Beyond Duty – Honoring Righteous Diplomats

We're organizing now the names of the
Righteous Among the Nations. 36 of them are diplomats. Here you can see his position
and where he stationed. Their names. When I heard the stories, the focus for me, first and foremost,
was them as a human being, It's as if these people were saying, Here I am. I'm a human being,
and I'm saving the life of a human being. Race, gender, color or religion
have nothing to do with it. I see it as a tribute. They were there, in that place,
and they made the decision to follow their heart
and their conscience. By 1936, British authorities began to restrict entry
to British Mandatory Palestine in response to an Arab revolt. Captain Francis, Frank Foley,
A veteran of WW1, was stationed in Berlin
as passport control officer at the British embassy. Defying the Foreign Office, Foley bent the rules
to issue visas for Jews to get to Palestine
and other commonwealth countries, even to people who did not meet
Britain's stiff conditions for entry. By the time of the Kristallnacht pogrom
in November 1938, Foley and his wife had taken to
sheltering Jews overnight in their apartment. When the war broke out
and Foley left Germany, he left behind a thick wad
of already-approved visas, and instructions that they should be
distributed to those fleeing Nazi terror. The idea was to create an artwork
that commemorates these people's deeds and portrays them as straight trees
weathering a storm. At the same time, it's a work of art
for all intents and purposes. It's abstract. The size is immense.
We're talking about cast metal. It's not exactly lightweight
or easy to lift. These are weights.
It weighs more than a metric ton. When all foreign diplomats
were ordered to leave Kovno, a Jewish delegation begged Sugihara, as he was packing his belongings, to issue them transit visas to Japan which would enable them to cross
to the Soviet Union. Troubled by the refugees' plight, he began issuing visas
on his own initiative. Although many of the Jews
did not fulfill the criteria, Sugihara continued in his mission, and issued visas to over 2,000 Jews. We're entering the
studio's polishing station. Yehuda is the studio's
most senior worker. He's currently working on the name
of one of the Righteous Among the Nations. First, we carve out the names by hand,
then we process them. The last step would be polishing
and making them look fantastic, and that's Yehuda's job. With the names, you don't want it
looking like a bulletin board, God forbid. You want the names integrated
and incorporated within the art piece. As a native-born Israeli, a "Tzabar",
people here just don't get it. We're Israelis, we…
We cut through trees, we break through rocks, We get where we need to, we're active,
we take the initiative. Nothing stands in our way. But back then it was
a different environment. And yet they risked their lives
and didn't show a sign of fear. Following the German invasion
of France in May 1940, was faced with thousands of refugees
congregating around his consulate. Sousa Mendes decided to disobey
his government's explicit instructions and issued transit visas
to everyone in need, waving the visa fees
for those who could not pay. Sousa Mendes issued visas
to several thousand refugees. When Lisbon learned
of Sousa Mendes' actions, he was dismissed from
the Foreign Office, leaving him destitute and unable
to support his large family. The Foreign Ministry of
Israel expects of its diplomats to be disciplined, professional,
to achieve their goals, but we also expect them
to be moral actors, and that goes before all else. And I think that's what
we're trying to say here with this tribute site which we've
constructed here in the Foreign Ministry. Hearing the stories of 36 diplomats
who went deep down into, if you like, the moral roots beyond the duty,
beyond the regulations, beyond the formats in which
usually diplomats operate, and took a risk to their personal career
and also to the family, and did what I would like
to have believed any Israeli diplomat, meeting such a challenge of moral consequences,
will pick the same choice: To save lives, and not to abide
only by regulations. Wallenberg arrived in Budapest
on July 9th 1944 He soon widened the scope of his work and began to issue thousands
of protective letters. When the fascist Arrow Cross movement
instilled a reign of terror in Budapest, Wallenberg and some of his colleagues
abandoned all diplomatic routine and set out to save Jews from
executions and death marches. They followed the columns of Jews
who were marched to the Austrian border and freed them by claiming that
they were under Swedish protection. When the Soviets entered the city, Wallenberg was taken away
by Russian soldiers, never to be seen again. His fate in Soviet captivity
is still shrouded in mystery. We want to state explicitly that they declared,
"Here I am!". For me, that's the most
important message. If I've succeeded in creating
this artwork, then I've done my part. The joy derived from creating this work
is my ultimate reward. Despite having experienced ultimate evil, unimaginable loss and
terrible betrayal by their neighbors, they never forgot their benefactors. The Righteous Among the
Nations program is, therefore, an expression of the survivors'
affirmation of life, their courageous spirit, and their unshakable faith
in humankind.

3 thoughts on “Beyond Duty – Honoring Righteous Diplomats

  • Beautiful story. I had heard of the diplomats from Sweden and Japan, but I did not know about the others. I am glad they are being commemorated.

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