Dutch diplomat honoured for saving Jews in Lithuania during the Shoah

A Dutch diplomat who issued visas to thousands of Lithuanian Jews so they could escape persecution by the Nazis, but was reprimanded for breaking diplomatic rules, has been finally awarded the highest possible Dutch non-military honour.

Jan Zwartendijk (1896-1976), who headed Philips in Kaunas in Lithuania and was acting consul there, helped thousands to escape to the Dutch Antilles and Suriname, which were not occupied by the Germans.

Now, 47 years after his death, he has been given a posthumous gold Erepenning voor Menslievend Hulpbetoon (medal of honour for humanitarian aid) – the first to be awarded since 1964.

Tragically, Zwartendijk thought he had only managed to save one person. On the day of his funeral, his children learned that research by the Simon Wiesenthal centre and the Holocaust Research centre had shown that 95% of the people who were issued visas by their father survived.

Although Israel made him Righteous among nations in 1997, and Lithuania honoured him with a memorial in 2018, Zwartendijk’s work was never officially recognised by the Dutch state during his lifetime.

He was even reprimanded for breaking consular rules on visa applications after the war by then minister Joseph Luns, who was later said to have been a member of the Nazi affiliated party NSB.

Prime minister Mark Rutte handed the honour to Zwartendijk’s son and daughter.


Subscribe to EJC newsletter

Get EJC's bi-weekly newsletter, including the latest statements and news from the European Jewish communities, direct to your inbox.

European Jewish Congress will use the information you provide on this form to contact you. We will treat your information with respect and will not share it with others. By clicking Subscribe, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.


EJC calls on European leaders to demand from Hamas unconditional surrender and release of all hostages

The European Jewish Congress calls on European leaders to stop Hamas' reign of terror in the Gaza Strip and demand the unconditional and immediate release of all hostages if they want to protect and safeguard Palestinian civilians.