The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

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Captain Francis (Frank) Foley, born in 1884, and a veteran of World War I, was recruited to the British Secret Intelligence Service after that war and became one of Britain’s most successful spies.

He was stationed in Berlin from 1922 to 1939 and he used his position as Passport Control Officer at the British embassy to save thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps. From 1935, an ever growing number of Jews appealed to his office in order to obtain immigration visas to Palestine, to the United Kingdom and to all other parts of the then British Empire. They came either directly or through the Palestine Office of the Jewish Agency or through the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden (Aid Society of German Jewry). Immigration rules were strict in those days of economic depression, but it became more and more obvious that there was a growing need of Jews to leave Germany. Defying the Foreign Office, he bent the rules to issue 10,000 visas for British Mandatory Palestine. He did not enjoy diplomatic immunity in Berlin and was running a serious risk. Had he been exposed by the Nazis, he would have suffered a much worse fate than being persona non grata.

Miriam Posner, who was 16 when she traveled from East Prussia to beg for a visa to Palestine, even though she did not meet Britain’s stiff conditions for entry, said: “Foley saved my life. We heard that there was this man Foley who was kind to the Jews. My mother begged him. He just paced up and down a little and then asked for my passport and put the visa stamp on it. He did not ask any questions.” She added, “He was small and quiet. You would never suspect he was a spy.”

Ze’ev Padan’s father was interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp when Foley went to rescue him. Ze’ev too was saved by Foley’s defiance of authority. Foley was described in Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial by one of the witnesses, Benno Cohen as follows: “There was one man who stood out above all others. Captain Foley, a man who in my opinion was one of the greatest among the nations of the world. He rescued thousands of Jews from the jaws of death.”

By the time of the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, Foley and his wife had taken to sheltering Jews overnight in their apartment. Among the “guests” was Leo Baeck, chairman of the Association of German Rabbis. When the war started and Foley left Germany, he left behind a thick wad of already approved visas with instructions that they should be distributed to those fleeing the Nazi terror.

Reverend John Kelley, Foley’s nephew, an Anglican priest said about his uncle: “I believe that God put Frank Foley in Berlin to do His Work. Foley did what he did as a witness to the Christian churches to show what they should have done at that time, but did not do.” Captain Foley died in 1958. A Daily Telegraph journalist, Michael Smith, brought Foley’s story to light in his book Foley, the Spy who saved 10,000 Jews (1999).

On February 25, 1999, Yad Vashem recognized Francis Foley as Righteous Among the Nations.




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