Feeling the Bern*

PassportOne of the mysteries of my family’s Holocaust survival is their passport from Paraguay. According to my mother, that passport saved her father from a transport to Auschwitz. We have a copy of the document along with a letter of notarization stating that it is real. The mystery here isn’t that the passport exists, but who made the arrangements, how it was obtained, and when it was delivered.

There are differing versions of the story of the passport and I have been trying to figure out which pieces of which account are the most likely.

Here are the various tales:

  • The passport was forged.
  • The passport was issued by the Paraguayan consulate for a fee, smuggled out of Switzerland to Germany by a secretary, and mailed from Germany to Amsterdam.
  • There were two dozen similar passports, but only one made it to our family, while the rest were confiscated by the Germans.
  • There were thirty-three passports, and all but one made it to their intended recipients.
  • Because of the passport, my grandfather was released from a Theresienstadt transport to Auschwitz.
  • My grandfather had been loaded onto the train bound for Auschwitz from Westerbork.  At the last minute, someone arrived at Westerbork with the passport and was able to get my grandfather off the transport. The guards then beat my grandfather because he delayed the train.

The truth from seventy-three years ago may never be completely figured out, but today I am one step closer. I know the passport was issued by the Paraguayan consulate in Bern, Switzerland. I also know that at least one of my grandfather’s friends had a passport issued the same day from the same consul. I found a file in Yad Vashem’s Digital Collections entitled “Citizenship documents from El Salvador and Paraguay issued for Jews from the Netherlands, 1942-1944.” The description of the file reads “the documents were issued by the El Salvador Consulate in Geneva and the Paraguay Consulate in Bern.” Yad Vashem will email the digital file as soon as I send the request form and the fee of $15.

What am I hoping to find? How many of the people issued passports by the same consul were friends of my grandfather or worked in the same company? How many of them survived the war?

Every time I find another clue it leads me to some clarity, but also opens new questions. None of this is easy and I will never know exactly what happened. I feel like I am following a path of breadcrumbs. It is fascinating and somewhat addictive. I’ll let you know what I find.

*I am a Bernie Sanders supporter, but this isn’t about him.

Published by K Heidi Fishman


9 thoughts on “Feeling the Bern*

  1. The problem with the path with breadcrumbs are the birds that keep eating the crumbs at various intervals and it is guess work as to where the path leads ‘
    I don’t think Hansel and Gretel had that problem or did they end up at the witches cottage because the birds were also hungry?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jonathan –
      Do you know that there is a ceremony in Lucerne next month honoring Konstanty Rokicki, the man who forged the Paraguayan passports? Please send me an email through my “contact me” page and I can give you more details.


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