Yad Vashem declared a Polish diplomat who saved hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust a Righteous Among the Nations, some 60 years after he died.
Konstanti Rokicki, the Polish vice consul in Switzerland during World War II, supplied false passports to hundreds of Jews, a few dozen of whom are still living thanks to him.
The rescue operation became fully known through extensive global archival in recent months, including by Poland’s ambassador to Switzerland.
Rokicki produced fake passports of South American countries and distributed them to Jews who were about to be deported.
A number of others also took part in the operation. A key figure was Abraham Silberschein, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland. Silberschein collected the personal information of Jews who were in danger and sent it to the Polish Consulate in Bern.
In his own hand, Rokicki filled in the names of the Jews on empty passport forms that he had received from the honorary consul of Paraguay in Bern, Rudolf Hügli.
The operation took place in 1942 and 1943 under the nose of the Swiss authorities. It later came to the attention of German officials, including Adolf Eichmann, who ordered an investigation into the affair.
After the war, when Poland came under communist rule, Rokicki did not return to his homeland. In 1958 he died and was buried in Switzerland, his efforts forgotten.
A worldwide research project was undertaken to make Rokicki’s efforts known, led by the Polish Embassy in Switzerland, with the cooperation of various Jewish and Polish archives. The research uncovered numerous documents and testimonies, including lists of all the false passports Rokicki issued. In Israel, relatives were found of Jews who received fake passports and owe the diplomat their lives.
Among the Jews who were on the list to receive the false passports Aron Schuster, who would later become chief Rabbi of the Netherlands; Rabbi Yisrael Spira, the so-called Bluzhever rebbe who moved to the United States after the war; Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Finkel, an author of Judaica literature; Nathan Eck, a historian at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem; as well as the leaders of the underground in Slovakia and the Bedzin Ghetto in Poland.
In a ceremony in October 2018 at a cemetery in Lucerne, Switzerland, Rokicki was honoured for his efforts. Polish President Andrzej Duda took part, along with several people saved by Rokicki, and members of his family.
The Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority told Ha’aretz at the time that it had received a request to recognise Rokicki as a member of the Righteous Among the Nations. The request was under review before reaching the committee that examines such applications. He now joins around 6,700 other Righteous Among the Nations.