Poland recently purchased the Eiss Archive, one of the largest archives documenting how Polish diplomats helped Jews during the Holocaust. The Archive documents the activities of the Bernese Group, led by Polish ambassador to Bern at the time, Aleksander Ładoś, in cooperation with Swiss Jewish organizations.
It is estimated that the Bernese group produced several hundred to several thousand fake passports between 1941 and 1943.
On Thursday, the archive went on display at the residence of the current Polish Ambassador to Bern.
“The Eiss Archive confirms that Polish authorities was not indifferent to the tragedy of Jews during WWII,” said Polish deputy Prime Minister and Culture Minister Piotr Gliński. “Wherever it was possible, Polish clerks, including diplomats, sometimes risked their lives to help Jews.”
Rabbi Chaim Yisroel Eiss was an Agudath Israel activist who labored on behalf of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. He lived in Switzerland, which was neutral in WW2, and was able to serve as a link between people living in countries under Nazi occupation and people in the free world. He transferred information and requests for help to the Agudath Israel offices in London, New York City, and Istanbul, and facilitated the transfer of money, passport photographs, and requests to locate family members into Europe.
The recipient of hundreds of letters from Nazi-occupied countries, Rabbi Eiss was one of the first to realize the scope of the atrocities that were being carried out there.
Rabbi Eiss was interrogated by Swiss police in May 1943, shortly before his death, and confessed to collaborating with Polish diplomats to illegally obtain fake passport from a corrupt honorary consul of Paraguay named Rudolf Hugli.
“I always contact the Polish Consul, Rokicki, who then, in turn, contacts the Paraguayan Consul, Hügli in Berne, who issues the documents. Then, presumably, [Polish consul Konstanty] Rokicki must pay some amount to Mr Hügli. The certificates are then sent to Poland in the original, whereas the passports are to be photocopied and the copies notarised,” Rabbi Eiss told Swiss police. He added that he would then obtain the copies of the passports, through the Polish-Jewish diplomat Juliusz Kühl, right-hand of Polish Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś, and smuggle them into the German occupation zone.
The letters contained certificates showing that the person concerned had been granted a Paraguayan citizenship. In many cases, Eiss provided the names of his acquaintances as the senders so as to make sure that his own name was not revealed to the censorship authorities. “All the addressees were religious Jewish persons living in Warsaw and Będzin,” he declared.
The bearers of the Paraguayan passports would be relocated to internment camps in occupied France and Germany rather than be sent to the extermination camps in Poland. Hundreds of them survived the war. In 1944, Poland reportedly forced Paraguay to temporarily recognize the validity of the passports.
After Rabbi Eiss died of a heart attack in November 1943, one of his descendants took the documents to Israel. Talks about bringing them to Poland began last summer, according to the Polish Press Agency.
The Eiss archive will remain on exhibition in Bern for a few months, according to PAP, then, early next year, the collection will arrive in Poland, where it will undergo conservation and analysis by archivists and historians at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.