World War II activities
Zwartendijk directed the Philips plants in Lithuania. On June 19, 1940, he was also a part-time an acting consul of the Netherlands - or, to be exact, of the Dutch government-in-exile. His superior was the Dutch ambassador to Latvia, De Decker.
When the Soviet Union took over Lithuania in 1940, some Jewish Dutch residents in Lithuania approached Zwartendijk to get a visa to the Dutch Indies. With De Decker's permission, Zwartendijk agreed to help them. The word spread and Jews who had fled from German-occupied Poland also sought his assistance.
In defiance of official diplomatic niceties, Zwartendijk signed a declaration that entering Curaçao in the West Indies did not require a visa, while omitting the second part of the standard notice that the permission of the governor of Curaçao was necessary. (In fact, the first visas of this kind were issued by De Decker himself earlier, and Jews approached Zwartendijk after news of this unusual possibility had spread.)
Then refugees approached Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul, who gave them a transit visa through Japan, also against official diplomatic rules. This gave many refugees an opportunity to leave Lithuania for the Far East via the Trans-Siberian railway.
In the three weeks after July 26, Zwartendijk wrote up over 2400 de facto visas to Curaçao and some of the Jews copied more. Many who helped only knew him as "Mr Philips Radio". When the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, they closed down his Philips office and the embassies and consulates in Kaunas on 3 August 1940. He returned to the occupied Netherlands to work in the Philips headquarters in Eindhoven until his retirement. He did not talk about the matter.
Zwartendijk died in 1976.
In 1996 Boys Town Jerusalem, an orphanage and vocational training school in Jerusalem, Israel, honored Zwartendijk at a tribute dinner in New York City and announced the establishment of the Jan Zwartendijk Award for Humanitarian Ethics and Values. The award has since been bestowed on other Holocaust-era saviors, including President Manuel Luis Quezon and the people of the Republic of the Philippines.
On 10 September 2012 Zwartendijk was awarded with The Life Saving Cross of the Republic of Lithuania, a decoration to award the persons who, despite danger to their lives, attempted to save life.
In the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, it is implied that the protagonist Josef Kavalier receives visas from Zwartendijk and his ally Chiune Sugihara. Though the novel does not mention these men by name, it describes a "Dutch consul in Kovno who was madly issuing visas to Curaçao, in league with a Japanese official who would grant rights of transit" (p. 65).
- Heppner, Ernest G. (17 July 1996). "Executive Summary: IN TRIBUTE TO AN ACT OF COURAGE AND DECENCY". h-net.msu.edu. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
- "Philippine Humanitarian Deeds to be Honored by Boys Town Jerusalem". Embassy of the Philippines (Israel). 2 March 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
- Mazza, Gilli (17 March 2011). "Saying Thank You After 73 Years". Ynetnews. Retrieved 12 October 2013.