Holocaust survivors remember forgotten hero’s wartime efforts

Charlotte Schallie's research sheds light on the heroic efforts of Carl Lutz

Thirty-six harrowing stories of survival that retrace the wartime diplomatic efforts of Switzerland’s forgotten Schindler—a diplomat named Carl Lutz—come to life in new research published by a University of Victoria historian after a chance discovery three years ago.

Charlotte Schallié from UVic’s Faculty of Humanities found out about Lutz during a trip to Budapest, where she came across a monument to Lutz while researching about her own grandmother, who had been killed in Auschwitz. Schallié, who is Swiss but had never heard of Lutz, found and then worked with Lutz’s stepdaughter, Agnes Hirschi, to collect testimonies from survivors in Switzerland, the United States, Canada and Israel.

Schallié’s findings will be published this month in the new book, Under Swiss Protection: Jewish Eyewitness Accounts from Wartime Budapest, which was co-edited with Hirschi. Lutz, who is credited with saving 60,000 Hungarians in the largest civilian rescue operation of Jews in the Second World War, was the Swiss vice-consul in Budapest during the last three years of the war.

Schallié says while the heroic efforts of German businessman Oscar Schindler and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg have been widely celebrated, the actions of Lutz, his wife Gertrud Lutz-Fankhauser and other people who helped form the rescue team remain largely unknown.

“My hope is these survivor accounts will make Carl Lutz’s story much more well-known,” she says. “He was a deeply religious and principled man who undertook these efforts at great personal risk.”

Schallié, an associate professor in Germanic and Slavic Studies, will present her research Nov. 27 in Bern, Switzerland, at the world’s premier gathering for Holocaust remembrance and education, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Hirschi, meanwhile, is visiting Israel this week for the unveiling of a monument for her stepfather, where she will gather with other survivors to honour his legacy. She says Lutz was given a desk job after the war and was never thanked for his humanitarian efforts because he had violated Swiss neutrality.

“I had promised my stepfather on his deathbed that I would do my best that his rescue activity would not be forgotten,” Hirschi says. “The youth and coming generations should know about the atrocities during the war and that they should never happen again.”

Read the full news release in UVic News.