A luncheon was held at the Russell Senate Office Building on May 31 in conjunction with a Senate and a House bill honoring diplomats who saved Jews during the Holocaust, often done over the objections of their home countries.
Abe Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the event chairs, told JNS at the U.S. Capitol complex that it is the right time to honor these diplomats with the approach of the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II and in the backdrop of rising antisemitism.
“These diplomats acted against the interests of their entire country. They risked their careers. They risked their pensions to save Jews,” Foxman, a survivor who was saved by his Polish-Christian nanny, who was deemed a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, told JNS.
The current antisemitic “outburst” isn’t the same as Jew-hatred was during the Holocaust, but “people can make a difference,” said Foxman. “Here are 60 people who stood up.”
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced the Forgotten Heroes of the Holocaust Congressional Gold Medal Act, S-91, which has four other co-sponsors, and the parallel House bill, H.R.537, which Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) and 12 others introduced, and that has 88 other co-sponsors. Both bills honor 60 diplomats designated as Righteous Gentiles.
At the event, Hagerty called the diplomats “true unsung heroes of the Holocaust” and “beacons of light in a time of unimaginable darkness.”
The diplomats issued travel visas, passports and fake citizenship papers, and even set up safe houses to hide Jews.
The program drew ambassadors from Azerbaijan, Sweden and Turkey to Washington, D.C. Diplomats from each of the three were honored posthumously.
Many of those whom the bills honor are unfamiliar names, such as Aristides de Sousa Mendes of Portugal, who died penniless in 1954 after losing his job as a result of assisting Jews. Portugal now marks a Day of Consciousness on June 17 in his honor.
Others are well known, such as Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiune Sugihara of Japan, in addition to former U.S. diplomats Raymond Herman Geist and Hiram “Harry” Bingham.