The Rescue of Jews with the Aid of Passports and Citizenship Papers of Latin American States
Passports and citizenship papers of neutral countries, to some extent, provided protection against the foul deeds of the Nazis. The Gestapo endeavored to exterminate these Jews, too, but was overruled by the central German authorities. Dr. Silberschein in Geneva headed this effort to provide “rescue papers,” mainly for Jews in Poland, Holland, and Germany. After the German invasion of Poland, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled eastward into Russian-occupied Poland and Lithuania. Due to gross overcrowding, the Soviet authorities sent them on to Siberia, so saving them from later death at the hands of the Nazis when Germany attacked the USSR. Anyone with any sort of certificate of citizenship of another country was permitted to leave. The cost of such documents in New York was $200–300. The Nazis in most places ignored the documents. However, in Galicia holders of such papers were considered foreign citizens and were not persecuted. In Vilna, on the other hand, such Jews were put to death. In Warsaw (before the Ghetto Uprising) and Cracow “alien” citizens of the USA and British Commonwealth were required to register and after imprisonment were transferred to special former death camps such as Vittel, Tittmoning, and Liebenau, where they were not persecuted and eventually survived. Wealthy Jews bought documents from the Gestapo in Warsaw enabling some to survive. In Switzerland Dr. Silberschein obtained promesas (promissory letters) to Latin American countries including Honduras, Haiti, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. The US government, via the Swiss, warned Germany to recognize such documents and to draft exchange arrangements. Towards the end of the war, some hundreds of mainly Dutch Jews were released from Bergen–Belsen to Switzerland and thence to North Africa.