Film on Bernese Group screened in Moscow

The “Passports to Paraguay” documentary that depicts the extraordinary story of Polish diplomats in Switzerland – a team known as the Ładoś Group and the Bernese Group – who saved hundreds of European Jews from the Holocaust during WWII was screened in the Moscow Jewish Museum on Thursday.

Directed by Robert Kaczmarek and produced by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, the documentary tells the real-life story of how Polish diplomats Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś, his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz and Consul Konstanty Rokicki provided European Jews imprisoned in German-made ghettos with falsified South-American passports saving them from death in German death camps.

These were Polish Jews who first received help from the Bernese Group. A helping hand was then extended to Jews in the other parts of occupied Europe.

“This is one important chapter in Polish history that testifies to the heroism of Polish diplomats,” said Poland’s Ambassador to Moscow Włodzimierz Marciniak, adding that “it tells the story of Polish diplomats in Switzerland who on one hand pursued the policy of its state, while on the other fulfilled their diplomatic duty the way they understood it in this extraordinary and dramatic WWII situation.”

The man who has been gathering the evidence of the selflessly daring exploits of the Bernese Group is a diplomat himself – Poland’s Ambassador to Switzerland Jakub Kumoch also attended the movie premier organised by the Polish Institute in Moscow.

The documentary will be also screened at the Polish Embassy in Australia on June 18.

The “Passports to Paraguay” was first screened in Poland in late January, however, the English-subtitled version of the movie premiered exclusively on PolandIn on March 29.

The Bernese Group story

The Bernese group, or the Bernese Six, was a Polish-Jewish organisation during WWII. It dealt in the mass-forging of documents in an attempt to save European Jews from the Nazi German death camps. It was centred around the Polish consulate in Bern, Switzerland.

Headed by Aleksander Ładoś, Poland's ambassador to Switzerland during the war, the group was comprised of Polish diplomats and Jewish activists. It forged South American, predominantly Paraguayan passports, which were then smuggled into Nazi German-occupied Poland.

The efforts of the Bernese Six went unknown by the broader public for decades. Last year, Poland gained access to the so-called Eiss archive which has shed a new light on the scale of the group’s work.