"Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats" 3-28 April 2000
Ms. Annan at the "Visa for life" exhibit

" Some famous, others known to just a few, they make up a gallery of courageous individuals who, in the face of an inhuman force that was destroying lives and societies alike, took enormous personal risks to rescue Jews and others facing persecution and peril. They were true heroes; indeed, they were among the foremost human rights defenders of their day."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
3 April 2000, opening of the exhibition "Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats"

"Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats" is an exhibit that tells, for the first time, an important and untold story of the Holocaust. The exhibit features dramatic stories of diplomats from different countries, cultures and background who by the end of the war had saved tens thousands of lives.

    These stories collectively may constitute the largest rescue of Jews and other refugees during the Nazi Holocaust. Risking their careers and even their lives these diplomats issued visas, including exit visas and transit visas, citizenship papers, protective papers and other forms of documentation that allowed Jews to escape the Nazis. They smuggled refugees across international borders and frontiers, they established safe houses and went on missions to halt deportations to the death camps. Some even hid Jews in their embassies and in their personal residences. Between 1938 and 1945 these coureagous diplomats saved over 200,000 lives.

    This exhibition is based on original photographs collected from the families of the diplomats, eyewitness accounts of survivors and original government records.

    This exhibit is sponsored by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats Project.

For more information on this exhibit, you may contact the UN Public Inquiries Desk: 212-963-4475


    The diplomats whose stories are featured in this exhibit are:

  • Per Anger
    Secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest, 1944-45

  • Lars Berg
    Attaché in Budapest, 1944-45

  • Hiram Bingham
    US Vice Consul in Marseilles, 1940

  • Friedrich Bom
    delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Budapest, 1944-45

  • Carl Ivan Danielsson
    Swedish Envoyé of the Swedish Legation in Budapest

  • Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz
    German Consul in Copenhagen, 1943

  • Frank Foley
    British Vice Consul in Charge of Visas in Berlin, 1938-39

  • Dr. Feng Shan Ho
    Consul General of China in Vienna, 1938-39

  • Valdemar Langlet
    delegate of the Swedish Red Cross (SRC) in Budapest 1944-45 and cultural attaché at the Swedish Legation

 

  • Carl Lutz
    Consul for Switzerland in Budapest, 1944-45

  • Giorgio Perlasca
    Chargé d'Affaires of the Spanish Legation, Budapest 1944-45

  • Monsignor Angelo Rotta
    Italy, Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) in Budapest, 1944-45

  • Don Angel Sanz-Briz
    Spain, Ambassador in Budapesst 1944

  • Dr. Anstides de Sousa Mendes
    Portuguese Consul, Bordeaux, June 1940

  • Chiune Sugihara
    Consul for Japan in Kovno, Lithuania, 1940

  • Selahattin ülkümen
    Turkish Consul General in Rhodes, July 1944

  • Raoul Wallenberg
    Secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest, 1944-45

  • Jan Zwartendijk
    Acting Dutch Consul in Kovno, Lithuania, 1940


    In addition The Swedish Red Cross and Folke Bernadotte and Operation White Busses are honored in the exhibit

 

Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the opening of the exhibition "Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats", delivered on his behalf by Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations Gillian Sorensen, at Headquarters on 3 April:

"It is a pleasure and an honour to welcome you all to United Nations Headquarters. I bring you greetings from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who truly regrets his inability to join you tonight. It may be small solace to you to know that he is on his way to Geneva to address the Commission on Human Rights, but I mention this to illustrate the Secretary-General's commitment to the same cause to which you are dedicated: the battle for human dignity in an incessantly brutal world. He has asked me to read you the following message:

  Dear friends,

  This remarkable event, this heart-rending exhibition, and you yourselves all have a natural home at the United Nations. The yearning for a United Nations had its origins in the scourge of fascism and Nazism, and its Charter was written as the world was first learning the full horror of the Holocaust. Today, your struggle -- against hatred and intolerance, and for justice and remembrance -- is our struggle, as well.

  The popular image  of diplomats is  not a  flattering one. One  familiar description  says that "diplomacy  is to  do and say the  nastiest thing, in the nicest way".  It is sometimes said that diplomats lack  a moral compass, passively  following the orders  of bosses  and regimes  regardless of their political or ethical character -- or lack thereof. The popular image of diplomats is not a flattering one. One familiar description says that "diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest thing, in the nicest way". It is sometimes said that diplomats lack a moral compass, passively following the orders of bosses and regimes regardless of their political or ethical character -- or lack thereof.

Maybe that is true of some. It was emphatically not true of the extraordinary people whose stories are told by "Visas for Life". Some famous, others known to just a few, they make up a gallery of courageous individuals who, in the face of an inhuman force that was destroying lives and societies alike, took enormous personal risks to rescue Jews and others facing persecution and peril. They were true heroes; indeed, they were among the foremost human rights defenders of their day. With genocide still stalking our world, they are models for our time, too.

  The United Nations seeks to carry on in that tradition -- first and foremost, to save lives, but also to show that the popular image of diplomacy is an unfair caricature. That is why the United Nations tries to shine a spotlight on injustice, wherever it lurks. It is why we build institutions such as the International Criminal Court, so that no one -- from rulers to front-line soldiers -- can enjoy impunity from the rule of law. It is why, next year in South Africa, we will hold a world conference on racism at which, I should stress, anti-Semitism will be one of the forms of intolerance targeted for action. And it is why United Nations personnel continue to work in war zones and other risky places -- many of whom, like Dag Hammarskjold, have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace.

I would like to express my congratulations to the many groups and individuals who have made this project possible. You are doing more than documenting stories worth passing on from generation to generation. You are teaching the world that each and every one of us has a responsibility to care and be aware, and to speak up in the face of suffering, prejudice and violence. Had there been more righteous diplomats and more righteous people in general over the years, our world might be a better place. With more such individuals in the future, it still can be. In that hopeful spirit, please accept my best wishes for a memorable evening."


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