Exhibition on diplomats-saviours of Jews opens in Holocaust Museum LA

On Sunday, the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles will open a special exhibition dedicated to the Ładoś Group, which was a group of Polish diplomats and Jewish activists whose operations in Switzerland during WWII saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust.

Prepared by the Pilecki Institute and entitled “Passports for Life”, the exhibition consists of three showcases designed to tell the real story of the group that by issuing fake passports of neutral Central-American states and delivering them to over 3,600 Jews in German-made ghettos in Poland and other countries saved many of them from being sent to death camps and the death in the Holocaust.

The exhibition will show, among others, copies of fake Latin American passports issued by the diplomats, their biographies and also a testimony of a Jewish survivor. The testimony will be placed in the part of the museum dedicated to the Righteous Among the Nations, among them Irena Sendler.

“The story of the Ładoś group is not widely known around here just yet,” Poland’s Consul-General Paweł Lickiewicz told the Polish Press Agency (PAP), adding that “this event aims to change this. By presenting this story we align with the educational activities of the Holocaust Museum.”

As he stressed, the first group of guests to see the new exhibition would be 80 pupils of a local high school. German and Japanese consuls-generals are expected to take part in the official opening preceded by a Polish-Jewish music concert performed by artists of the Polish Chamber Musicians Society.

“We are delighted that for the first time in the US we can host, together with consul-general of Poland in LA, the ‘Passports for Life’ exhibition at the Holocaust Museum in LA,” Beth Kean, the head of the museum said, adding that “in the face of growing antisemitism, world humanitarian and refugee crises, as well as spiking intolerance between societies worldwide, telling stories of those, who saved human lives with their comport, becomes more important than ever.”

As put by Mr Lickiewicz, the museum has been interested in the exhibition from day one when the publications about the activities of the Ładoś Group saw the light of day. The Sunday event is also a result of maintaining contacts with Jewish organisations in LA, he said.

Dr Wojceich Kozłowski, the head of the Pilecki Institute, who had prepared the exhibition, stressed the importance of the venue where the exhibition was set. Established in 1961 by the Holocausts survivors, the museum is the oldest of its kind in the US.

“The Holocaust Museum LA is one of the three most important institutions in the US related to the history of the Holocaust. The US is our undisputed priority, which is where the most important discussions on coming to terms with the past are taking place,” he said.

In 2021, “Passports to Life” were exhibited in Lithuania, Latvia, the Czech Republic, among others. The exhibition will remain available to visitors in LA until December 17.

The Ładoś group undertook the fabrication of passports in 1941 in Bern, Switzerland. Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś and diplomats Konstanty Rokicki, Stefan Ryniewicz and Juliusz Kuehl cooperated with Jewish activists Abraham Silbershein and Chaim Eiss on issuing fake passports and confirmations of Latin American states’ citizenship for Jews at the peril of the Holocaust. This provided an opportunity to intern Jews and potentially exchange them for German POW. This also prevented the transportation of Jews to death camps where they would likely meet their end at the hands of German persecutors.

In 2019, the Pilecki Institute published a scientific study entitled “The Ładoś List” containing over 3,000 surnames of people for whom the group fabricated passports. Studies showed that it had been one of the largest rescue operations carried out by diplomats in the face of the Holocaust.