LONDON (Jan. 4)
A British diplomat who saved as many as 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust deserves official recognition from Israel, according to a senior British Jewish leader.
Lord Janner, head of the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust, said Frank Foley should be designated one of the Righteous Among Nations by Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to recognize Foley’s efforts to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany.
And based on evidence that is only now emerging, Foley could enter the history books as one of the great heroic figures of the Holocaust period, equal to Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara.
As director of the British passport office in Berlin during the 1930s, Foley freely handed out visas to Jews in Germany and sheltered several in his home, Janner said in an open letter to Yad Vashem officials.
Middle-aged, with round, owlish glasses framing a face topped by a balding head, Foley did not cut a particularly heroic figure in 1930s Berlin.
But he was more than he appeared to be: Far from his public role as a gray paper-pusher, Foley fulfilled his true mission as the Berlin station chief for British intelligence until the outbreak of World War II.
Foley used his power and influence as British passport control officer in Berlin — a cover for his intelligence work — to help German Jews immigrate to Britain and its colonies, including Palestine.
Unlike Schindler, whose industrial enterprises benefited from the Jews he saved, or Wallenberg, who operated under diplomatic protection, Foley received no financial reward nor did he enjoy diplomatic immunity.
Born in 1884, Foley was a veteran of World War I. Fluent in German and French, he was recruited to Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency, where he rose to the rank of captain.
By the end of World War II, Foley had compiled a prodigious record of achievement. He had convinced scores of German spies to become double agents, organized the operation that saved Norway’s gold reserves from being looted by the Nazis, and persuaded leading German scientists not to pass on essential data about atomic and rocket advances to their Nazi superiors.
Foley was also a principal interrogator of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, who flew to Britain in a bizarre attempt to strike a peace deal when the war was already lost. Foley also recruited a high-level Soviet spy who, for years after the war, continued to feed Britain information on Soviet espionage.
But it was the rescue — at great personal risk — of German Jews that will be Foley’s legacy.
The remarkable story is told in “Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews,” by British journalist Michael Smith, which will soon be published in Britain.
According to Smith, Foley “ignored all the rules to help Jews to leave the country, sometimes demanding to be let into concentration camps, to get them out, occasionally hiding them in his own home, and using his Secret Service skills to provide them with false papers and passports.”
Among those who sought shelter in Foley’s apartment was Rabbi Leo Baeck, the charismatic head of the Association of German Rabbis, who used the venue to brief foreign journalists on the increasing persecution of the Jews in the Third Reich.
The question that baffled Benno Cohn, then chairman of the German Zionist Organization, and his colleagues in the Zionist movement was why Foley should demonstrate such commitment at such high personal risk to save Jews.
“He told us he was acting as a Christian and that he wanted to show us how little the `Christians’ who were then in power in Germany had to do with Christianity. He detested the Nazis and looked on their political system — as he once told me — as the rule of Satan on earth,” Cohn said in the book.
Foley’s work in Berlin, said Smith, was “a stupendous act of humanity, borne not out of political necessity but out of a moral imperative: thousands of Jews came to the little office on Tiergartenstrasse, frightened, panicky and desperate for help.
“In the tiny office they found a tiny staff grappling with a blizzard of paper, and at its center a small, round man in spectacles. He did not let them down.”
Foley’s wife, Kay, recalled that he worked without a break from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., personally handling as many applications as he could, assisting his staff, and giving advice and comfort to those who were waiting for their applications to be processed.
Eventually the line outside the office was a mile long. As Kay Foley observed in the book: “Some were hysterical. Many wept. All were desperate. With them came a flood of cables and letters from other parts of the country, all pleading for visas and begging for help.”
As conditions worsened for Jews in Berlin, Foley took greater risks by allowing some Jews, including Baeck, to live in his home at Lessingstrasse 56.
Between 1933 and 1939, tens of thousands more people received visas than should have given a strict interpretation of the rules according to Hubert Pollack, one of the Jewish workers trying to get Jews into Palestine.
“I know possibly better than any other Jew alive how great our debt of gratitude is toward that honest and courageous man,” he said in the book.
“The number of Jews saved from Germany would have been tens of thousands less,” he said, “if an officious bureaucrat had sat in Foley’s place. There is no word of Jewish gratitude toward this man which could be exaggerated.”
Even after he locked up his office on Tiergartenstrasse for the last time on Aug. 25, 1939, Foley continued to help Jews escape. During the first week of the war, Youth Aliyah certificates that he had signed were used by the U.S. Embassy to send hundreds of Jewish children to safety in Scandinavia and, through the Italian port of Trieste, to Palestine.
“He carried out thousands of rescues when one can be enough to qualify,” Janner wrote to Yad Vashem. “He risked his own life and position, and did not seek any remuneration for his actions.”
Paula Quirk and her family, who live in London, owe their survival to Foley. She feels “very strongly that the English people who helped never got the credit they deserved. Foley, in his modesty, never told people how much he did.”
Frank Foley died in 1958. Was it simple modesty that prevented him from discussing his role in 1930s Berlin? Why has his story remained unknown for so long?
According to author Smith, Foley’s association with British intelligence inhibited him from discussing the activities he performed while in the service.
“He was not allowed to talk to people when he came back to Britain,” said Smith. “His life in Berlin had to remain secret.”