Exhibition of documents from the Eiss Archive in Bern
The exhibition presenting the Eiss Archive was opened at the residence of the ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Bern. The unique collection of documents was acquired in August from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum thanks to the considerable involvement of the Polish diplomacy and support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
Ambassador Jakub Kumoch in his welcome speech addressed to the numerous guests stressed the cooperation of diplomats, museum workers, archivists, conservators and exhibitors from various institutions, which led to the acquisition of the valuable archival sets, documenting the huge effort of Polish diplomats and activists of Jewish organisations during the war to save as many Jews as possible from the Holocaust. The network created by Polish diplomats issued many passports of some South American countries. With these documents, at least several hundred people were saved from death.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Culture and National Heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński mentioned the leading figures who founded during the war the so-called Bern Group - i.e. the then ambassador of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Ładoś, consul Konstanty Rokicki and Jewish activists Chaim Eiss and Abraham Silberschein. He also thanked all the parties involved, in particular, ambassador Jakub Kumoch and honorary consul of the Republic of Poland Mr Markus Blechner, whom he honoured with “the Medal of Merit for Service to Polish Culture”.
Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, stressed that the Eiss Archive is part of Polish history, Jewish history, as well as the history of Switzerland and all countries of those rescued or who agreed to issue false passports. For this reason, he considered it very important that the exhibition, which opens in Bern, in situ, in relation to that history has become a travelling exhibition not only through Switzerland or Poland but much wider. He also stated that all documents that require preservation would be subjected to conservation at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum laboratory.
Dr Wojciech Kozłowski, the director of the Pilecki Institute, thanked Hanna Radziejowska, the main creator of the exhibition and all the contributing parties.
'All the valuable items from the Eiss Archive are presented in the display cabinet - passports, bills, correspondence between Chaim Eiss and Polish diplomats. It also includes letters between Jews staying in the ghettos and Silberschein, who was one of the intermediaries between Polish Jews and the diplomatic post,' said the curator of the Exhibition, Hanna Radziejowska of the Pilecki Institute.
The Motto of the exhibition is the poem titled “Passports” by a Polish Jew, poet and Warsaw ghetto chronicler Władysław Szlengel murdered in 1943:
I'd like to have Paraguayan passport,
of gold and freedom is this land,
oh, how nice it must feel to be the subject
of the land called: Paraguay.
I'd like to have Uruguayan passport,
have Costa Rican, Paraguayan,
just so one can live peacefully in Warsaw,
after all, it is the most beautiful of lands.
The Bernese Group was an informal form of cooperation between Polish diplomats from the Polish delegation in Bern and representatives of Jewish organisations for the rescue of European Jews. Under the guidance of Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś, the group provided fake South American passports among others Under the leadership of Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś, the group provided false South American passports, among others: Paraguay, El Salvador, Bolivia, Peru, Haiti and Honduras, which protected its owners from deportation to extermination camps in occupied Poland by the Third Reich. According to various estimates, a total of about 4 thousand such documents were issued. The number of those saved remains unknown.
The vernissage at the residence of the Ambassador was attended by activists and representatives of the Polish diaspora in Switzerland, Jewish communities, representatives of the diplomatic corps and the Swiss authorities. Talks are ongoing to present the exhibition again this year in Rapperswil, Geneva, and other places in Switzerland.