What kind of courage and fortitude compels some individuals to stand up to evil even when it means placing themselves in grave danger? A new exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Maryland honors a group of diplomats from nine countries who risked everything to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
Developed by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and memorial, “Beyond Duty: Diplomats Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations” tells the remarkable stories of these nine emissaries during World War II. The exhibition, which opened Feb. 4, runs through March 25.
Comprised of 28 panels chronicling the diplomats’ heroism, the exhibition is simple and text-driven. But in remarks delivered at the exhibition’s Feb. 1 opening preview reception, JMM board president Duke Zimmerman contended that the messages of “Beyond Duty” are powerful and resonate today.
Zimmerman and the exhibition’s organizers expect the “Beyond Duty” to have a deep impact on the more than 1,000 visitors estimated to tour the museum during its run.
Of the diplomats profiled in “Beyond Duty,” the most famous is Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from deportation and Nazi death camps.
But the exhibition also honors lesser-known heroes such as Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, who utilized his post as Germany’s maritime attaché to Denmark to tip off the Danish Jewish community and its allies about the Nazis’ plans to deport them, thus enabling the transportation of more than 7,000 Danish Jews to safety in Sweden.
Other diplomats recognized in the exhibition include Frank Foley, the passport control officer at the British Embassy in Berlin who defied his superiors’ orders and issued 10,000 visas for Jews to travel to what was then British Palestine; Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who saved thousands of Jewish refugees trapped there; Vladimir Vochoc, the Czech consul in Marseilles who issued passports to Jews stranded in France; and Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consulate general in France who died destitute in 1954 after being caught helping Jews escape.
Rounding out the exhibition are Jose Maria Barreto, who was fired from his job at the Peruvian Embassy in Geneva for issuing Peruvian passports to Jews interred in concentration camps; Sebastian De Romero Radigales, the Spanish consul general for Greece who prevented hundreds of Sephardic Jews from being sent to the camps; and Selahattin Ulkumen, Turkey’s consul general to the Greek island of Rhodes, who saved 50 of its Jews from the concentration camps.
Delphine Gamburg, a cultural attaché for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., said the JMM is a “perfect venue” for the exhibition.
“As a museum, [the JMM is] dedicated to education,” she said. “They have fantastic educational school programs, events and tours. This is the main challenge today — to engage the public, especially the youngest, with this effort of remembrance.”
Gamburg said the JMM is the first stop for “Beyond Duty” before the exhibition spends the rest of the year touring the world. From the JMM, the exhibition will travel to the U.S. Capitol where it will open Apr. 9 in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In Israel, “Beyond Duty” will be supplemented by an art installation from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs commemorating each of the diplomats, as well as the issuing of a stamp in their honor.
Among those who spoke at the preview reception were JMM Executive Director Marvin D. Pinkert; Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford; Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith; and Reuven Azar, deputy head of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Also in attendance were Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and City Councilman Robert Stokes Sr. (D-12th).
Pinkert said the exhibition is in keeping with the museum’s overall mission and mandate.
“We are primarily a history museum and this couldn’t be closer to the core history of the Jewish people,” he said. “And it tells a story, not about one nation but about dozens of nations,” he said. “And so it ties back to the experience of the Holocaust as not simply a matter for Europe but a matter for the whole world. And that includes Maryland.”
The JMM is located at 15 Lloyd St. in East Baltimore. For information about “Beyond Duty,” visit jewishmuseummd.org
Alex Holt is a Baltimore-based freelance writer