The Angel of Kaunas

December 31, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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Electronics giant Philips is behind a book being written by Dutch author Jan Brokken on the story of Jan Zwartendijk, also known as the “Angel of Kaunas” and wants to hear from anyone whose family may have survived the Holocaust because of his help.

Zwartendijk was instrumental in saving 2,350 Jews from Holocaust.

Many of those he saved did not know his real name but only knew him by his nickname “Mr.Philips Radio”.

A visa signed by Jan Zwartendijk

A visa signed by Jan Zwartendijk

During WWII, Zwartendijk directed the Philips plants in Lithuania. Between 1939 and 1941 he was made an acting consul of the Dutch government in exile under Dutch ambassador to Latvia, De Decker.

When the Soviet Union took over Lithuania in 1940, some of the Jewish Dutch residents in Lithuania approached Zwartendijk to request a visa to the Dutch Indies. With De Decker’s permission, Zwartendijk agreed to help them. The word spread and Jews who had fled from German-occupied Poland also sought his assistance.

Jan Zwarzendijk

Jan Zwartendijk

In defiance of official diplomatic niceties, Zwartendijk signed a declaration that entering Curaçao in the West Indies did not require a visa, while omitting the second part of the standard notice that the permission of the governor of Curaçao was necessary. (In fact, the first visas of this kind were issued by De Decker himself earlier, and Jews approached Zwartendijk after news of this unusual possibility had spread.)

The refugees then approached Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul, who gave them a transit visa through Japan, also against official diplomatic rules. This gave many refugees an opportunity to leave Lithuania for the Far East via the Trans-Siberian railway.

In a three weeks period from July 26, 1940 Zwartendijk wrote up over 2400 de facto visas to Curaçao. Many who helped only knew him as “Mr Philips Radio”. When the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, they closed down his Philips office together with the embassies and consulates in Kaunas. Zwartendijk returned to the occupied Netherlands to work at the Philips headquarters in Eindhoven until his retirement. He never discussed his activities with the Jews in Kaunas,

Zwartendijk died in 1976.

The project is supported by the Philips Museum in Eindhoven.

Researchers at the museum are keen to make contact with people who can give them personal testimony of what Jan Zwartendijk did for them.

There were more Dutch diplomats issuing “Curacao” visas, namely Mr. De Decker, Dutch ambassador in Riga, Latvia and Mr de Jong, Dutch Consul General in Stockholm, Sweden. A limited number was issued by Mr de Voogd in Kobe, Japan.

With these “Curacao” visas in hand people trying to escape the Holocaust would be able to get access visas to Japan and transit visas through Russia. The Japanese access visas were issued by Chiune Sugihara, Japanese consul in Kaunas.
To give the book on Mr. Zwartendijk more background, we would be also interested in getting in contact with people who can give testimony on Mr. De Decker, Mr. de Jong, Mr. de Voogd and Mr. Sugihara.

If you have information which may be useful to Philips, please contact:

Jan Kamp,

Researcher at the Philips Museum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

Email: j.kamp@onsnet.nu

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