Hiram Bingham IV, WWII Hero
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Hiram Bingham IV's Role Told by the Yad Vashem
VISAS FOR LIFE
HIRAM "HARRY" BINGHAM
AND THE RESCUE OF
THOUSANDS OF JEWS
IN MARSEILLES, FRANCE
HIRAM "HARRY" BINGHAM IV DIPLOMAT, ARTIST, PHILOSOPHER, INVENTOR AND RESCUER
Hiram "Harry" Bingham, IV, is probably one of only two American diplomats who came to the aid and rescue of Jews and other refugees during the Holocaust. It is conservatively estimated that he supervised and participated in the rescue of more the 2,500 people. to this day, he has never been recognized by any agency or any government. The purpose of this exhibit is to tell his story for the first time.
Harry Bingham served in the United States Foreign Service from 1929 to 1946. He was posted in Peking, Warsaw, London, Marseilles, Lisbon and Buenos Aires.
He was the second of Seven sons of Connecticut Governor, US Senator and explorer Hiram Bingham III and Alfreda Mitchell (granddaughter of Charles Tiffany, founder of Tiffany and Co.). His grandfather and great grandfather (Hiram I and Hiram II) had been among the first missionaries in Hawaii.
Bingham was raised with privilege and opportunity, with a deep sense of commitment to serving humanity. His upbringing exposed young Bingham to art, history, culture and religion.
He attended the prestigious Groton School and graduated from Yale University in 1925. He then served in Kobe, Japan, as a civilian secretary in the US embassy. He loved children and worked as a schoolteacher. A year later, he traveled to India and Egypt. He returned to the United States to attend Harvard Law School.
Bingham scored third in his class on the foreign service exam and entered the US Foreign Service. His first assignment was in Peking, China, where he witnessed the beginnings of the communist revolution and traveled around the country, absorbing the culture, the religion and the language.
His travels in the Orient gave him a profound interest in eastern religious philosophy. He developed a lifelong interest in karma, reincarnation, Buddhism and mysticism. Until the end of his life he searched for ways to reconcile these eastern philosophies and his own upbringing in the Christian tradition.
In 1934, Bingham met and fell in love with Rose Lawton Morrison, a college drama teacher from Waycross, Georgia. She had been sent to London to be presented to the Queen. Harry Bingham was third secretary at the embassy in London, and had the honor of escorting her on that occasion. They were later married. In their 54 years together, they had eleven children and more than forty grand- and great grandchildren.
SURRENDER ON DEMAND
On June 10, 1940, the German army invaded France. In less than a week, the French army had been defeated. On June 14, 1940, Paris fell to the Nazis. Shortly thereafter, a fascist government was brought to power by the Nazis in France. The French signed an armistice with Germany in June, 1940. In Article 19 of this document, the French agreed to "surrender on demand all Germans named by the German government in France..."
The Nazis, with the collaboration of the French police and government officials, immediately began the roundup of German and Jewish refugees.
In response, Thomas Mann, the distinguished author of The Magic Mountain who had emigrated earlier, joined many others in forming and financing the Emergency Rescue Committee (known today as the International Rescue Committee). Mann's family was trapped in France and they were likely to be handed over to the Gestapo under Article 19. The committee raised funds and lobbied Washington for permission to get emergency US visas for Jews, anti-Nazi Germans and other "enemies" of the Nazis trapped in France or interned in concentration camps.
In New York City, the Emergency Rescue Committee recruited Varian Fry, who volunteered to go to France to assist in the effort to rescue Jewish and anti-Nazi Germans, artists and activists wanted by the Gestapo. The American Federation of Labor had previously sent Dr. Frank Bohn to coordinate the rescue effort. When Fry arrived in Marseilles in August, 1940, a network of anti-Nazi and resistance fighters was already in action. Their mission was to save those who were on Hitler's arrest lists.
Fortunately for the refugees, there was a man in an official position who was willing to help the Emergency Rescue Committee. He was Hiram "Harry" Bingham, Jr., US Vice-Consul in charge of the visas section. Since June of 1940, he been issuing legal and illegal visas to refugees escaping France.
According to Varian Fry's book, Surrender on Demand, Bohn put Fry in contact with Harry Bingham immediately after Fry's arrival in late August, 1940. Bohn told Fry:
"He's the Vice-Consul in charge of visas, and the son of the late Senator from Connecticut. ...He has a heart of gold. He does everything he can to help us, within American law."
THE RESCUE OF LION FEUCHTWANGER
Lion Feuchtwanger, a best selling anti-Nazi German author who had been considered for the Nobel Prize in literature, had been arrested and interned in a French/Nazi concentration camp. He was selected by his fellow inmates to speak on b~behalf of the anti-Nazi prisoners to the ccommandant. In his autobiographical account, The Devil in France, he recounts:
"Then I spoke, explaining the dangerous situation in which we found ourselves. Many of us were wanted by the Nazis ant were under prosecution in Germany. Several of us had death sentences hanging over us. In the Nazi newspapers and radio speeches many of us were referred to as the ranking enemies of the regime. We were lost if we fell into the hands of the Nazis.
Lion Feuchtwanger was one of the men most wanted by Hitler as a result of his scathing attack on Hitler in his anti-Nazi historical novel The Oppermanns, published in 1934, which detailed the horrors of Nazism after Hitler rose to power.
American Consuls Harry Bingham and Miles Standish planned and implemented the rescue and escape of Lion Feuchtwanger from the concentration camp at Nimes. Feuchtwanger was dressed in women's clothing and passed through several German checkpoints. Feuchtwanger was taken to Bingham's villa disguised as Bingham's mother-in-law from Georgia. There he was reunited with his wife Marta, who had also been released from a concentration camp.
In his book Surrender on Demand, Varian Pry quotes Dr. Frank Bohn: "It was Harry who got Feuchtwanger out of that camp. 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 MarseiIles."
Feuchtwanger and his wife were able to escape the Nazis and emigrate to the United States. Feuchtwanger was eternally grateful to Bingham and Standish.