Dutch King, Lithuanian president honor unsung Holocaust hero

Multi-media monument honors Jan Zwartendijk, who saved 2,500 Jews. 'Both the Netherlands and Lithuania are proud of him.'


Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite

Lithuania's president and the King of the Netherlands on Friday unveiled a special light installation dedicated to a Dutch diplomat credited with saving over 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

The multi-media monument in the Baltic state's second city of Kaunas symbolizes the lives saved by Jan Zwartendijk, who helped issue visas to Jews in the summer of 1940.

"I am very proud to light the installation for the silent hero who had never boasted that he saved people," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said at the ceremony, standing alongside Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

"Both the Netherlands and Lithuania are proud of him. He saved nearly 2,500 Jews, risking his own life," she added.

Zwartendijk, the director of the Philips company in Lithuania, was appointed the acting Dutch consul in July 1940, weeks after the Red Army entered the Baltic state.

Fearing persecution, many Jewish refugees decided to flee the Soviet-occupied country, including thousands who had arrived from neighboring Nazi-occupied Poland.

Zwartendijk provided them papers stating that Jews could reach the Dutch Caribbean territory of Curacao. The "Curacao visa" served as a key to Japanese transit visas and Soviet exit visas.

None of the refugees actually arrived in Curacao, but many of them reached free countries or ended up in Shanghai where they survived the Second World War.

After the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, Zwartendijk was forced to shut the consulate in Kaunas in August 1940, and returned to Holland to work for Philips.

His son Rob, who attended Friday's ceremony, said his father never spoke about his role in saving Jews from Nazi German genocide, insisting that his actions were not special.

Those who were unable to flee met a tragic fate: more than 90 percent of over 200,000 Lithuanian Jews perished under the Nazi German occupation from 1941 to 1944.

Today, there are around 3,000 Jews living in Lithuania, a NATO and eurozone country of 2.8 million people.

Zwartendijk was named a "Righteous Among the Nations" gentile by Israel's Yad Vashem Yad Holocaust memorial in 1977.