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Jan Zwartendijk and his wife Erma at their home in Rotterdam.

Photograph | Photograph Number: 11781

Jan Zwartendijk and his wife Erma at their home in Rotterdam.

Jan Zwartendijk (1896-1976) arrived in Kovno in 1938 as the Dutch representative of Philips Electric in Lithuania. Soon after the fall of Holland to Hitler's forces on 10 May 1940, however, Zwartendijk was named the honorary Dutch consul by ambassador LPJ de Decker in Riga, Latvia, who sacked the official consul for having pro-Nazi sentiments. This change came at roughly the same time as the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in June 1940. Zwartendijk was then approached in the third week of July 1940 by Nathan Gutwirth, a Dutch national and young yeshiva student in Tels, Lithuania, who he had come to know through their common interest in soccer. Gutwirth requested a transit visa to Curacao, which Zwartendijk was denied permission to give. Zwartendijk then appealed to de Decker for help and the ambassador sent him a document stating that no visa was necessary for travel to Curacao, and that landing was permitted solely at the discretion of the island's governor. De Decker suggested that Zwartendijk simply strike out the part about the governor's authority and write into Gutwirth's passport an official statement that he was travelling to Curacao. Zwartendijk followed this course and within hours Gutwirth had spread word about the 'pseudo visas' among the thousands of Polish-Jewish refugees in Kovno, who subsequently flooded Zwartendijk's office seeking 'Curacao visas'. These 'visas' were then used by refugees to procure Japanese transit visas from Sugihara through the USSR. It is estimated that by the time the Dutch consulate was closed at the beginning of August 1940, Zwartendijk had written between 1200 and 1400 life saving 'visas'.

Rotterdam, [South Holland] The Netherlands
Photo Credit
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dr. Jan Zwartendyk
Record last modified: 1997-03-07 00:00:00
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