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Hiram Bingham IV, WWII Hero

A campaign to support U.S. Postage Stamp recognition of
Hiram Bingham IV for his efforts during World War II.

Email me to receive more information on how to be involved in our campaign.
Robert Kim Bingham, Esq.

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Nominated for Stamp by Museum Curator

VISAS FOR LIFE: THE RIGHTEOUS AND HONORABLE
DIPLOMATS

March 16, 1999

Virginia Noelke
Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee
475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Room 4474-E
Washington, DC 20260-2437

Dear Ms. Noelke:

The purpose of this letter is to nominate Hiram "Harry" Bingham IV for a
commemorative US postage stamp. I am the curator of an exhibit entitled Visas for
Life: The Righteous Diplomats. This exhibit documents the role of diplomats in
rescuing Jews during the period of the Holocaust, 1938-1945. This exhibit has
toured throughout the United States and Europe. Since its inception, this exhibit
has included the story of Consul Hiram "Harry" Bingham.

Consul Bingham was one of a very few American diplomats who were willing to risk
their careers and safety to issue visas to save the lives of Jewish refugees in Europe.
I can think of no one more highly deserving than Consul Bingham to be honored
with a commemorative stamp.

Vice-Consul Harry Bingham was in charge of visas in the American consulate in
Marseilles, France. He was responsible for issuing visas to hundreds of Jewish
refugees trapped in Vichy, France, in the spring and fall of 1940.

In addition, Bingham is credited with personally hiding a number of important
Jewish writers, intellectuals and artists. In performing these courageous actions,
Bingham far exceeded his authority and was in direct violation of American
immigration policy and the policy of the American consul general.

Bingham also personally aided a number of Jewish refugees in crossing the French-
Spanish and -Portuguese borders.

Bingham personally escorted Dr. Otto and Hedwig Meyerhof across the French-
Spanish border. Dr. Meyerhof was a recipient of the Nobel prize in physics. In a
letter, Walter Meyerhof, who was there at the time, writes:

...Bingham's role in helping my parents to enter Spain. Because my
father had been refused the needed French exit visa (I have the letter
from the Vichy Interior Minister), my parents had to cross
clandestinely on foot from France to Spain. On the Spanish side, my
parents were about to be rejected and sent back to France, when by
chance Hiram Bingham passed through the border station. He did
not hesitate to talk with the Spanish border police, and my parents

1640 Union Street, San Francisco, California 94123 Phone and Fax 415-824-7743

were finally allowed to pass through Spain. [Meyerhof, November 2,
1997]

According to the recently published book The Holocaust & The Jewsof Marseilles
(University of Illinois Press, 1996), author Professor Donna Ryan says Bingham
frequently "acted against the wishes of the American consul, Hugh Fullerton, and
directives from his own government."

Bingham played a key role in the establishment of the operations for the relief and
rescue of Jewish refugees before the arrival of Varian Fry and the Emergency
Rescue Committee. Bingham established a safe house (which was his own
residence). He used this house to plan strategic meetings with Varian Fry, Frank
Bohn, and other members of the ERC. Also, Bingham introduced Captain Dubois, a
member of the Marseilles staff of the Surete Nationale, to Varian Fry. Dubois was
sympathetic to the work of aiding refugees in escape. In his memoirs, Surrender on
Demand (Johnson Books, 1945), Fry said:

...Harry Bingham invited me to dinner at his villa, to meet Captain
Dubois. Captain Dubois was a member of the Marseilles staff of the
Surete Nationale. Though a Vichy policeman, he was friendly to
England and America, and Harry thought it would be useful for me to
know him.

It was. Dubois was the first French official I had met who was
familiar with my case and willing to talk about it. [Fry, 1945, p. 89-90]

Further, Bingham developed procedures for hiding refugees from the authorities,
and established contacts with members of the French underground and other
sympathetic French authorities.

Hiram Bingham introduced Varian Fry to various members of the French
underground, including American labor leader Frank Bohn. When Fry wrote his
book in 1945, Bingham was still in the State Department, stationed in Argentina.
In his book, Fry downplayed the role of Bingham in the rescue of the Jews of
Marseilles, to protect Bingham. In his book, Fry states:

He's [Bingham] the Vice-Consul in charge of visas, and the son of the
late Senator from Connecticut. I believe his brother's the editor of
Common Sense. Anyway, he has a heart of gold. He does everything
he can to help us, within American law... [Fry, 1945, p. 10]

The phrase "within American law," was written to protect Bingham.

In his book, Fry tells of the rescue of Lion Feuchtwanger:

"I've promised Harry Bingham not to breathe a word of this to
anybody," he said, after he had closed the door, "but I'm sure he
wouldn't mind my telling you. It was Harry who got Feuchtwanger
out of that camp. He arranged it all with Mrs. Feuchtwanger in
advance, and she got word of their plans to her husband. Luckily she
wasn't interned, you see. A few days after the armistice Harry drove
his car out to a place near the camp where the men were allowed to go
and swim, and Feuchtwanger met him there. Harry had brought
some women's clothes along, and Feuchtwanger put them on and
Harry drove him back to Marseilles."

"Gosh," I said, "he really is a prince, isn't he! Where is Feuchtwanger
now?"

"Hiding in Harry's villa," Bohn said. [Fry, 1945, p. 11-12]

Because of the secret nature of these operations, and because Bingham wished his
work to be anonymous, Bingham's name has rarely come up as one of the principle
participants in the work of the rescue. Further, we may never know exactly how
many refugees were saved. Certainly the number was in the hundreds, and
perhaps thousands.

Because of his violation of the policy of his supervisors, Bingham was transferred by
the U.S. State Department to a posting in Argentina. He was transferred by the
highest authorities, by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

After Bingham's transfer, Fry was disappointed with his replacement. He states in
his memoirs:

Then Harry Bingham was recalled, and his place at the head of the
visa service at the American Consulate was taken by a vice-consul
who seemed to delight in making autocratic decisions and refusing as
many visas as he possibly could. He was also very weak on modern
European history, but very strong on defending America against
refugees he regarded as radicals. [Fry, 1945, p. 215]

Fry concluded that the loss of Bingham and the tightening of U.S. immigration
policy was a devastating blow to the Emergency Rescue Committee's work:

By the end of June, the American Consulates in France received new
instructions forbidding them to grant any visas at all except on
specific authorization from the State Department. Even transit visas
had to be authorized by the Department, and all the refugees who had
been patiently building up immigration-visa dossiers at the
Consulates now had to begin all over again in Washington. No one
with a close relative in Italy, Germany or any of the occupied
countries, including the occupied part of France, could get a visa
under any circumstances. [Fry, 1945, p. 216]

In Argentina at the conclusion of World War II, Bingham began gathering
information on Nazi transfers of money and gold from Germany to South America.
He also reported on the immigration of former Nazis to South America. His reports
on these matters made the U.S. State Department uncomfortable. He insisted that
this information be utilized by the State Department to prevent Nazi infiltration of
South America. When the U.S. State Department refused to act on his
recommendations, he resigned from the State Department in disgust.

Because of his principles, Bingham's lifelong career as a diplomat was ended. For
the rest of his life, he eked out a living as a small businessman. Although Bingham
was born into a wealthy patrician family, he had sacrificed his position for his
humanitarian beliefs.

In the recently published book The Holocaust & The Jews of Marseilles (University
of Illinois Press, 1996), author Professor Donna Ryan says the following of Hiram
Bingham:

Many contemporary sources describing conditions in Marseilles
during 1940 and 1941 suggest that the U.S. vice consul, Hiram
Bingham Jr., expedited exit visas with letters promising that
U.S. entry visas would be issued immediately afterward.
Bingham, however, often acted against the wishes of the
consul, Hugh Fullerton, and directives from his home
government. [Ryan, 1996, p. 130]

Later Professor Ryan says:

Although obtaining all the necessary visas remained difficult, in the
early days of [Varian] Fry's work there was enough inconsistency in
government policy for Fry and his clients to exploit. U.S. entry
documents tended to flow steadily, though not profusely. This trend
continued as long as Hiram Bingham remained Vice-Consul in
charge of visas, that is, until June 1941, when U.S. official
immigration policy changed. It appears that the situation in 1940
and early 1941 might have been much worse without Bingham,
for the consul general, Hugh Fullerton, distrusted Fry, perhaps
because he appeared sympathetic to leftists at a time when fear of
Communist infiltration to the United States reigned supreme. [Ryan,
1996, p. 142]

Professor Ryan further notes of Bingham's participation:

Without legal exit visas, Lion Feuchtwanger, Heinrich and Nelly
Mann, Golo Mann, and Franz and Alma Mahler Werfel escaped to
New York via Spain and Lisbon with ERC help. Unfortunately,
Feuchtwanger, eager to exaggerate his own courageous participation
in these events, gave away the details of his escape, including his
rescue from the camp at Saint Nicolas with the help of Miles
Standish, the U.S. Vice-Consul, and his concealment at Hiram
Bingham's house. His description probably alerted officials to the
need for tighter border control. [Ryan, 1996, p. 144]

Please find enclosed quotes from Varian Fry's book Surrender on Demand and
Donna Ryan's book The Jews of Marseilles. I have also included the letter of
Professor von Hofe, who is the curator of the Lion Feuchtwanger collection at the
University of Southern California. I will provide you contemporary photographs of
Hiram Bingham, if you wish.

Thank you very much. If you have any questions, please contact me at (415) 824-
7743 or (310) 859-9136.

Yours very truly,

[signed]

Eric Saul
Director/Curator, Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats

cc: Robert Kim Bingham

Enclosures:

von Hofe letter; quotes from Surrender on Demand and The Holocaust
& The Jews of Marseilles, exhibit text: Visas for Life: The Righteous
Diplomats



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