Are the Curacao cases linked?

Are the Curacao cases linked?

Now we come to the crux of the matter. Is there a connection between the use of Curacao visas in Toulouse and a similar instance two weeks later in Kovno, which is 1500 miles distant?

I will tell you up front that we don't know the answer definitively, at least not for now. But a number of signs suggest the possibility of a causal relationship between the two events.

First there is the surprising coincidence that both vice-consuls in question, A.J. van Dobben in Toulouse and Jan Zwartendijk in Kovno, are the local representatives of the Philips company in their regions. It is plausible that the Dutch foreign ministry had a practice of tapping the network of businessmen from one of the country's leading international firms for honorary diplomatic roles, especially in this period of upheaval and increased demand for consular services.

Another Philips connection is that its top executive in Europe, family member Frits Philips, is recognized as a "righteous among the nations" for having saved hundreds of Jewish employees of his company. Also, Philips relocated its head office operations from Holland to Curacao in the Dutch West Indies late in April 1940, intended to protect its corporate assets on the eve on the German invasion of the Netherlands.

Philips seems to have had a corporate culture that enabled humanitarian action. Is it possible van Dobben and Zwartendijk knew each other through a business connection? Or that their respective colleagues, G.P. Pichal in Toulouse and L.P.J. de Decker in Riga, knew one of the opposite group? Or that the two consulates were in communication during July 1940 about events in their localities?

There is a good chance to try out any of these possibilities by mining the foreign ministry collection at the Dutch National Archives, whose online indexes indicate that files from the Toulouse consulate are available.

Next, let's look at the timeline. When you consider the full sequence of events in Kovno, you recall that the first mention of Curacao visas in Kovno was not July 26, when Jan Zwartendijk began issuing multiple Curacao visas. That was preceded by Pessia Lewin's first contact with Ambassador de Decker on July 11.

That in fact is the very same day, a Thursday, that our Ringel family and two Freudmann family members got Curacao visas in Toulouse. In the Goldstein telling of the Zwartendijk story, the Curacao idea originated with Lewin, was approved in a limited form by de Decker, and then expanded by Nathan Lewin and Zwartendijk in the numbers and type of people covered.

In this narrative, there is no room for a rumor or diplomatic cable to carry the idea from the south of France to Soviet-occupied Lithuania. Returning to Toulouse, the earliest known use of Curacao visas came on Monday, July 8, when another Freudmann family member acquired her Dutch diplomatic stamp. There could be earlier Curacao visas in Toulouse, but we don't know of any yet.

If we take July 8 as the first date that A.J. van Dobben and G.P. Pichal issued such visas, is it plausible that the idea could have been transmitted to Kovno in the intervening three days? Yes, but it would be cleaner if the origin of the idea in Kovno was from one of the Dutch diplomats and not from the refugee Pessia Lewin.

We will continue to investigate this question, but we must acknowledge that it is certainly possible that the same idea arose independently in the two locations.