Alexander Udo and Stephan Renovich of the Berne Group should earn the title Righteous Among the Nations for Saving Jews during World War II, as the former head of the Righteous Division at Yad Vashem, Mordechai Baldel, wrote in the Jerusalem Post.

Polish diplomats in Bern, Switzerland, devised a plan to save Jews living in the various countries occupied by Nazi Germany by granting them passports from Latin American countries, mainly Paraguay. People with such documents were subsequently exchanged by the government of the Third Reich for German citizens living in the countries of Latin America.

The operation was initiated by the Polish ambassador to Bern, Alexander Shadow, his deputy, Stefan Rinjevi, the consul Konstane Rokicki, and the attaché-plenipotentiary Julius Cowell. In 2019, the GAD and Shem Institute awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations only to Constanti Rokiki, although, as Mordecai Baldel points out, he “basically followed the instructions of his superiors.”

“The decision to refuse to grant the title of the Righteous to the Rokiki Principals who planned, initiated and carried out the rescue operation for a long time remains inexplicable, which is confirmed by the extensive archival information provided to Yad Vashem” – writes the researcher.

As he notes, over the past year, repeated requests to “clarify this omission have met with complete silence.”

In his essay, Baldel pleads with the institute, where he has worked for 24 years, to correct the mistake and posthumously bestow the title of the Righteous to the main heroes of this “giant rescue”.

“Should there be ulterior reasons for not being able to do this despite serious evidence in their favor, is Yad Vashem, a public body established by law, not required at least to give reasons for this refusal? – he asked.

It is not known exactly how many Jews the Bernese group actually saved with the issuance of several thousand passports. In some cases, European Jews also obtained Polish passports to allow them to flee Europe, as was the case with Joseph Burg, who would later become a minister in the Israeli government, and Pierre Mendes France, the future prime minister of France.

“What is amazing about this story is the close cooperation between Polish diplomats and many Jewish activists in Switzerland,” Baldel asserts, including Abraham Silberchin from the World Jewish Congress, Rabbi Haim Yisrael Ess from Agudat Israel, and Yitzhak and Richa Sternbuch from Vad. Hatsala in New York testified about the role of Polish diplomats in the rescue operation.

Joanna Bachaza (PAP)

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