The vagaries of destiny are fascinating. Recently, I received an e-mail from which I discovered that the son of the scientist, after whom the role “Indiana Jones” was modeled, is one of the “Righteous of the World”. Furthermore, it turned out that this man, named Hiram Bingham had an indirect influence on my life.
Like other internet surfers, I too, am bombarded daily with dozens of messages and announcements which by experience I view with great suspicion. There are those messages which can be understood immediately as fictitious – whether it is the testimony of a person who tells about a green creature standing on his window-sill or swears he has rights to real estate on the moon which he is willing to sell for half price. Yet there are other messages that look innocent and serious, and only after thorough examination turn out to be the effusions of the fevered mind of the sender. Yet if one bothers to read the many messages, every once in a while it is worth the trouble when some real information arrives, exact and of vital importance that would not be available otherwise. Such information is the subject we’ll deal with today
Colin Powell Announces
This is the gist of the announcement I received
“Several months ago, Colin Powell, the Secretary of State of the United States, decided to grant posthumous recognition and a medal of honor to Hiram Bingham IV. For 50 years the State Department had refused to recognize Bingham’s actions, as he had been regarded as an insubordinate official unwilling to obey the instructions he had been given. Bingham had joined the American diplomatic service in 1911. In 1939 he was posted to Marseille as Vice-Consul. At that time the United States was a neutral vis-à-vis the conflict in Europe. After the fall of France and the rise of the French puppet government at Vichy, which collaborated with the Nazis, President Roosevelt ordered that no visas be granted to Jews. Bingham decided that this policy was immoral and, in violation of the specific instructions of his superiors, issued some 2500 visas to Jews and other refugees. Among these were visas issued to artists such as Marc Chagall and Max Ernst, the author Thomas Mann and his family, and more. Each such visa meant the rescue of people from certain death. Bingham did not limit himself to that alone, he also gave refuge in his home to many Jewish refugees, obtained forged documents for them and cooperated with the French resistance to smuggle them to Franco’s Spain. To many he provided funds from his own pocket. In 1941, his superiors decided to send him to what was considered diplomatic exile: service in Argentina. There, also, Bingham continued to provoke his superiors and diligently reported the activities of the Nazi movement that was working to provide shelter for the fleeing Nazi criminals at the end of the war. After the war Bingham was dismissed from the American Foreign Service and in 1988 he died penniless.
Bingham was a hidden saint and his deeds unknown. They were revealed after his death by his son who found among his effects many documents which revealed this wonderful story.”
This, then, is the anonymous message that I received over the internet with the request to forward it for wider distribution.
The Story is Verified
The quickest way to immediately check the validity of an internet message is to check the information against other internet sources that are reliable and trustworthy.
In fact, I quickly found a plethora of websites that told the Bingham story, some of the sites had been established before the announcement by Powell and called for official recognition of the man’s exploits. A website of “Yad Vashem”, a website for calling for public action to petition for a commemorative stamp in his honor, and more.
There is much information on these websites about his career and personality. He served in Japan, Peking, Warsaw, London, Lisbon, Marseille, and in Buenos Aires. His service was terminated. I also found that Bingham was from a well-known family. His father was the archeologist who discovered Macchu Picchu “The Gate of the Sun”, a city that shed light on the Inca culture in South America. His grandfather and great-grandfather were among the first missionaries in Hawaii.
In addition, I found a series of stories on the websites about Bingham’s deeds. It turns out that it did not suffice for him to issue visas in an illegal manner. He actually put his own life in jeopardy to save people. Among these he succeeded in saving the Jewish author Leon Feuchtwanger (“The Jew Suess”, “The Jewish Wars”), who was especially hated by Hitler. Feuchtwanger was already interned in a [French] camp and Bingham succeeded in smuggling him out by providing him with women’s clothes as a disguise. In this disguise the author passed through German checkpoints and found safe-haven in a house provided by Bingham until such time as a way could be found to smuggle him out of the country. In this and other ways he was able to smuggle out authors and famous intellectuals such as Franz Werfel (“The Forty Days of Musa Dagh”) and his wife Alma Mahler; Hannah Arendt, Andre Barton, Otto Meierhof, Konrad Heiden, and many others.
A Survivor’s Testimony
Bingham saved not only important and famous people but also issued escape visas to any applicant. This week I heard the testimony of one of the survivors. This was from Rabbi Joseph Schachter, born in Vienna who fled to the United States in 1941 and came to Israel with his family in 1972. Rabbi Schachter had previously served as a Rabbi and School Principal in Winnipeg, as [B’nai B’rith] Chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in [Rochester,] Minnesota. He now works [as a volunteer] at Yad Vashem
Rabbi Schachter told me:
“When the Nazis annexed Austria they confiscated my family’s assets. Later they prepared a list of [Jewish] men born in Poland [including my father], loaded them on trucks and transported them to the Polish border where they wanted to pass them over the border. The Poles, however, were on the other side and the Jews stood facing machine guns from both directions. We children had remained behind in Vienna with our mother. Somehow, Dad was able to escape from the Polish border and return to Vienna where he hid for about a month in the home of Gentile friends. Some time later he was able to organize our escape to Belgium. To begin with only my father , brother, and I, and later mother joined us as well. We were lucky and with the help of influential relatives in the United States and the initiation of special legislation [private congressional member’s bill] a visa was arranged. We received the documents and were about to make travel arrangements when the Germans bombed and invaded Belgium, and we hurried to escape to France. In France we were interned in refugee camps where we were kept, in effect, in “safe-keeping” until such time as the Germans would take us to extermination. We tried to make use of the documents we had received in Belgium in order to emigrate to the United States, but we discovered that they were valid only if we left from Belgium. Dad, with great resourcefulness, had gotten us to Southern France, the region under the Vichy government. Here, too, we were interned in a camp and we waited for a confirmation of our visas.
Some time later we received the visas, left France, and arrived in a roundabout way to the United States. Until this week I had no idea that we owe our lives to Bingham. He was the man who signed our visas and without whom we would have ended up in Auschwitz.
When we got this e-mail I asked my sister, who had our family papers, to check who had signed our visas. She did and found that it was in fact Bingham.”
This ends the testimony of Rabbi Joseph Schachter.
Now I owe the reader an explanation of how this affair has affected my own life, a native of Israel for many generations.
You see, Rabbi Joseph Schachter is also the grandfather of three of my grandchildren.
The Logic in Madness
Column of Nov 1 
Makor Rishon [Primary Source – An Israeli Weekly]
[Tr: Joseph Schachter – items in brackets added for comprehension and accuracy