Carl Lutz (1895-1975) was vice-consul at the Swiss legation in Budapest and representative for British interests in Hungary during the Second World War. Between 1944 and 1945, he worked together with his team and Jewish organisations to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing collective passports and letters of protection.
A new publication, the first biography of Lutz based on eyewitness accounts, retraces his action. To mark the IHRA plenary meeting being held at the Kursaal in Bern, the Swiss chairmanship of the IHRA presented the book at an event organised together with the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG). Written by Lutz's stepdaughter, Agnes Hirschi, and Canadian historian Charlotte Schallié, the book entitled Under Swiss Protection includes interviews with Holocaust survivors the US, Canada, Hungary, Israel, the UK and Switzerland that trace the impact of Lutz’s actions.
“If we are committed to creating a better world, it is important not to forget the past and its victims,” said Benno Bättig, current chair of the IHRA and former secretary general of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). He also announced that a commemorative plaque to honour the services of Lutz and his colleagues will be put up in one of the most important conference rooms at the FDFA, renamed 'Salle Carl Lutz’.
In addition to the new book about Lutz, the event focused on the new learning app ‘Fleeing from the Holocaust’. The app helps young people approach the subject of the Holocaust through the stories of five people closely connected to Switzerland which bear witness to the Nazi regime’s persecution of Jewish people. According to Peter Gautschi, head of the Center for Didactics of History and Cultures of Remembrance at the university of teacher education in Lucerne, the interactive nature of the app is what makes it special. Young people can create their own testimonials, send them by email, and in this way add to the communicative memory. The app will be available in the spring of 2018 and can be used in classes or individually.
Through its support for the new book on Carl Lutz, the development of the learning app and the publication of 15 volumes of memoirs from Holocaust survivors, the Swiss IHRA chairmanship is underlining Switzerland's commitment to the goals of the organisation: to promote research and education about the Holocaust and to keep alive the memory of the victims through commemorations and memorials. The IHRA has 31 member states. The procedure to grant full membership to two additional countries, Bulgaria and Australia, was initiated in 2017. The IHRA’s institutional partners include the UN, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE. Switzerland has been a member of the IHRA since 2004.
Switzerland’s chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2017
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