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Unknown heroes

By Michael Smith
Author of Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

Frank Foley
Frank Foley, MI6 officer who saved tens of thousands of Jews
A plaque is to be unveiled at the Foreign Office to commemorate British diplomats who helped victims of Nazi oppression.

Frank Foley and Robert Smallbones, British officials based in Germany, are among the most prominent.

Foley, who was MI6 head of station in Berlin in the 1930s, and Smallbones, the Consul-General in Frankfurt-am-Main, were responsible for allowing tens of thousands of Jews to escape Nazi Germany.

Britain's role in the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel is mired in controversy and, as a result, it is only recently that Foley and Smallbones have been recognised for their role in helping Jews escape.

Intense pressure

Both men were in charge of handing out visas to Germans going to Britain, Palestine, or anywhere in the Empire, a useful means of tracking people who might pose a threat.

But as the Nazi oppression of the Jews increased in the mid-1930s, and ever larger numbers decided to leave, there was intense pressure to keep the number of visas issued to Jews to an absolute minimum.

There must be countless men, women and children today who would never have been born but for Foley
Letter to Jerusalem Post

There was particular concern to restrict the numbers of Jews entering Palestine, which was administered by Britain under mandate from the League of Nations.

The mandate specifically urged the British to allow Jewish immigration "under suitable conditions" but Arab riots led to severe limits on the numbers let in.

Nor was it just in Palestine that there was resistance to Jewish immigration. There was widespread opposition in Britain as well.

Even the British Medical Association lobbied the Home Office to severely limit the number of German Jewish doctors coming to this country.

But Foley and Smallbones were witnesses to the human tragedy unfolding before them and resolved not just to bend the rules but to find any devious method they could to help Jews escape.

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin after it was set on fire during the Kristallnacht riots
Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin after it was set on fire during the Kristallnacht riots
Foley did not just do this by issuing visas. After November 1938, when many Jewish men went on the run to avoid being taken to the concentration camps, he hid five or six men a night in his flat and even bluffed his way into the camps to get Jews out.

One Jewish official who worked alongside Foley to get Jews out of Germany said: "The number of Jews saved from Germany would have been tens of thousands less if an officious bureaucrat had sat in Foley's place."

When Foley was finally recognised as Righteous Among Nations, the most prestigious award the Jewish state can make to a gentile, one of those he saved wrote to the Jerusalem Post welcoming the decision.

"I myself have five children and 18 grandchildren, none of whom would ever have seen the light of day but for Foley," she said.

"There must be countless men, women and children today who would never have been born but for Foley."




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