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Carl Lutz Anniversary Year

Remembrance for the heroic Swiss diplomat postponed due to the pandemic

D&T
August 29, 2020

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth and the 45th anniversary of the death of Carl Lutz (March 30, 1895 – February 12, 1975), the Swiss diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.

Carl Lutz worked as a vice consul at the Swiss Embassy between 1942 and 1945. He stayed in Budapest throughout the period of the Hungarian Holocaust, and from the autumn of 1944, he granted Swiss asylum to thousands of persecuted people by means of a certificate that officially recognized the holder as a Swiss citizen. He is also credited with inventing the Schutzbrief (protective letter) for Jewish refugees in Budapest. After March 19, 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary and the new Hungarian government closed the Hungarian borders to Jewish emigration. In tough negotiations with the Nazis and the Hungarian government, Lutz obtained permission to issue protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to Palestine that was under British authority at that time. Through a ruse, interpreting the 8,000 ‘units’ not as persons but as families,
he and his staff issued tens of thousands of additional ‘protective letters’. He counted on hundreds of Jewish volunteers who helped him process the protective letters and distribute them throughout Budapest. He established 76 Swiss safe houses throughout the Hungarian capital and, with the help of his wife Gertrud, liberated Jews from deportation centers and death marches. He is credited by Jewish relief agencies with saving 62,000 Jews from the Nazi Holocaust. The operation of Carl Lutz’s system and the issuing of protective letters was subsequently adopted by representatives of other neutral governments in Budapest, such as the Swedish ambassador Raoul Wallenberg.

Recognitions
After the war, Carl Lutz was recalled to Switzerland but it was only several decades later, in 1995, that the State of Switzerland finally acknowledged Carl Lutz’ heroic acts of humanitarian aid and no longer condemned his actions as an ‘infringement of his boundaries’, and finally rehabilitated his reputation as an outstanding diplomat. His astonishing actions were also recognized internationally: he was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, he was made ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Authority in 1965 and was also declared an honorary citizen of the State of Israel. The most complete collection of documents about Carl Lutz and his activities in Budapest is Theo Tschuy's book ‘Honor and Courage’. ‘Under Swiss protection’ is the title of book edited by Agnes Hirschi, Carl Lutz’s adopted daughter, published last year, the translation of which was supported by the Swiss Embassy of Hungary and the book presentation took place at the ambassador’s residence in Budapest.
The memory of Carl Lutz is commemorated throughout Budapest. A small monument, which forms an open book and contains a relief on its two visible pages, stands in front of the American Embassy in Budapest. (Carl Lutz acted as a Swiss diplomat in this building from 1944-45.) Another memorial statue (depicting a person saving another) is located on Dob Street in the former Jewish quarter.
The Swiss Embassy planned a commemoration scheduled for March this year but it had to be postponed the due to the coronavirus epidemic. As soon as the Covid-19 situation enables, the Embassy will hold the event to commemorate Carl Lutz.

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