Winning a war, or at least standing up against the terrors of the enemies, takes an effort of the soldiers sent to fight, the government, and brave individual souls. Despite the dangers and fear, these brave individuals decided to stand in the crowd and do what they could to help the others. Some fought quietly, doing their thing in the background, while others were more vocal and visible in showing their dislikes. That’s exactly what these people did at the time when Hitler’s party decided to take over Europe and control them with fear and violence. In those darkest times, that’s when the light of humanity shone the most.
Words are power, so as they say.
Instead of weapons, that was what Carl Lutz used to help Jews and save as many as he could from the Holocaust. He was a Swiss diplomat who was appointed as chancellor at the Swiss Consulate in Philadelphia in 1926. In January 1935, he was assigned as vice-consul to the Swiss Consulate General in Jaffa, where he and his wife once saw how a mob of Arabs lynched a Jew.
He began cooperating with the Jewish Agency for Israel when he was appointed as Swiss vice-consul in Budapest. Lutz worked by issuing official Swiss protection documents that allowed almost 10,000 Hungarian Jewish children to emigrate.
When the Nazis began sending Jews to the death camps, he negotiated a special deal with the Hungarian government and the Nazis to permit him to again issue protective letters to about 7,800 Hungarian Jews to emigrate to Palestine. Instead of using the permit to 7,800 individuals, he applied them to 7,800 families instead, thus issuing thousands more of the protective letters, although they’re all numbered from one to 7,800, and not more. Apart from that, Lutz set up some 76 “safe houses” that were off-limits to both the Hungarian forces and the Nazis, declaring them as annexes of the Swiss legation, just like the Glass House at Vadasz Street 29.
Lutz worked tirelessly with the support of his wife and other diplomats of neutral countries like Raoul Wallenberg, Carlos de Liz-Texeira Branquinho, Sampaio Garrido, and others.
Johan van Hulst
The year Germany invaded Amsterdam in 1940, Johan van Hulst became the deputy principal of the Reformed Teachers’ Training College. There, he began by helping turn the school into an anti-Nazi site and a shelter for Dutch teachers who rejected signing the oath of loyalty to Germany, which was required of Dutch university students. Their school was across the street from a theater that was turned into a deportation center for Jews. Children were taken from their parents and sent to that daycare facility. Together with the nursery’s workers, van Hulst helped smuggle these children out of the city, meant to be hidden for the rest of the war.
What they did was these children were passed over a hedge to them, held in classrooms, and then hidden in baskets and sacks to be cycled to the countryside. The German-Jew record-keeper whose name was Walter Suskind, who was assigned at the deportation center, would then erase the smuggled children’s names from the official records. They did that until 1943, up to the time when the daycare center was closed, and its Jewish director was sent to Auschwitz, along with 100 children. All in all, their operation saved between 500 and 1000 Jewish babies and children.
However, to van Hulst, when he was interviewed a few decades later, he regretted not saving more. He said,
Now try to imagine 80, 90, perhaps 70 or 100 children standing there, and you have to decide which children to take with you. … That was the most difficult day of my life. … You know for a fact that the children you leave behind are going to die. I took 12 with me. Later on I asked myself: ‘Why not 13?’
Popularly known as “The Limping Lady,” the Nazis especially hated Virginia Hall. As Klaus Barbie, the infamous Gestapo chief, expressed, “I would give anything to get my hands on that limping Canadian b—.”
But Hall was an American. She worked with the United Kingdom’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services in France. Her limp resulted from a hunting accident that required her left leg to be amputated below the knee. It was replaced by a wooden prosthetic that she named Cuthbert.
It was difficult for her from the very beginning to be part of government organizations, not only because she’s a woman but also they wouldn’t take an amputee. Regardless, she was recruited to the SOE in Paris, posting as an American reporter. She would embed “news” stories with codes, even use potted geranium in her window, use specific walls with loose brick, cafes, bartenders, and some other discrete ways to send her intelligence reports. When the Gestapo released wanted posters of her, she fled through a 50-mile trek over the Pyrenees mountains southward into Spain.
The British refused to send her back as a marked person, so she decided to sign up with the U.S. Office of Strategic Service (OSS) instead. She still figured out a way to get back into the fight. In 1944, she boarded a British torpedo ship going to France, disguising herself as a 60-year-old peasant. Hall’s team worked on derailing freight trains, blowing up bridges, and killing about 150 Nazis.