Special temporary travel document - Our Passports
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  • Special temporary travel document
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Special temporary travel document

 

1943 Budapest stateless passport.

 

This is the second specimen that I have seen to date for this type of emergency-travel document issued at the height of the war and during one of modern history’s darkest chapter. It is an important document and the story that unfolds from paging through it is significant and vital for us collectors and historians when it comes to learning more about this time and period.

 

By the end of 1943 the war was taking its toll on the axis and the inevitable ending was becoming clearer by the day as the fog and mist was evaporating, allowing the sun light to penetrate and show to everyone the writing on the wall: The allies were now winning the war and it was only a question of time and the price that the losing side will have to pay and endure. Germany’s allies where horrified at their prospects and during that year they would try and find ways out of this unholy marriage they put themselves in.

 

This year was crucial for the war-effort, depending on whose side we are talking about. For the Axis side, it was most likely the most disastrous of all since the war-erupted close to 4 years earlier, with stunning defeat at the hands of the Allies, be it in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean or on the Eastern Front, mainly with the biggest tank battle of all at Kursk.

 

The coming year would also spell out more “treats” for the Allies, such as having Romania switching sides following a coup d’état that King Michael led in August 1944. By then it was becoming unbearable for the country: allied bombings and the advancing attacks by the Red Army on its door steps. The Antonescu regime was ousted and now Romania was part of the allied side, with even gaining support from the Kremlin.

 

Hungary’s position was also dire: she was also aware of the disastrous end that would fall upon her so armistice negotiations were carried out with the allies while still fighting the Soviet Union on Germany’s side. And once Hitler learned about this, he ordered his army to invade the country, known as Operation Margarethe, and this was done on March. Her fate was not the same as Romania’s, who avoided German occupation. The country was liberated from German presence once the Red Army entered.

 

During the German occupation, the final solution was being implemented to the full.  SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann was sent to Hungary to take charge of the deportation of country’s Jewish population and in a period of about 10 weeks 437,000 Jews were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland.

 

Before we go into the document here and the added images, it is important to step backwards and give some explanation, of importance, to additional information relating to the events of the time. Up to the German occupation of the country, Hungary was seen as a safe-haven for Jewish refugees and those fleeing occupied Europe: Jews from Poland, France, Yugoslavia, Slovakia and even far away from Holland in the west have noticed that there was one country that was safe for Jews. The authorities in Budapest, following the defeat in Stalingrad, and comprehending to the fact that Germany was heading down a path which was inevitable, meaning losing the war, allowed various Jewish organizations to operate relatively freely and permit the persecuted to enter its borders and remain safely until departing for British Palestine. Thus, like mushrooms after the rain, various bodies and organizations operated freely, relatively, in the capital: Jewish Immigration for Palestine (JAFP) and the Zionist Organization for example. Moshe Kraus, the influential head of the Palestine Office in Budapest used his skills to tie formative connections with local government officials (for example, with the notorious Külföldieket Ellenőrző Országos Központi Hatóság (Central National Authority for Controlling Foreigners, or KEOKH)) and diplomats to ensure his goal of safe passage of Jews into and out of Hungary.

 

The 1938 Anschluss is a good example to show how a significant event paved the way to a system that would eventually be adopted during the darkest hours of the occupation of Budapest: diplomatic life-saving visas and certificates: following the occupation of Austria, the Jewish population of Burgenland were deported close to the Hungarian-Czechoslovakian border. A group of over 200 refugees, who were on board a boat, were stranded on the Danube. Thanks to the intervention of the Palestine Office head in Budapest, together with the assistance of the British ambassador to the country Jeffry Knox, permits were given by the British PCO that would indicate they were eligible to immigrate to Palestine. With such certificates in their hands, the authorities would not touch them, since by law, foreigners where off limits. This first event as mentioned above, of foreigners holding immigration permits indicating that they are British Mandate citizens who were thus except from harsh actions from the Hungarian government, was a fundamental and crucial land mark in future rescue operations and protection to come.

 

The document here (numbered 002999/7806) was issued to a family of refugees from the former Yugoslavian state, from a little town named Ada (from Vojvodina in former Serbia where by 1940 most of its Jewish inhabitants have left and by 1941 the town and the territory it was in was ceded to Hungary following the invasion and partition of Yugoslavia), living in still-free Hungary: Marc Prager, a rabbi (!), his wife Pepi née Weisz and young son Hermann were issued this remarkable life-saving travel document in Budapest on October 26th of 1943.

 

Important note: This temporary passport seems to have been issued by Dr. Jákfai Gömbös László Jenő (1889-1976) who from 1938 to 1944 (up to the German invasion) was head of the passport department of the Hungarian police in the capital, an independent division within the police, and according to on-line information is credited for saving thousands of Jews by issuing them such travel documents against regular passport issuing regulations (smaller image is of this courageous individual).

 

It was valid to transit through these following countries with the explicit destination to British Palestine:

 

Rumania

Bulgaria

Turkey

 

Here is the catch: the only way to enter the Mandate was by getting a British entry permit, but there was no such consulate or embassy in war time Hungary (on December 7th 1941 the UK declared war on the country). With connection to the above, the Palestine Office managed to secure false or doctored pre-made Hungarian passports, and travel documents, and “issue” them to the would be immigrants, in this case, possibly Marc and his family. Thus he and his family had to leave the country, and once in Turkey locate the British diplomatic mission.

 

1943 was the year that the Jewish Agency for Palestine opened its rescue offices in Istanbul and its mission was to assist Jews escape German occupation and arrive safely in neutral Turkey, and from there, obtain an entry permit into the Mandate (Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency in Turkey 1942-1944): in 1943 Viscount Cranborne, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, issued a secret directive to the British embassy in Ankara, stating that any Jew arriving on his own to Turkey would receive an entry permit into the Mandate), and this the rescue committee was doing, by that time they already sent word of this ‘positive development’ to their contacts in occupied Europe, and boats with refugees were being arranged, in small numbers, to escape Europe, via Romania and Bulgaria. It is highly possible that the Prager’s managed to get word of this and managed to obtain their Turkish Transit visa on October 27th, and the remaining necessary visas from the Bulgarian & Romanian embassies on November 3rd & 4th (by this time Europe had 4 important rescue centers: Jerusalem, Istanbul, Geneva and Budapest).

 

The pages inside can draw for us a clear route that was used for escaping and leaving Hungary: Departing on November 7th into Romania via the border crossing point at Curtici, and from there on to the Bulgarian border, entering the country on the 8th at Giurgiu to the Bulgarian side via their border crossing point at Ruse and from there into neighboring Turkey on the 10th, via the crossing at Edirne.

 

Once arriving into Turkey, they managed to obtain the long awaited for entry permit into Palestine (it was issued by British Passport Officer Arthur Whittall, who was actually under cover MI6 agent) and the transiting military permit through Syria, through Gaziantep crossing on the 17th, Meidan Ekbes on the other side of the border.

 

Syria-Lebanon Campaign

 

From there they crossed into the safety of British Palestine on the 19th at the Lebanese-Palestinian border crossing of Ras al-Naqoura or as it is known on the other side as Rosh Ha-Nikra, registering official entry to the British Mandate at Haifa 2 days later.

 

No words need to be said about how fortunate they were at leaving 4 months before all hell broke out in that European country…in life, timing could mean everything.

 

Have added sample images of this unique and important war-related travel document.

 

 

Smaller image source: Wikipedia.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.

 

Neil Kaplan
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