After nearly 75 years and more than one year negotiations, Poland regained the so-called Eissa archive. This is one of the largest collections documenting the rescue operations of Polish diplomacy in favor of Jews endangered by the Holocaust. The Polish Radio, Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Berne, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim informed about the acquisition of the archives
Chaim Eiss’s archive documents the rescue operation carried out during World War II in Berne by the then Polish ambassador Aleksander Ładoś and his diplomats and Jewish organizations cooperating with them. Both Chaim Eiss, a Zurich-born merchant in Ustrzyki and Polish diplomats along with the Zionist activist Abraham Silberschein are referred to as the Berne Group. As a result of their actions, thousands of illegally obtained passports of Latin America were issued, saving lives of hundreds of people.
As emphasized by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture, prof. Piotr Gliński, the duty of the person in his position is to take care of this part of the Polish heritage which is associated with the centuries-old presence of the Jewish community in Poland. The politician stressed that the recovery of the Eissa Archive was the responsibility of his ministry. As he noted, the documentation is “unquestionable proof that Poles, the Polish state, its representatives, systemically and institutionally were involved in saving Jews during World War II”. – The activities of the then Polish diplomats in Switzerland, newly discovered and documented, can be an inspiration for historians, but also for writers, filmmakers, for creators of culture – added the Deputy Prime Minister, thanking the Polish ambassador in Switzerland for his effort to bring to the world the history of Polish diplomats who helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust.
Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, says that the collection includes eight Paraguay passports arranged by Polish diplomats to save Jews, as well as unique and never-seen pictures of people who applied for such passports.
Year long efforts
The archive also includes an original list with several thousand names of Jews from the ghettos, who in this way tried to get saved from the Holocaust and a number of documents, including correspondence between Polish diplomats and Jewish organizations. The acquired materials also include a list of children from Warsaw orphanages. “These documents constitute a very important collection, showing on the one hand the drama of Polish Jewish families, and on the other hand attempts to get as many people as possible out of the hellish circle of the Holocaust closing over them” – noted the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.
The Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Switzerland, Dr. Jakub Kumoch, explained the details regarding obtaining the collection. As he explained, after the publications on the role of ambassador of the Republic of Poland and its diplomats, the embassy managed to locate the Eissa Archive in a private family collection. – This is a great merit of our honorary consul in Zurich, Markus Blechner, who for almost a year had been working to obtain this collection from the descendants of Chaim Eiss and convinced them that the archives belonged in Poland, in institutions documenting the Holocaust and pre-war Jewish life – said the ambassador Jakub Kumoch.
The diplomat stressed that the purchase of the collection was possible thanks to the support of Piotr Gliński, the deputy prime minister and minister of culture. – I would also like to thank the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum and the Polin museum for their commitment to trying to acquire this priceless collection. Their experts have made a thorough inspection of the collection – added Jakub Kumoch.
The documents will be placed in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum
Chaim Izrael Eiss lived in the years 1876-1943. He was born in Ustrzyki, on the territory of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1900 he emigrated to Switzerland. He was one of the leaders of the orthodox movement Agudat Israel. As a member of the Bernese Six, he was involved in providing the Polish diplomats with a list of beneficiaries and smuggling of pre-made passports to the General Government.
This heroic man died suddenly of a heart attack in November 1943. A part of his correspondence concerning the production of Paraguay passports survived with the then Consul of the Republic of Poland, Konstanty Rokicki.
In his correspondence with Agudat Israel, Eiss repeatedly highly rated the roles of Ładoś and Rokicki. It was on the basis of his testimony that Agudat sent in January 1945 a letter of gratitude to Polish diplomats involved in the passport campaign.
The documents had been taken to Israel by one of Eiss’ descendants. Talks about getting them out of Israel started last summer. For a few months, the collection will be on display in Bern. At the beginning of next year, it will be moved to Poland, where it will be permanently housed in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. There, the documents will undergo conservation and will be thoroughly analyzed by archivists and historians.