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Holocaust-Era Heroes Honored

April 4, 2000

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Swiss Vice Consul Carl Lutz helped 62,000 Hungarian Jews survive the Holocaust. Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara issued thousands of visas to Polish Jews in Lithuania.

And U.S. Vice Consul Hiram Bingham helped save more than 2,000 Jews in France, including artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst.

Fifty-five years after the end of World War II, the international community paid tribute Monday night to 84 unsung diplomats _ including these three envoys _ who risked their lives to keep more than 300,000 Jews out of Nazi gas chambers.

The emotional ceremony in the General Assembly hall brought together families of many of the diplomats, some of the Jews they saved, and one of the four surviving envoys _ Polish diplomat Jan Karski, who provided U.S. and British leaders with some of the first eyewitness accounts of Nazi atrocities.

``We believe there are more than 500,000 people alive today as a result of diplomats who mostly defied the orders of their governments to issue visas to every country in the free world,″ said Eric Saul, director of a new U.N. exhibition called ``Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats.″

``Thanks to them, some measure of hope and faith was possible _ hope for the future and faith in the creator as well as his creatures,″ Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, told the crowd of several hundred at the ceremony. But ``why didn’t others do it?″

The fate of the most famous diplomat, Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg, is still unknown.

His niece, Nane Annan, the wife of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, recalled how he put up safe houses and issued Swedish diplomatic papers to more than 30,000 Hungarian Jews only to be arrested by the Russians in January 1945, months before the war ended.

Selahattin Ulkumen, the Turkish consul general in Rhodes, Greece, lost his wife when she died from injuries she suffered in a Nazi bombing that was in retaliation for his successful effort to rescue 42 Jewish families in July 1944.

More than half the diplomats _ 80 men and 4 women from 24 countries _ were fired by their governments for their actions, Saul said.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul general in Bordeaux, France, lost his job and all his property after issuing 30,000 visas in June 1940, including 10,000 to Jews. He died in poverty in Lisbon in 1954.

``My father did what he did because as he said, `I’d rather be with God against man than with man against God.′ That meant that the instructions that he had were immoral, inhumane, and he would not comply with them,″ said John Paul Abranches, his youngest son.

Bingham said he was transferred to Argentina and resigned in January 1946 in protest over the State Department’s refusal to address the issues of Nazi gold and Nazi war criminals being transported to Latin America.

Agnes Hirschi said Lutz, her stepfather and a man who saved more Jews than any other diplomat, lived by the philosophy that ``the laws of life are stronger than man-made regulations.″

``He was the right man in the right place. He was a deeply religious Methodist. He saw ... the Jews being persecuted and he felt he had to help them,″ she said. ``His conscience said he had to do it, and God would give him the force to do it.″

Feng Shan Ho, China’s consul general in Vienna who issued visas to Jews escaping the Nazi occupation of Austria in 1938, received a reprimand from the government. Ho died in San Francisco in 1997 at the age of 96, his deeds never recognized.

Angel Sanz-Briz, Spain’s ambassador in Budapest who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews, was also never recognized before his death in 1980. Posthumously, he has been honored by Israel. Hungary and Spain have also issued a postage stamp with his portrait, calling him a defender of human rights.

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