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  • Claire Jordan

Kindness Always Matters

Carl Lutz was a smart, kind but unassuming Swiss diplomat who served as the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest from 1942 until the end of the War.

None of which remotely conveys the true extent of his courage and compassion.

When he got to Budapest, Hungary was not yet under Nazi control but everyone could see which way the wind was blowing.

Lutz was not Jewish but had come to the city from Palestine and began working with local Jewish organisations, using his influence to issue so many Swiss safe-conduct documents in such a short space of time that more than 62000 Hungarian Jews to escape enemy clutches, over 10000 of whom were children.

When the Nazis finally came to Budapest in 1944, they began deporting the local Jewish population to the death camps and Carl Lutz, working the system, negotiated permission to issue protective letters which would enable 8000 Hungarian Jews to emigrate to Palestine.

But Lutz was clever and brave and he manipulated the paperwork, without anyone realising, to let not 8000 individual people to escape but 8000 whole Jewish families together.

He virtually never slept, signing and issuing tens of thousands of protective letters, all of which bore a number between 1 and 8000.

He also personally set up more than 75 safehouses around Budapest itself, declaring them annexes of the neutral Swiss consulate and therefore out of the control of either Hungarian authorities or Nazi jackboots.

One of these safehouses was known as the Glass House on Vadasz Street, which alone saved the lives of around 3000 local Jews.

And Carl Lutz didn’t only fight the Nazis with pen and paper.

On one occasion, a local band of fascist militia were shooting at Jewish people queuing along a quay, trying to escape.

One woman was hit and fell into the Danube, bleeding profusely.

With bullets still flying, Lutz jumped into the river in his tailored suit, made it to the woman and pulled her back to the bank.

She was still alive, and the soldiers were still firing.

So Carl demanded to speak to the officer in charge of the firing squad and declared the woman to be a foreign citizen protected by Switzerland and, blinding the bemused man with legal jargon and calmly but firmly waving soggy pieces of official-looking paperwork he still had in his pockets, he escorted the wounded lady to his car and quietly drove her away from the hideous scene.

No one dared shoot at this tall, pol0ite, eloquent diplomat who seemed so certain of his actions.

In reality, it was all a very brave bluff.

Together with courageous diplomats of other neutral countries, Carl worked tirelessly for many long months to thwart the Nazis’ plans for the Jewish population of Budapest at any and every turn.

He was so bold and clever in his efforts that in November 1944, the German pro-consul to Hungary formally sought permission from Hitler’s Reich to assassinate the Swiss superhero, but Berlin never got back to him.

Carl himself escaped from the city almost at the last minute as the Red Army closed in at the end of 1944 along with his wife Trudi, who had been his faithful and determined helper through all of his wildly dangerous efforts to thwart the bullies.

Somehow, Carl survived the War.

Sadly, his marriage to Trudi did not, but he did get remarried in 1949, to a lady called Magda. Magda and her daughter Agnes were two of the tens of thousands of lives which Carl Lutz had saved during the War.

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