Introduction to Rescue by the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was headquartered in Geneva, Swizterland. The ICRC had representatives throughout all of Europe before and during World War II. In addition, there were Red Cross representatives from individual countries.
Germany began persecuting Jews beginning in 1933. The ICRC statutes and international agreements (conventions) under which it operated did not allow it to intervene on behalf of Jewish victims. This was true throughout Europe and in Axis-occupied countries. The ICRC interpreted its mission under these conventions as the protection of prisoners of war (POWs) throughout Europe. Under these conventions, Jews were not considered combatants or prisoners of war. The ICRC believed that if it helped Jews, it would be prevented from acting on behalf of POWs and others covered under the Geneva conventions under which it operated. Further, the ICRC felt that if they actively helped Jews, they would be banned from operating in areas controlled by Germany. Indeed, under the circumstances, the ICRC was unable to protect the countless Soviet POWs under German control.
The Red Cross has been criticized for its very limited role in aiding Jews and other victims of the Nazis during the war.
Representatives of the ICRC and Red Cross representatives from numerous countries intervened on a limited basis to aid Jews before and during the war. Red Cross representatives from Sweden and Switzerland were very active in aiding Jews during the Nazi occupation of Budapest, Hungary, in 1944 and the Arrow Cross reign of terror in 1944-1945.
Count Folke Bernadotte, a member of the Swedish royal family and head of the Swedish Red Cross, aided thousands of Jews by removing them from concentration camps in Germany and transporting them to Sweden during the last weeks of the war.
Red Cross representatives had the status of neutral diplomats. As such, they were protected from arrest or imprisonment.
[Ben-Tov, Arieh. Facing the Holocaust in Budapest: The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Jews in Hungary, 1943-1945. (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1988). Favez, Jean-Claude. Edited and translated by John and Beryl Fletcher. The Red Cross and the Holocaust. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).]
Updated November 4, 2017