Fifteen hours of interviews describing the actions of a group of World War II-era diplomats who defied official policies to save tens of thousands of lives during the Holocaust have been added to USC Shoah Foundation’s 55,000-strong Visual History Archive (VHA) thanks to a collaboration with the Andrew J. & Joyce D. Mandell Family Foundation.
The interviews were source material for The Rescuers, Filmmaker Michael W. King and Producer Joyce D. Mandell’s award-winning documentary that chronicles 13 diplomats named by Israel as “Righteous Among the Nations”—a recognition of non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The VHA’s new Andrew J and Joyce D. Mandell Rescuers Collection is believed to be the world’s largest known filmed historical record dedicated to testimony about the “Righteous Diplomats.” The interviews were collected between November 2008 and November 2010 on location and in studios in eleven countries—Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Joyce Mandell is excited that the Rescuer Collection would familiarize historians, scholars, researchers, educators, and diplomats with the heroic work of the “Righteous Diplomats” and in turn inspire others to follow their example when facing contemporary antisemitism and other forms of identity-based hate.
“It is my great hope that the extraordinary courage displayed by the Righteous Diplomats will resonate with upstanders around the world who face similar challenges today,” Mandell said. “The testimonies in the Rescuer Collection serve as a template of what is possible.”
Five new educational activities about the “Righteous Diplomats” have been added to IWitness—the Institute’s award-winning educational platform that offers educators a range of classroom-ready, standards-aligned course activities featuring VHA testimony—and a landing page has been dedicated to The Rescuers film.
Award-winning Filmmaker Michael W. King said he hopes the new videos and IWitness material will spur continued interest in what drove the diplomats—who he says “stood up for what was right and humanity even though they were alone in many cases”—to risk everything for the sake of others.
“The Rescuers explores both the mystery of goodness and moral courage in the face of danger as it contemplates the horrors of the past, in part to better understand what should be done to stop genocide,” King said.
“Often going against their own government’s policies, some World War II diplomats, who were not Jewish, willingly sacrificed their careers, families, and livelihood, working desperately to save people they did not know. Their actions raise a fundamental question: What leads one person to do the right thing regardless of the consequences they may face, and not another?”
Lesly Culp, Interim Director of Education and Outreach, said the testimonies from The Rescuers are a unique resource that will enhance testimony-based education and raise awareness about a little-known subject.
“Making stories of rescue available for educational purposes provides students with paragons of what it means to be an upstander, of the choices such individuals made, the rules they had to break, and the personal sacrifice they made to save lives. These courageous individuals teach kids how to be stronger than hate.”
Among those featured in the Andrew J. and Joyce D. Mandell Rescuers Collection are testimonies from survivors and relatives of the righteous diplomats who recount the stories about the following diplomats: German diplomat (and Nazi Party member) Georg F. Duckwitz in Copenhagen; Americans Varian Fry and Hiram Bingham in Marseilles; Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara and the Dutch Jan Zwartendijk in Kaunas; Turkish Consul Selahattin Ulkumen in Rhodes; British Captain Frank Foley in Berlin; Polish diplomat Henryk Slawik in Budapest; and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who helped coordinate Budapest’s rescue efforts in 1944 along with Archbishop Angelo Rotta, who represented the Vatican; and Consul Carl Lutz of Switzerland. The collection also features a segment from His Royal Highness King Charles III of England who reveals a little-known story about his grandmother, Princess Alice, and Sir Martin Gilbert.
USC Shoah Foundation today releases the full-length testimony of Holocaust survivor Sylvia Smoller originally recorded for “The Rescuers” on YouTube and a short video about the collaboration.
With support from the Andrew J. and Joyce D. Mandell Family Foundation, King recently completed interviews with survivors and relatives of an additional 32 “Righteous Diplomats” as part of what he describes as a “race against time” initiative to document additional untold, first-hand stories. He said that the goal is for these interviews to also be added to the VHA archive in the future.