Beyond the Diplomacy – Polish and Chilean diplomats’ attempts to save Jews from Holocaust
During the Second World War, the Chilean government assumed the representation of Poland´s interests in Italy and Romania. In Romania, Samuel del Campo, a Chilean diplomat in the country in 1941-1943, issued Chilean passports to Polish citizens, saving the lives of many Polish Jews. In Switzerland, the “Bernese group” led by Polish Envoy Aleksander Ładoś arranged counterfeit Latin American (especially Paraguayan) passports as part of attempts to save Jews.
These examples were discussed by the participants of a seminar on 5 December 2018 organised by PISM and the Embassy of Chile in Poland. The activities of the Chileans in Romania were presented by Jorge Schindler del Solar, the head of the political department of the Embassy of Chile in Spain and author of the book Más alla de la diplomacia: la inédita historia de Samuel del Campo (Eng: “More than diplomacy. The unknown history of Samuel del Campo”). The Bernese group’s activities and the state of research on it were introduced by the Polish Ambassador to Switzerland Jakub Kumoch.
Schindler del Solar emphasized the selflessness of Chilean diplomats del Campo and Miguel Angel Rivera in rescuing Polish Jews transported to Romania to be exterminated. Del Campo emphasised that it wasn’t a matter of religion (he was Catholic) but the responsibility of Poles in representing the interests of their country in Romania. Schindler also noted that del Campo had discovered the fate of Jews transported from Transnistria and noted they were moved in inhumane conditions in cattle trains. According to Schindler, del Campo was the first to use the term “ghetto” to describe the situation of the Jews in Romania in a note to the Foreign Ministry. Schindler's research found that the Chilean passports issued by del Campo helped save about 1,200 people. At the insistence of Nazi Germany, which had strong political and economic influence in Chile, the two diplomats were forced to complete their mission. Del Campo spent the last years of his life in Paris, and his achievements have come to light only in recent years.
Ambassador of Chile to Poland Julio Bravo Yubini completed Schindler’s statement, reminding that during the Second World War Chile represented the interests of Poland also in Italy and there, the Chilean embassy issued passports for Poles threatened with repression or poverty.
Ambassador Kumoch presented the history of the group in Bern led by the Polish envoy in Switzerland, Alexander Ładoś. Besides Ładoś, two other Polish diplomats and three Jewish activists were involved. They falsified passports from Latin American countries to allow Jews to escape occupied Poland. The action was coordinated by Polish consul Konstanty Rokicki. It is estimated that they distributed about 1,050 such passports, which allowed more than 2,000 people to be saved. The Polish government in exile learned of these activities only in 1943 but permitted them to continue. The countries whose passports were being falsified, once learning of the practice and circumstances, legalised these documents. Ambassador Kumoch showed examples of documents and told the history of the Jewish survivors and their descendants. He introduced, among others, the record of the interrogation of Julius Kuhl by the Swiss police about the counterfeiting of documents, which indicated clearly Rokicki's key role in the effort’s coordination.
During the discussion, Ambassador Kumoch, asked whether the diplomats had broken the law to save lives, firmly stated that years later a diplomat will be assessed for how he acted as a human, not for simply executing instructions. At the same time, he drew attention to the particular life experience of the figures, who, before they had been diplomats, were for many years working toward independence and were accustomed to breaking the law as a means to achieve their lofty goals.
Prepared by: Maciej Pawłowski