By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
“If you save the life of one, you save the world entire.” Jewish proverb
UTC is hosting a unique exhibit featuring largely unrecognized heroes of the Holocaust on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 12 – 13, 8 – 5 p.m. in the Chattanooga Rooms of the UTC University Center. “Visas for Life” tells the stories of diplomats from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds who issued visas that allowed Jews to escape Nazi persecution. This exhibit is free and open to the public.
Twenty-four posters highlight approximately a dozen individual diplomats, while others feature collages of original documents. There will also be an informational booklet available to those viewing the exhibit.
“We want to encourage students to come and see a little history and understand how bravery can be exhibited in something as simple as a piece of paper. It’s really amazing that these diplomats would risk not just their careers but their lives to save these people,” says Pat Branam, Interim Vice Chancellor and Executive Director of the University of Chattanooga Foundation, who is overseeing the exhibit.
During World War II and the preceding Nazi period, the German government maintained diplomatic relations with allies, neutral nations such as Switzerland, and neighboring nations before they were occupied. As official representatives of these governments, the diplomats described in the exhibition were in unique positions to help Jews fleeing the Nazis.
These diplomats issued protective papers and other forms of documentation including entry visas to their own countries, transit visas requesting safe passage, exit visas from Nazi controlled territory, and citizenship papers. They were able to extend their nation’s diplomatic protection to tens of thousands of people. Some diplomats even smuggled refugees across international borders, hid Jews in their embassies and in their homes, established safe houses, and went on missions to stop deportations to death camps.
However, as official representatives of their governments, the diplomats were obliged to follow immigration laws and policies. They acted against superiors’ orders, laws, and their own governments to save the people who sought their help. Many were punished or fired – two were killed.
They risked their livelihoods and their lives, but between 1938 and 1945, these courageous diplomats saved over 200,000 lives. These stories collectively may be one of the largest rescues of Jews and other refugees during the Nazi Holocaust.
“A member of the local community who had worked with this exhibit in Georgia contacted the History Department and asked if we would like to do the exhibit, so we were able to arrange to have it here,” explains Branam.
This exhibition is based on original photographs collected from the families of the diplomats, eyewitness accounts of survivors, and original government records. The Office of Development and the Departments of History, Philosophy, and Political Science worked together to bring this exhibit to UTC. It is sponsored by the Israeli Consul, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats Project.
“It’s a different bit of historical, world politics information and it’s very visual. We’re pleased to be able to provide this for our students. Hopefully they will come see for themselves what history looks like,” says Branam.
For more information about Visas for Life, go here