‘Beyond Duty’: Recognizing foreign heroes in the Holocaust 


An exhibition titled "Beyond Duty" resides in the hallway of the Dodd Center. The exhibition tells the stories of people effected by the Holocaust.  Photo by Maggie Chafouleas/The Daily Campus.

An exhibition titled “Beyond Duty” resides in the hallway of the Dodd Center. The exhibition tells the stories of people effected by the Holocaust. Photo by Maggie Chafouleas/The Daily Campus.

In times of crisis and war, people often do not know if what they are doing is right, and if they are, it may be against the norm at the time. During World War II and the Holocaust, as Jewish people were being persecuted in Germany and all throughout the world, it was through their own bravery and that of others that they managed to survive. From now until March 1, the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life is housing the exhibit “Beyond Duty: Diplomats Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations” in the Dodd Center. The exhibit opened at the end of last month to coincide with the observance of United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. 

The exhibit is a series of posters running down the hallway of the Dodd Center, featuring a timeline of events detailing the effects of the Holocaust on one side. The other side of the hallway features posters dedicated to diplomats that have been “recognized as Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The exhibit is put on display by the Consulate General of Israel to New England and the posters produced by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meant to “showcas[e] the history of diplomats from around the world who defied the direct orders of their governments during World War II to save the lives of countless Jews from the Nazis,” according to the exhibition’s opening description. “Beyond Duty” is also dedicated to the Holocaust survivors “whose courage and resilience inspire us,” as introduced in the exhibition. 

Series of quotes from the honorees accompany their portraits and a description of how they had assisted Jews in their countries. Many of the diplomats describe a feeling of duty behind their actions, despite uncertainty or fear for their own and others’ safety. 

“I’ve taken on this assignment, and I will never be able to return to Stockholm without knowing that I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible,” Raoul Wallenburg, from Sweden, is quoted saying on his poster. Out of the exhibition, he was awarded the title the earliest, in 1963, for helping the Swedish legislation in Budapest in 1944 with protective passports and visas.  

Shortly after being enlisted by the government, Wallenburg began to issue protective letters and even joined his colleagues in following Jews who were being marched to the Austrian border and “freed them by claiming they were under Swedish protection.” However, Wallenburg was taken away by Russian soldiers when they entered the city, and never heard from again. 

Other stories like Wallenburg’s cover the walls of the Dodd Center, like Aristides de Sousa Mendes from Portugal, who was posthumously recognized in 1966, after he died penniless in 1954. He was dismissed from the country’s Foreign Office for issuing visas to several thousand refugees, which was against the country’s “explicit instructions.” According to his poster, Portugal’s government only granted him total rehabilitation in 1988. 

“I would rather stand with God against man than man against God,” reads a quote by Sousa Mendes on his poster. 

The other diplomats recognized include Captain Francis Folley (United Kingdom), Selahattin Ulkumen (Turkey), Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (Germany), José María Barreto (Peru), Chiune Sugihara (Japan), Sebastián de Romero Radigales (Spain) and Vladimír Vochoc (Czechoslovakia). Only nine diplomats were able to be honored in the Dodd Center, but according to the exhibit, close to 27,000 men and women have been given the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Remembrance Center. The project began in 1963, detailing enriching and amazing stories of human sacrifice. 

“I may have to disobey the government, but if I don’t, I would be disobeying God,” Sugihara’s poster reads. 

According to the introductory poster, Yad Vashem “safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations.” The world center was established in 1953 for “documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.” 

Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.

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