The Museum’s Collections & Exhibitions team preserves the objects and documents in our collection so that the stories these artifacts tell can survive.
A document in our collection that sheds light on a remarkable story of sacrifice and safety is detailed below.
In the spring of 1944, the Nazis began the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were gassed immediately upon arrival at the camp. Carl Lutz was a Swiss diplomat stationed at the consulate in Budapest and he used his position as Vice-Consul to help as many Jews as he possibly could. Lutz was given permission to issue 8,000 protective documents to the Jews and he pushed that permission as far as he could. He interpreted the number of documents loosely, and instead issued them ‘collectively’ for entire families, not individuals. Using that as a guideline, Lutz confirms to have authorized 50,000 protective letters that were issued to the Jewish community in Budapest. These letters stated that the family in possession of the document was under the protection of the Swiss legation and registered under a collective passport. Therefore, the family members could be granted shelter in a Swiss safe house and must be viewed as the legal owners of a valid passport.
The document pictured here is one of those protective letters issued as part of the efforts of Carl Lutz and his network. Dated October 23, 1944, this document was issued to Dezso Benedek and his wife Lily. It represents a feeling of protection at a time when their safety was not guaranteed. Thousands of Budapest Jews were saved by documents such as this one. Carl Lutz sacrificed his own safety to ensure the freedom of those who otherwise would have been victims of the Nazi killing machine.
Carl Lutz was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1964.
The story behind this document was made possible with the invaluable translation assistance by Gedenkdiener volunteer Simon Hilscher.