“Fearless” British consular officials who helped save the lives of thousands of Jews from near-certain death in Nazi Germany and Austria have been honoured with a commemorative plaque.
The plaque, mounted on the wall of the British Embassy in Berlin by the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), is to be unveiled by dignitaries today in an event live-streamed to AJR members.
An inscription on the bronze-coloured plaque states that it was laid “in memory of consular officials of the British Embassy whose devoted efforts issuing visas helped many thousands of Jews to escape from Nazi Germany, 1933-1939.”
British officials issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish refugees in Nazi Germany and Austria in the years between Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
A new visa system was rolled out after the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria in March 1938 – allowing British consular officials to issue travel documents to refugees, rather than immigration officers, who previously made the decision at the port of arrival.
Lord Eric Pickles, the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, paid tribute to “those fearless men and women who at great risk issued visas that saved thousands of Jewish lives.”
“The visas were the difference between life and death,” he said. “These brave souls never let petty rules get in the way. When the bureaucracy ground to a halt they stepped in to grant visas on the spot.”
He recognised the contributions made by Major Frank Foley, a senior intelligence officer attached to the Berlin embassy thought to have saved 10,000 german Jews, and Margaret Reid, an official who processed permits.
“Without them, the AJR may never have existed and gone on to serve the Jewish community of Great Britain, as it does today, with pride,” Lord Pickles said.
The British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Sebastian Wood, said the plaque paid tribute to the “bravery and compassion of diplomats such as Frank Foley, Margaret Reid and their staff” and Jewish refugees who rebuilt their lives in Britain.
“Whenever our common values are threatened, individuals can make a huge difference and, as in this case, save peoples’ lives,” he added.
Sir Sebastian is to attend the unveiling of the plaque on Tuesday, with International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance president Michaela Küchler, who serves in German Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a special representative for relations with Jewish organisations.
Küchler said: “The history of the Holocaust would be incomplete if it did not tell the history of those who helped.
“There were those who hid Jews, who provided them with false identities or who issued visas guided by humanitarian convictions rather than by bureaucratic considerations. I am glad the plaque at the British Embassy in Berlin tells their story.”
AJR Trustee, Frank Harding, who devised the commemorative plaque scheme, said: “It is our great hope that as well as fascinating passers-by, the plaque will help form a tangible link in the story of refugees’ escape from Nazism and the sanctuary they received in Britain. This plaque, along with the others in our scheme, help bring the past into the present and perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust.”