Carl Lutz

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Not to be confused with Karl Lutz.
Carl Lutz (1895-1975).

Carl Lutz (born in Walzenhausen, Switzerland on 30 March 1895; died in Bern, Switzerland on 12 February 1975) was the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, Hungary from 1942 until the end of World War II. He is credited with saving over 62,000 Jews, the largest rescue operation of Jews of the Second World War.[1]

Due to his actions, half of Jewish population of Budapest survived and was not deported to Nazi Extermination camps during The Holocaust. He was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Early life and education[edit]

Lutz was born in Walzenhausen, Switzerland in 1895 and attended local schools. He immigrated at the age of 18 to the United States, where he was to live and work for more than 20 years. He worked in Illinois to earn money for college, and started his studies at Central Wesleyan College in Warrenton, Missouri.

In 1920, Lutz found a job at the Swiss Legation in Washington, D.C. He continued his education there at George Washington University, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1924. During his time in Washington, D.C., Lutz lived in Dupont Circle. He continued to work for the Swiss Legation.

Diplomatic career[edit]

In 1926, Lutz was appointed as chancellor at the Swiss Consulate in Philadelphia, United States. He next was assigned to the Swiss Consulate in St. Louis, and served in total from 1926 to 1934 in the two cities.

In 1934, Lutz left the United States after more than 20 years. He was assigned as vice-consul to the Swiss Consulate General in Jaffa, in what was then Palestine. He served there until 1942.

Actions during the Second World War[edit]

Memorial in Budapest, Hungary.

Appointed in 1942 as Swiss vice-consul in Budapest, Hungary, Lutz soon began cooperating with the Jewish Agency for Palestine. He issued Swiss safe-conduct documents that enabled almost 10,000 Hungarian Jewish children to emigrate.

Once the Nazis took over Budapest in 1944, they began deporting Jews to the death camps. Lutz negotiated a special deal with the Hungarian government and the Nazis. He gained permission to issue protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to Palestine.[2][3]

Lutz deliberately used his permission for 8,000 as applying to families rather than individuals, and proceeded to issue tens of thousands of additional protective letters, all of them bearing a number between one and 8,000. He also set up some 76 "safe houses" around Budapest, declaring them annexes of the Swiss legation and thus off-limits to Hungarian forces or Nazi soldiers. Among the safe houses was the now well-known "Glass House" (Üvegház) at Vadász Street 29. About 3,000 Hungarian Jews found refuge at the Glass House and in a neighboring building.

One day, in front of Arrow Cross fascist militiamen firing at Jews, Carl Lutz jumped in the Danube river to save a bleeding Jewish woman along the quai that today bears his name in Budapest (Carl Lutz Rakpart). With water up to the chest and covering his suit, the Consul swam back to the bank with her and asked to speak to the Hungarian officer in charge of the firing squad. Declaring the wounded woman a foreign citizen protected by Switzerland and quoting international covenants, the Swiss Consul brought her back to his car in front of the stunned fascists and left quietly. Fearing to shoot at this tall man who seemed to be important and spoke so eloquently, no one dared to stop him.[4]

Together with other diplomats of neutral countries, such as Raoul Wallenberg, appointed at the Swedish embassy; Angelo Rotta, the Apostolic nuncio of the Holy See; Angel Sanz Briz, the Spanish Minister; later followed by Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian businessman working at the Spanish embassy; and Friedrich Born, the Swiss delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Lutz worked relentlessly for many months to prevent the planned deaths of innocent people. He and his colleagues dodged the actions of their German and Hungarian counterparts. Thanks to his diplomatic skills, Lutz succeeded in persuading Hungarian and Nazi-German officials, among them Adolf Eichmann, to tolerate, at least in part, his formal protection of Hungarian Jews. Lutz's efforts to undermine the Nazi death machine were so bold and so extensive that, in November 1944, Proconsul Veesenmeyer, the German representative in Hungary, asked permission to assassinate the Swiss Consul; Berlin never answered.

The Swiss Minister, Maximilian Jaeger, supported Lutz thoroughly until his departure at his government orders as the Soviet Army approached. In the last weeks before the Red Army took the city, Lutz was greatly helped by Harald Feller, who took over responsibility of the Swiss legation after Jaeger's departure. Lutz's wife Trudi notably played a central supporting role during the whole period of her husband's activities in Budapest.

Lutz died in Bern, Switzerland, in 1975.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Lutz saved the lives of tens of thousands of people. As in the case of Paul Grüninger, however, his achievements were not immediately recognized in Switzerland. Soon after the war, he had first been criticized by the government for having exceeded his authority, as officials were fearful of endangering Switzerland's neutral status. In 1958, as part of Swiss national rethinking of the war years, Lutz was "rehabilitated" in terms of public reputation, and his achievements were honored.

  • 1963, a street in Haifa, Israel was named after him.
  • 1965, Lutz was the first Swiss national named to the list of "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem, the Jewish people's memorial to the Holocaust.
  • Lutz was decorated of the Cross of Honor, Order of Merit, Federal Republic of Germany.
  • 1991, a memorial dedicated to him was erected at the entrance to the old Budapest ghetto (see photo above).
  • 2014 George Washington University in Washington, DC, posthumously honored Lutz with the President's Medal in a ceremony attended by various international dignitaries and his daughter Agnes Hirshi. [GWMAGAZINE.com, p. 13]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Tschuy, Theo. Dangerous Diplomacy: The Story of Carl Lutz, Rescuer of 62,000 Hungarian Jews, 2000. Grand Rapids:Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-3905-3
  2. ^ Braham, Randolph L.; Scott Miller (1998). The Nazis' Last Victims: The Holocaust in Hungary. Wayne State University Press. pp. 143–144. ISBN 0-8143-3095-9. 
  3. ^ Tschuy, Theo. Dangerous Diplomacy: The Story of Carl Lutz, Rescuer of 62,000 Hungarian Jews, 2000. Grand Rapids:Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-3905-3
  4. ^ Tschuy, Theo. Dangerous Diplomacy: The Story of Carl Lutz, Rescuer of 62,000 Hungarian Jews, 2000. Grand Rapids:Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-3905-3

Bibliography[edit]

  • (French) Luca Bernardi, "Le diplomate courage" (subtitle: "Carl Lutz, vice-consul de Suisse à Budapest entre 1942 et 1945, a mis au point une stratégie ayant permis de sauver plus de 62 000 Juifs. Une exposition dans sa ville natale est consacrée à cet homme quasi oublié"), Le Temps, 4 September 2013, p. 28.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]