The Eiss Archive, a testimony to the rescue of Jews by Polish diplomats during the Holocaust was presented at Belweder in Warsaw
The so-called, Eiss Archive is one of the largest collections documenting the rescue activities of Polish diplomacy for Jews at risk of the Holocaust, is already in Poland. On 12 February, the documents were officially presented at the Belvedere in Warsaw, in the presence of the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda; the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński; and the Polish ambassador to Switzerland, Jakub Kumoch. All documents will be transferred to the Auschwitz Museum.
The Archive documents rescue operations conducted from Bern during World War II by the then Polish ambassador Aleksander Ładoś and his diplomats, as well as the cooperating Jewish organisations. During these operations, several thousand illegally obtained Latin American passports were issued, thereby saving the lives of several hundreds of people.
The documents were recovered, thanks to the joint efforts of the Polish Embassy in Bern, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
'Mr President, I report that the Chaim Eiss Archive is now in Poland,' said the director of the Auschwitz Museum, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński. It is a unique day and a very touching moment for me. It is the first presentation of the archive of Rabbi Eiss in Poland. I want to thank you very much for marking us as its roof. I think it is the most dignified way of welcoming back such a significant archival collection to Poland,' he emphasised.
'This operation from the legal point of view was completely illegal. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in London is also fully aware of it. They were aware and supported the operation. It is an operation by great people - Poles and Swiss Jews of Polish origin - but the action was jointly executed with London. I want to emphasise this very strongly,' said Piotr Cywiński, while also underlining the role and commitment of the Polish ambassador to Switzerland, Jakub Kumoch in the recovery of this collection of documents by Poland.
President Andrzej Duda, recalling the activities of the Polish diplomats in Switzerland emphasised that “with an extraordinary dedication” and “with a remarkable ferocity”, they saved Jews during the Second World War: 'Many people survived, but also many did not. But what is very important... Every hour, every day and every passport and document was important... And that is what motivated them. They saved people without taking into account the consequences; working hand-in-hand as Poles, whether of Polish or Jewish origin. Fellow citizens, in the sense of ordinary, simple human ties and fight against lawlessness and cruelty.'
The Eiss Archive transferred to Poland - as the President added - will soon enrich the resources of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum: 'I am pleased that the conservators have already taken care of it and that the historians at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum are dealing with it. I am glad that these documents will be thoroughly examined. We will be able to present them to a broad range of social groups, primarily young people, who visit the Museum from all over the world to learn the great lesson, which can never occur again in the history of the world,' stressed the President.
The entire collection includes eight Paraguayan passports forged by Polish diplomats to save Jews, as well as unique and unused photographs of persons applying for such passports. It also consists of an original list with several thousand names of Jews from the ghetto that they tried to rescue from the Holocaust, and several documents, including correspondence between Polish diplomats and Jewish organisations. The collection also includes a list of names of children from Warsaw orphanages. These documents constitute a significant collection showing, on the one hand, the tragedy of Polish Jewish families at the time, and on the other hand, efforts taken to rescue as many people as possible from the hellish clamp of the Holocaust that hovered over them.
During the ceremony at the Belvedere, the Polish honorary consul of our Zurich consulate, Markus Blechner handed over three additional passports that were obtained recently. They will also enrich the Auschwitz Museum Collections. The exhibition “Passports” prepared by the Pilecki Institute, under the curatorship of Hanna Radziejowska, was presented at the Belvedere.
All the valuable items from the Eiss Archive are presented in display cabinets - 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.
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 Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Switzerland, Jakub Kumoch, PhD, gave a detailed explanation about the recovery of the collection. 'Immediately after the publications on Ładoś and his diplomats, we managed to locate the Eiss Archive in a private family collection. It is a great accomplishment by our honorary consul in Zurich, Markus Blechner, who worked for nearly a year to obtain the collection from the descendants of Chaim Eiss and convinced them that its rightful place is in Poland; in institutions documenting the Holocaust and pre-war life of the Jews,' he said.
The purchase of the collection was possible thanks to the support of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Piotr Gliński.
The Eiss collection constitutes documents discovered several years after the war, belonging to Rabbi Chaim Eiss (1876-1943). This Zurich merchant from Ustrzyk, one of the leaders of the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael movement, was a member of the Bern Group, which under the guidance of the Polish envoy (ambassador) Aleksander Ładoś, forged Latin American passports to save Jews. Eiss was responsible for providing the Polish diplomats with lists of beneficiaries and smuggling of the forged passports to the General Government. This hero who committed himself to save victims of the Holocaust died suddenly of a heart attack in November 1943. A part of his correspondence with the then consul of the Republic of Poland, Konstanty Rokicki, regarding the production of Paraguayan passports survived the war. In his correspondence with Agudat Yisrael, Eiss repeatedly applauded the roles of Ładoś and Rokicki. Following his account, Agudat forwarded a letter of gratitude in 1945 to the Polish diplomats involved in this unique operation.