Jan Zwartendijk

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Jan Zwartendijk
9- Vilnius-Maison verte-DSC05370-Jan Zwartendijk.JPG
Zwartendijk in 1941
Born29 July 1896
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Died14 September 1976(1976-09-14) (aged 80)
Eindhoven, Netherlands
Occupation(s)Businessman, diplomat
Known forHelping Jews escape Lithuania during World War II

Jan Zwartendijk (29 July 1896 – 14 September 1976) was a Dutch businessman and diplomat. As director of the Philips factories in Lithuania and part-time acting consul of the Dutch government-in-exile, he supervised the writing of 2,345 visas for Curaçao to save Jews from the Holocaust during World War II. In 1997, Yad Vashem recognised him as Righteous Among the Nations.

Early life[edit]

Zwartendijk was born in Rotterdam.

World War II[edit]

In 1939, he was named director of the Lithuanian branch of production of Philips.

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 Zwartendijk's superior, Ambassador to Latvia L. P. J. de Decker's permission, he agreed to help them. The word spread and Jews who had fled from German-occupied Poland also sought his assistance.

Ambassador de Dekker wrote a declaration on Nathan Gutwith's and Pessie Lewin's visa stating that entering Curaçao and Dependencies in the West Indies did not require a visa, while omitting the part about the permission of the Governor of Curaçao being required. Not clear who suggested the omission. The idea of Curaçao probably came up in correspondence between Mrs. Lewin and de Decker. She originally asked for a visa to the Dutch Indies (now Indonesia). Told of this declaration, Zwartendijk was approached by Jews in Kovno and followed suit. In a few days, with the help of aides, produced over 2,000 visas for Jews to Curaçao. He may have neen authorized by de Decker to do this.[1]

Refugees also approached Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul, who gave them a transit visa through Japan, against the disapproval of his government. This gave many refugees an opportunity to leave Lithuania for the Far East via the Trans-Siberian railway.

In the three weeks after 16 July 1940, Zwartendijk wrote 2,345 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, and did not talk about the matter. Zwartendijk died in Eindhoven in 1976.


In 1996, Boys Town Jerusalem, an orphanage and vocational training school in Jerusalem, honoured Zwartendijk at a tribute dinner in New York City and announced the establishment of the Jan Zwartendijk Award for Humanitarian Ethics and Values.[2] 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.[3][4]

In 1997, Yad Vashem bestowed the title Righteous Among the Nations on Zwartendijk. On 10 September 2012, he was awarded with the Life Saving Cross [lt] of the Republic of Lithuania, a decoration to award the persons who, despite danger to their lives, attempted to save life. In June 2018, a monument to Zwartendijk (about 2,000 LED rods connected into a 7-metre (23 ft) diameter spiral) was unveiled on Laisvės alėja, Kaunas by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and President Dalia Grybauskaitė.[5]

Popular culture[edit]

In 2018 Dutch author Jan Brokken published "De Rechtvaardigen" (The Just), a book describing the rescue operation and Zwartendijk's life. The title refers to all diplomats involved in the rescue operation.[6]

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).

Zwartendijk is also portrayed in the Japanese biopic of Sugihara, Persona Non Grata.


  1. ^ Paldiel, Mordecai (2000). Saving the Jews: Amazing Stories of Men and Women Who Defied the "Final Solution. Schreiber. pp. 75–77. ISBN 1887563555.
  2. ^ Heppner, Ernest G. (17 July 1996). "Executive Summary: IN TRIBUTE TO AN ACT OF COURAGE AND DECENCY". h-net.msu.edu. Archived from the original on 10 September 2016. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  3. ^ "Philippine Humanitarian Deeds to be Honored by Boys Town Jerusalem". Embassy of the Philippines (Israel). 2 March 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  4. ^ Mazza, Gilli (17 March 2011). "Saying Thank You After 73 Years". Ynetnews. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  5. ^ Gudavičius, Stasys (16 June 2018). "Menininkė G. Vos – apie šviesos paminklą "olandų Sugiharai"". Verslo žinios (in Lithuanian). Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  6. ^ Jennifer Rankin (26 September 2021). "Unsung hero: how 'Mr Radio Philips' helped thousands flee the Nazis". The Guardian.

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