Carl Lutz rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from death during World War II.
The Swiss Vice-Consul Carl Lutz, in charge of foreign interests and visas at the Swiss Embassy in Budapest 1942-45, issued tens of thousands of protective letters (“Schutzbriefe”) for Hungarian Jews, documents the Nazi officials only reluctantly recognised.
In the last months of World War II the Nazi regime tried to eliminate the whole Jewish community of German occupied Hungary. In tough negotiations with the Nazis and the Hungarian government, Lutz obtained permission to issue protective letters to 8'000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to Palestine. Using a ruse and interpreting the 8’000 not as persons, but as families, he and his staff issued tens of thousands of additional protective letters. He established 76 Swiss safe houses throughout Budapest and, with the help of his wife Gertrud, liberated Jews from deportation centres and death marches.
The issue of protective letters was subsequently adopted by representatives of other neutral governments in Budapest such as Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, and others, which broadened the impact.
By the end of the war close to 124,000 Hungarian Jews survived. Tens of thousands of these owed their life to the courageous actions of Carl Lutz, whose name, until recently, had largely been forgotten, by the Jewish people and the world at large.
Carl Lutz has been honoured by Yad Vashem and the State of Israel. In 1963 a street was named after him in Haifa, Israel, later by his home village Walzenhausen, Switzerland and by the Swiss government. Since 1991 a memorial at the entrance to the old Budapest ghetto remembers Carl Lutz's work in Budapest. In 2006 the American Embassy honoured Carl Lutz with a memorial in the park of the American Embassy.
Among the safe houses mentioned above the most famous one was the Glass House, an old industrial building at Vadász utca 29. Over 3,000 Jews found refuge and protection from their prosecutors at the Glass House during world war II. The Glasshouse is now open for visitors as a museum, that is documenting the history of Carl Lutz and his actvities. A more general documentation on the Hungarian Jews and the Holocaust is available at the Holocaust Memorial Center, for further information please use the link below.
In the last years there were numerous occasions to celebrate the memory of Carl Lutz in Hungary and all around the world. In Budapest there is the Memorial Room in the Glass House, the Monument in front of the US Embassy and also the Carl Lutz Quay (XIII. district) where in April 2013 more than 20 000 people took part in the March of the Living honoring the deeds of Carl Lutz. A German version of the travelling exhibition "Carl Lutz and the legendary Glass House" has been printed, and was shown in Carl Lutz’s hometown Walzenhausen in August, later in Zürich and other cities all around Switzerland. The English version has been shown in the USA at the Alma Mater of Carl Lutz, the Elliott School of International Affairs, Washington.
In 2014 we were commemorating 70 years of the beginning of the Holocaust in Hungary. It wa a suitable occasion to also remember the deeds of those who opposed it, sometimes risking their social status, their job or even their life. The Swiss embassy and its partners in Hungary and around the world were organizing various activities in Budapest and worldwide.