Hiram Bingham: Heroism Beyond Diplomacy
Washington Post – Letters to the Editor – December 31, 2005
A Dec. 26 Federal Page article on postage stamps to be issued next year mentioned a six-stamp plate of “Distinguished American Diplomats.” One of the six, Hiram Bingham IV, went far beyond ordinary diplomatic achievements–he saved lives.
In 1940 and 1941 Mr. Bingham was the U.S. vice consul in Marseilles, France, under the pro-Nazi Vichy regime. Despite directives from the State Department to “postpone and postpone and postpone” granting visas to refugees seeking haven in the United States, Mr. Bingham repeatedly provided visas and other life-saving documents to refugees who did not meet the strict U.S. immigration requirements.
Mr. Bingham secretly worked with the American journalist Varian Fry, who came to France in 1940 on a mission to rescue refugee artists and intellectuals, most of them Jews fleeing Adolf Hitler. Among the more than 2,000 people the two men rescued were painter Marc Chagall, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Otto Meyerhof, and the German Jewish novelist Lion Feuchtwanger, whom Mr. Bingham smuggled out of an internment camp by disguising him in women’s clothing. He hid the novelist in his own home until he could get him out of the country.
When the State Department caught wind of what Mr. Fry and Mr. Bingham were doing, it forced Mr. Fry to leave France by refusing to renew his passport. It transferred Mr. Bingham first to Lisbon and then to Argentina. There Mr. Bingham further jeopardized his career by challenging the State Department’s indifference to Argentina’s harboring of Nazi assets and war criminals. Barred from advancing to the rank of ambassador, a discouraged Bingham resigned from the foreign service.
The forthcoming U.S. postage stamp honoring Mr. Bingham is an appropriate tribute to man whose extraordinary humanitarian deeds deserve the admiration of every American.
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies
Melrose Park, PA