Story of Polish ‘consul-rescuer’ uncovered

Poland's consul general in Istanbul, Wojciech Rychlewicz, issued Polish documents to thousands of Jewish refugees during WWII, making it possible for them to flee to safety, according to an article published on Friday by Polish and Israeli newspapers.

Written by Eldad Beck, a Berlin correspondent for the Israeli newspaper ‘Israel Hayom’, “A consul-rescuer”, recounts the exploits of Wojciech Rychlewicz, a Polish diplomat working in neutral Turkey during WWII.

In the article, the journalist wrote that Wojciech Rychlewicz, who led the Polish Consulate General in Istanbul during the first years of World War II, “issued hundreds, or maybe thousands, of false documents to Jews stating that they were Polish Catholics. In this way he deceived the migration systems of several countries and made it possible for them to leave for the two Americas or Palestine."

Mr Beck wrote that the history of Wojciech Rychlewicz had been examined and verified by Bob Meth, a Jewish activist from Los Angeles, who for years tried to find out who the man that helped his mother, grandfather and other relatives was.

"In her memoirs, written some 20 years ago, my mother, Ellen C. Meth, born Edwarda Wang, wrote how they had been helped in Istanbul," Meth was quoted as saying.

In her memoirs, Ellen Meth wrote that she and her relatives had been saved by Wojciech Rychlewicz after they had reached Istanbul from Lviv. Thanks to certificates confirming that they were Catholics, issued by Rychlewicz, the family obtained Brazilian visas in 1940. Mrs Meth stated that no money was paid to Rychlewicz for the documents.

According to Poland's ambassador to Turkey, Jakub Kumoch, "every person who received documents from Rychlewicz survived. Turkey, which refused Germany's demands to close the Polish diplomatic missions in 1939, did not oppose the operation."

Mr Kumoch stated that 431 names [of those saved by Rychlewicz] had so far been verified, but a cable sent by the then Polish ambassador to Turkey suggested that "there might be several thousand."

Mr Rychlewicz was appointed Poland's consul general to Istanbul in 1937 and held the post until 1941, when he left Turkey following the same path as the Jewish “Catholics.” He then joined the Polish Army in Palestine under General Anders’ command. After the war, he moved to London where he lived until his death. Before the diplomatic career

Born in a landed family, the son of Józef Kazimierz Rychlewicz coat of arms Pobóg and Helena nee Reutt coat of arms Gozdawa, Wojciech Rychlewicz grew under the watchful eye of his father – a graduate of the Chemistry Department of the University of Riga and the tenant of Mielnikowce in the Podolskie governorate.

As a 17-year-old, Mr Rychlewicz took part in the Polish-Soviet war. In 1920 he settled in Vilnius where he passed his high school graduation exam. He studied maritime engineering at the Warsaw University of Technology in the years of 1924-1926. It is then that he joined one of the oldest, quasi-secret student fraternity "Arkonia" (established in 1879), one of many such organisations active at Polish universities at that time. Among other famous Polish members of "Arkonia" are, General Władysław Anders - the commander of the II Polish Corps that fought alongside the Allies in WWII and captured the impenetrable Nazi-German outpost atop Mount Cassino in Italy.

From 1926-1931 Mr Rychlewicz studied at the Warsaw School of Economics (today SGH). Having graduated, he entered into diplomatic service.