Jan de Voogd, New South Wales Regional Meeting
I have a beautiful watercolour of flowers painted and given to me by a friend for my birthday. The big bunch of flowers is an extravagant and exuberant expression of love. There are many ways that we express love. It can be through music, poetry, the way we look at friends, how we listen, the tone of voice we use and how we show appreciation of what they do and say. Compassion, our sympathetic concern for others in pain, need or sorrow, is also a very important human emotion. We know the ability to express love and compassion is an important blessing. When we feel flooded with love and blessings we are able to be more loving and compassionate. Then we feel doubly blessed. I am sure this can happen to everyone and it can happen for you! However, be aware of contrary emotions such as of fear, anger, jealousy and desire as they can take you over!
This story is about the love and compassion that civil servants (Consuls) in foreign lands had for Jews fleeing the Nazis from Poland and Lithuania in 1940 and how they devised a strategy whereby about 4,000 escaped the clutches of the Nazis.
There are many people who made their escape possible and I will start by introducing you to those who are part of the story as it is told by the Dutch Jew Nathan Gutwirth. He and his friend Chaim Nussbaum were the first to receive transit visas for Curacao in the Dutch West Indies in 1940.
Nathan Gutwirth was a Dutch diamond dealer from Antwerp who was studying in Tels, Lithuania at the famous Talmudic academy. He needed to leave Lithuania with his friend to escape the Nazis and he asked for and was granted a transit visa to Curacao by Jan Zwartendijk, the new Dutch Honorary Consul in Kaunus which was then the capital of Lithuania. This whole story is told by Nathan Gutwirth and was printed in the Dutch journal Elsevier of 20 July 1996.
Jan Zwartendijk who had been a radio operator and was working for Philips as the director of their radio factory in Lithuania. He had just been appointed the Dutch honorary consul in Kaunus which was then the capital of Lithuania. He contacted de Decker, the Netherlands ambassador for the Baltic States by phone to ask permission to grant Nathan Gutwirth a transit visa to Curacao .
de Decker was the Netherlands ambassador to the Baltic states. His decision to grant a transit visa to Curacao for Nathan Gutwirth was central to the success of the Curacao transit visas. He granted the transit visa without seeking the approval of the Governor of the Dutch West Indies which was required by the regulations. De Decker’s approval was given stilletjes, or roughly translated “quietly and secretly” so the Governor of the Dutch West Indies would not know the visa had been given in his name and also so that no one would know that those visas were not legal. The reason de Decker decided to grant Nathan Gutwirth a transit visa to Dutch Curacao was that he knew such visas were rarely approved and that the situation was critical.
Chiune Sugihara was known as Sempo Sugihara by the refugees as that was easier for the Jewish refugees to pronounce.
The Curacao visa was not enough. There was no other escape route except than through Russia, and the Soviets were only prepared to allow Jews to travel to Vladivostok if they could show they were allowed to enter Japan. Nathan Gutwirth then went to the consulate of japan (an ally of Germany) where he met Sempo Sugihara. Sempo Sugihara had just been told the evening before that under no circumstances could he give out visas for travel to Japan. This put Sugihara on the spot because he found those instructions to be immoral. These people were not enemies nor were they soldiers. They were desperate, innocent asylum seekers. There was a loyalty that Sugihara considered more important than his loyalty to his minister, which was that his dealings should be made with the wishes of his emperor in mind, who certainly would want those desperate beings to be treated humanely. So Sugihara ignored the instructions. ( Google Chiune Sugihara for lots more information.) Nathan Gutwirth got his visa to enter Japan.
Nicolaas de Voogd
Nicolaas (Niek) de Voogd was my father and was the Dutch consul in Kobe, Japan, which had a large Jewish community. He was inclusive and generous in Spirit, which was a blessing his brother and sister (my aunt and uncle) shared. He taught me to look at things from the point of view of those on “the other side”. As a diplomat he felt it was his role not only to represent the Netherlands but also the country where he had been placed. He never talked about his role in helping Jews escape the Nazis but did admit to helping to save 2000 Jews while Nathan Gutwirth claimed it was 4000. My father died in 1977 but Nathan Gutwirth continued to send a package of fruit and flowers every Christmas to my mother.
Although I was only about 7 or 8, I still remember my father taking a night train to the other side of Honshu ( the main island of Japan). That trip was cloaked in mystery. I now wonder if that was part of a plan to get the passports of Jews stuck in Harbin or Vladivostok stamped with a transit visa to Curacao. I also remember a Jewish boy in my class suddenly being particularly friendly but I was too shy to ask why.
The rabbis and students of the Jeshivath MIR in Jerusalem remember
The rabbis of the Jeshivath MIR, and their students in Jerusalem Israel placed a notice in a Dutch newspaper on 13 May 1977 which read:
We have learnt with deep sorrow of the death of Nicolaas Arie Johannes de Voogd formerly the Dutch ambassador to Japan.
By the nobleness of his heart, his great compassion and God’s help he succeeded in saving the rabbis and pupils of our Jeshivah in Poland together with many other Jews from the clutches of the Nazis in 1940-1941. That this was possible is evidence of the nobility of his soul.
We have remembered him often with deep thankfulness in the years since.
Chawal al deowdin welo mishtakchin.
His memory is blessed by God.
In deep sorrow. The Rabbis of Jeshivath MIR and their pupils.
I pray that I will accept strangers and outsiders with the same love and compassion as my father did.