More humanitarian Dutch consuls

Yesterday I decided to post a call for other Toulouse visa holders to come forward on the discussion board. I've used the board a few times before to seek information with some success. Before posting, I ran some queries to make sure the topic or something similar had not be covered previously. I searched a variety of terms including "Toulouse," "Gissot," "van Dobben," etc. When I tried "Dutch consul," I found a highly interesting 2001 posting by Irwin Schiffres.

He was posting the results of his investigation into the circumstances of his family's exit from Marseilles to Lisbon in August 1940, courtesy of visas issued by the Dutch consulate in that city. Schiffres was 10 years old at the time, having been born in Cologne in 1931 and having escaped with his family to Belgium in 1938.

Here are excerpts from his account:

After managing to get out of Germany in 1938, escaping Belgium when the Germans invaded in May 1940, and leaving Bordeaux on the last train before the Nazis arrived, my parents and I finally made it to Marseilles in August 1940. The pressing need at the time seemed to be to get out of Vichy France and at least to get to neutral Portugal. But a Portuguese transit visa, as well as a Spanish one, could be obtained only if one had a visa to an overseas destination. My recollection was (I was only 10 at the time) and for years I have told the story that my parents obtained a visa to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) so as to enable them to get the Spanish and Portuguese visas. (We still did not have a visa de sortie -- but that's another story.) We arrived in Lisbon in October 1940.

He then writes that he learned many years later that various experts about refugees in Marseilles—an author, a documentary film maker—knew nothing about Dutch diplomats playing a role in refugee rescue. This is in the mid-1990s. The one Dutch connection that is known and which he Schiffres now learns about is the case of Jan Zwartendijk in Lithuania, but he doesn't see the connection. But he now takes the inquiry a step further.

Having exhausted my library search, I wrote to the Dutch consulate in New York inquiring whether they knew of the issuance of such visas to Jewish refugees. I received a reply from Stef Buytendijk of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, stating that the Dutch consul-general in Marseille in 1940 was Mr. C.J. van der Waarden, the consul was Mr. J. ten Hagen, and that it was likely that either granted our visa. He further stated that a third person who could have granted the visa was a Mr. D.F.W. van Lennep, "a member of Dutch lower nobility" who [later became a representative for refugees] in Vichy France.

Schiffres followed up with Buytendijk to inquire why any of these gentleman would issue visas to a non-Dutch family. Schriffres and his mother were German; his father, Polish.

I received a further reply from Mr. Buytendijk which stated that the summer of 1940 was a very disturbing and confusing time and that due to bad communication, Dutch consulates in Vichy-France did not know if they could grant visas for the Dutch East Indies to people with [foreign] passports. Mr. Buytendijk further stated that he found some correspondence in the Dutch archives showing that visas could only be granted to people with [foreign] passports upon a bank guarantee and after the consul-general in Vichy, van Sevenster, was consulted. Thus, it was possible for Polish citizens to apply for visas altough the Dutch consulates knew that that it was very difficult for Polish citizens to obtain a 'visa de sortie' from the French authorities.

For further insight, Schiffres next wrote to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, then very new, to ask "(1) Did the Dutch consuls issue visas that helped refugees escape the Holocaust and (2) If so, have they gotten proper credit for this Mitzvah?" He was answered by museum historian Severin Hochberg, who noted the Zwartendijk case but otherwise had no further information about rescues and Dutch diplomats.

As to Marseilles, Hochberg thought that the information sent to me by the Dutch authorities was interesting, and was the first that he had heard about this. Hochberg also consulted some other books on the Netherlands, France, Marseilles, etc and was not able to come up with anything. He emphasized that much of the diplomatic history of the Holocaust is only now beginning to be researched and relatively little is known even as regards the activities of the U.S. consuls!

Finally, Hochberg also noted the Marseilles consuls were extensions of the Netherlands government in exile, established by now in London, and that the officials' leniency toward refugees reflected the government's policies. Recall that Holland had accepted tens of thousands of escaping German Jews prior to the 1940 invasion.

This is interesting to me because the factors that led the Dutch consuls of Marseilles to issue Indonesia visas to the Schiffres family in August 1940 would equally apply to the Dutch consuls in Toulouse who issued Curacao issues in July 1940. Dutch East Indies, Dutch West Indies. Otherwise, much the same story.

With some excitement, I fired off an email to Irwin Schiffres. There had been no discussion board response to his posting from October 2001. Of course, I realized he would now be in his 80s and possibly not still be around to receive it. That's when I did a search on his name in Ancestry. Alas, his 2010 death certificate popped up right away. Under that, however, was a link to something that could prove to be almost as valuable as a direct dialog with him, an hour-long audio oral history about his refugee experience that he recorded for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 1996.

I'll report on that in the next post. Oh, I did get around to making my post to the Jewish Gen main discussion board as well as the French special interest group board. We'll see if that turns up anything.