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The Premiere of the “Passports to Life” Exhibition in Israel

16.12.2019

Acting in cooperation with the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, the Pilecki Institute organized an exhibition entitled “Passports to Life” about the group headed by Aleksander Ładoś. The exposition can be viewed at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

It comprises reproductions of passports, documents, photographs, letters and other correspondence from the Chaim Eiss Archive. These document copies were made from originals which are held in the archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

The exhibition in Jerusalem, along with our most recent publication, will allow us to present the scale of activities of the so-called Ładoś Group, which remains relatively unknown. The Group itself was made up of Polish diplomats based in Switzerland who conducted a secret operation which succeeded in saving the lives of thousands of Jews – sentenced to perish in the Nazi Holocaust that engulfed the countries of occupied Europe, among them Poland. Purchases were made of original empty forms issued by certain Latin American states, which were then falsified at the Legation of the Republic of Poland in Bern. The ready passports were smuggled to various locations, including ghettos, to buy time and improve chances of survival for people who would otherwise have assuredly been murdered in the German death camps – said Eryk Habowski, the Chief Expert of the Pilecki Institute.

The opening of the exhibition, which took place on Sunday, 15 December, was attended by, among others, Marek Magierowski – the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Israel, Jakub Kumoch – the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Switzerland, Markus Blechner – the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland in Zurich, Herzl Makov – the Director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Anna Gutkowska – the Deputy Director of the Pilecki Institute, Mateusz Szpytma – the Deputy President of the Institute of National Remembrance, and Agnieszka Jędrzak – the Head of the International Section at the Office of the President of the Institute of National Remembrance. Eryk Habowski, the Chief Expert of the Pilecki Institute, gave a talk on the occasion, focusing on the activities of Aleksander Ładoś and the Polish Government-in-Exile. It was followed by a discussion panel with the participation of Markus Blechner and John Cornell from the Pilecki Institute. The meeting was chaired by Patrick Ney.

The “Passports to Life” exhibition is in Hebrew and will run until 5 February 2020. Entrance is free of charge.

The Activities of Aleksander Ładoś

Ambassador Ładoś, who during World War II served the Polish Government-in-Exile as its representative in Switzerland, instructed his personnel to falsify documents issued by third countries in an attempt to save at least some of Poland’s Jewish community. The “Ładoś passports” were intended to rescue their bearers from the Holocaust. The documents were sent to ghettos and camps throughout occupied Poland and Holland, and also to a great number of citizens of other European countries. Nearly one half of the papers certifying Paraguayan citizenship were forged by Konstanty Rokicki, the Vice-Consul, while the remainder were probably authored by Stefan Ryniewicz with the help of an embassy employee, Julisz Kühl. Some of the documents, passports and certifications of citizenship of Honduras, Haiti and Peru were purchased with the Ambassador’s consent by two Jewish activists, Abraham Silberschein and Chaim Eiss, who were also members of the Group. The entire operation received the support of the Polish government, which pressured representatives of Latin American states to recognize the falsified documents for humanitarian reasons.

In December 2019, the Pilecki Institute issued “The Ładoś list. A register of persons in whose names the Legation of the Republic of Poland and Jewish organizations in Switzerland made out Latin American passports during World War II”. The publication, which enumerates 3,262 people who benefited from the operation and whose identities have been determined to date, is the result of research performed by employees of the Polish Embassy in Bern and the Pilecki Institute with the support of experts from the Institute of National Remembrance, the Jewish Historical Institute and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

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