of the relation between the movement east sponsored by Berlin and the movement west which might have been sponsored by the receiving nations.  For every cattle car that rolled eastward loaded with Jews, there was a corresponding decrease in the refugee burden.  By liquidating Jews, Berlin was not only solving its ‘Jewish question,’ it was solving the State Department’s refugee question as well… All one had to do was wait, and refugees clamoring to come to the United States would be converted into silent corpses.”

On January 27, 1942, President Roosevelt, in a private conversation with Leo Crowley, Wartime Alien Property Custodian, stated:

“Leo, you know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and the Jews are here on sufferance.  It is up to both of you [Crowley and Henry Morgenthau, a Jew and Secretary of the Treasury] to go along with anything that I want at this time.”

On May 7, 1943, Deputy Head of the US Visa Section of the State Department Robert Alexander suggested in a memo that Jews in the United States were “in league with Hitler” and were hampering the US war effort.

Later, Cordell Hull wrote to FDR, “The unknown cost of moving an undetermined number of persons from an undisclosed place to an unknown destination, a scheme advocated by certain pressure groups, is, of course, out of the question.”

On May 19, 1943, President Roosevelt wrote Secretary of State Hull rejecting the idea of using North Africa as a safe refuge for Jews.  Roosevelt said: “That would be extremely unwise.”

On November 24, 1943, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau drafted a letter to the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, objecting to the State Department’s slow approval of the transfer of funds for the rescue of Jews in France and Romania.

On November 26, 1943, Breckinridge Long continued his campaign against Jewish immigration to the United States.  He gave misleading testimony about immigration before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Long intentionally exaggerated the number of refugees admitted to the country.  Long claimed that 547,775 refugees had entered the country.  Yet, between December 1941 and the end of the war, only 163,843 Jewish refugees were admitted to the US and they comprised only 5.9% of the US quota available for Axis-controlled countries.

Jewish groups and refugee advocates sharply criticized Long for his gross exaggeration of the number of refugees entering the country.  They also criticized the State Department’s restrictive immigration policy and regulations.

Breckinridge Long also testified before a Congressional committee that there was inadequate shipping to take Jewish refugees from Europe to the United States.  Yet, by this time, more than 200,000 prisoners of war had been shipped to the US.  By the end of the war, 435,400 POWs had been sent from Europe to the US. 

By the end of 1943, 28 countries were at war with Germany.  Not one country, including the United States and Great Britain, was actively involved in the rescue of Jews.

Two agents from the Treasury Department discovered the State Department’s cable telegrams suppressing information about the murder of Jews in Europe.  The cables were sent to Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau, who was infuriated.  Morgenthau and Treasury agents drafted a document outlining the failure of the State Department to help Jews.

On December 20, 1943, US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau and his assistant, John Pehle, met with US Secretary of State Cordell Hull and his assistant, Breckinridge Long.  Morgenthau complained about the State Department’s almost complete non-cooperation in approving the transfer of funds to be used for the rescue of Jews.  Morgenthau assigned Randolph Paul, General Counsel of the Treasury Department, to prepare a background paper documenting the eight month delay in granting World Jewish Congress representative Gerhardt Riegner the license to transfer money.  Josiah E. DuBois, Jr., prepared the paper with John Pehle and the Foreign Funds Control Division.  Pehle and DuBois investigated the State Department’s inaction on this and other matters, and they prepared a document entitled Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of Jews.  It was signed by Randolph Paul.  The full report was never published.

On July 1, 1945, the State Department removed strict screening procedures for refugees.  It reverted to prewar regulations.