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Commemoration of British Diplomats

Here we remember diplomats that have helped save lives - often putting themselves in great danger while doing so.

Captain Frank Foley 

Captain Frank Foley was employed as Passport Control Officer in Berlin from 1920 until 1939. In his role as Passport Control Officer, he was able to help hundreds of Jews escape from Nazi Germany before the outbreak of World War Two. Frank Foley had no diplomatic immunity, and put himself at great risk by helping others.

Robert Smallbones

Robert Townsend Smallbones served as British Consul General in Frankfurt am Main between 1932 and 1939. His courage, enterprise and perseverance, helped tens of thousands of Jews escape Germany after Kristallnacht ('the night of broken glass', a Nazi anti-Jewish pogrom in Germany).

Smallbones witnessed Nazi brutality first-hand in 1938 and thenceforwards worked tirelessly to rescue as many Jews as possible. His most far-reaching contribution was the creation of a new type of entry visa. The significance of his initiative cannot be over-estimated. Coined as the 'Smallbones Scheme' by the Home Office, it granted German Jews a temporary sanctuary in the UK, allowing them to wait in safety before travelling to the USA in the following year once annual immigration quotas had been cleared. The scheme was kept quiet by officials to avoid parliamentary and press criticism, however, it was estimated by officials at the time that Smallbones's visa initiative made possible the entry of an additional 48,000 Jewish refugees into Britain.

Back in Germany, Smallbones also won important concessions from the Gestapo. As a direct result of his intervention with a local Gestapo commander, those Jews granted British visas were given the right to leave concentration camps immediately. In the past they had been detained until they could satisfy what were deliberately impossible criteria. In his unpublished memoirs, Smallbones records his striking success: 'I know of no case in which a promise of a visa given by me did not lead to the immediate release of the interned.' At the same time, in collaboration with his deputy, Arthur Dowden, Smallbones worked tirelessly to process as many entry visas as possible. Smallbones later wrote, 'The longest stretch I remember was from early in the morning until midnight when I fell asleep for a few minutes on my desk. After two hours sleep my conscience pricked me. The feeling was horrible that there were people in a concentration camp whom I could get out and that I was comfortable in bed.'

Arthur Dowden

Arthur Dowden was Robert Smallbones's deputy in Frankfurt am Main. According to Martin Gilbert (The Times, 10 November 2008), Dowden spent time driving through the streets feeding those who were in need. His was entry no. 97 on the German 'Special Wanted List GB' of people to be interned if the German invasion of the UK (Operation Sealion) had gone ahead, so he had evidently done enough to make him unpopular with the Nazi authorities and for his life to have been at risk if the Germans had succeeded in occupying the British Isles.

Dowden served in the Gordon Highlanders between 1915 and 1920, and was commissioned in 1917 as an Intelligence Officer, interrogating enemy prisoners of war. He was noted for having good language skills and being 'a very fine sportsman'. He began his diplomatic career with a posting to Bratislava in 1922, before going on to Frankfurt am Main from 1934 to 1939, first as Vice-Consul and later as Acting Consul-General. From 1939 to 1940 he served at the British embassy in Rome until Italy entered the Second World War. During that conflict Dowden served in the Intelligence Corps and for part of the war was stationed in Cairo. Afterwards he spent ten years on the Military Security Board of the Allied Control Commission in Germany, until 1955. He died in 1979.

John Carvell

As British Consul-General in Munich, in 1937 John Carvell issued Palestine Certificates that permitted entry into Mandate Palestine. This led to the release of three hundred Jewish men being held in Dachau concentration camp. The men had been accused of ‘race defilement’, because they were married to, or were in a relationship with, non-Jewish German women. 

Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes

Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, Counsellor and Chargé d’Affaires at the British Embassy, Berlin, reported the anti-Jewish atrocities on Kristallnacht and in the days that followed. He wrote: 'I can find no words strong enough in condemnation of the disgusting treatment of so many innocent people and the civilized world is faced with the appalling sight of 500,000 people about to rot away in starvation.' (Telegram of 15 November 1938, TNA, FO 371/21637)

Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes also helped a number of refugees escape from Germany. Some of these people were able to attend the unveiling of the plaque commemorating his work at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, in November 2008.

Sir Thomas Preston

In 1940 the British consul in Lithuania, Sir Thomas Preston, provided 400 illegal Palestine certificates for Jews who were able to escape from Lithuania through Istanbul to Palestine. He also provided 800 Jews with legal travel certificates. A few hundred of these Jews were able to cross the Baltic Sea to neutral Sweden.

Recognition

British Embassy, Berlin

In November 2004, a plaque commemorating Frank Foley's great courage was erected outside the British Embassy in Berlin. The then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said 'Frank Foley risked his life to save the lives of thousands of German Jews. Without the protection of diplomatic immunity he visited internment camps and sheltered Jewish refugees in his house. Frank Foley was a true British hero. It is right that we should honour him at the British Embassy in Berlin, not far from where he once worked'.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London

British diplomats who helped Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution are commemorated by a plaque in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The plaque was unveiled by the Foreign Secretary on 20 November 2008. The event was attended by many of those, or the close relatives of those, who were helped by British diplomats.

The interfaith campaigner Sir Sigmund Sternberg was instrumental in getting the plaque erected. The plaque is a bronze relief showing hands pulling apart barbed wire and is the work of the prominent sculptor Philip Jackson FRBS. The sculpture has been privately funded through donations made to the Three Faiths Forum. The inscription reads 'To commemorate those British diplomats who by their personal endeavours helped to rescue victims of Nazi oppression'.

Sir Sigmund Sternberg said, 'The brave British diplomats, known and unknown, who displayed their concern for the suffering of Jews and other victims of Nazism, are properly entitled to the recognition and appreciation which we accord them with the unveiling of this plaque at the heart of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am grateful for the understanding and support offered by the FCO, led by the Foreign Secretary, in bringing this commemorative project to fruition. It will forever be a reminder of the fact that, even in the most terrible of circumstances, individuals of good conscience can make a contribution to the safeguarding of humanity.'

Frank Foley

Passport Control Officer and member of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1933-39.

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Remembrance

See how the FCO remember the sacrifices of others and read more about our work on preventing and resolving conflict.


Further reading

Pamphlet distributed at the unveiling of the plaque at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in November 2008 [PDF 310 KB, opens in a new window]


See also