You may have heard, Hiram (Harry) Bingham IV has been awarded a US postage stamp for 2006 (See: here). If you look around the web, you'll also find plenty of articles and websites that discuss him. Recently I recieved a few emials about him - you may have as well - Most of them look like this:
But this letter may throw a little cold water on the issue (from here )
A few months ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV.
For over fifty years, the State Department resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. For them he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Now, after his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.
Bingham came from an illustrious family. His father was the archeologist who unearthed the Inca City of Machu Picchu , Peru , in 1911. Harry entered the US diplomatic service and, in 1939, was posted to Marseilles, France, as American Vice-Consul. The USA was then neutral and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime, President Roosevelt's government ordered its representatives in Marseilles not to grant visas to any Jews. Bingham found this policy immoral and, risking his career, did all in his power to undermine it.
In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted over 2,500 USA visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He also sheltered Jews in his Marseilles home, and obtained forged identity papers to help Jews in their dangerous journeys across Europe . He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean and even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket. In 1941, Washington lost patience with him. He was sent to Argentina , where later he continued to annoy his superiors by reporting on the movements of Nazi war criminals.
Eventually, he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely. Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found some letters in his belongings after his death. He has now been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations and the State of Israel .
We have been made aware of a communication (dated March 7, 2005) transmitted by Yad Vashem to the Bingham family that we believe to be (and to represent) the final outcome of this complex case. That communication that is presented in full at the bottom of this page, represents, in our considerate view, a fair and balanced assessment of Harry Bingham's deeds during the darkest hours of the 20th Century History.
In a nutshell, Yad Vashem, after considering this matter for some seven (7) years, rejected the Petition for awarding Hiram Bingham IV with the "Righteous Among the Nations" title. Yad Vashem's judgment is in fact identical to the one encapsulated so eloquently by the American National Hero of the Holocaust, Varian Fry --the only American, to date, to be awarded with the "Righteous" title.
The reason for Yad Vashem's rejection of the Righteous title for Bingham IV can be explained in simple terms as follows: Bingham IV during his consular activity in Marseille by not opposing and in fact fully cooperating with Varian Fry's operation made Bingham IV a clear sympathizer and a facilitator, but not a rescuer! And that paramount distinction is at the crux of understanding this entire decision rendered by Yad Vashem.
Robert Kim Bingham often compared his dad to Oskar Schindler. (See, for instance, Mr. Bingham article of May 24, 1998, published in The Day newspaper of New London, Connecticut, USA, entitled Remembering Salem's "Schindler" (Exhibit 04_Schindler, hereto). For sure the two men, Schindler and Bingham IV, had one thing in common: they were both womanizers. But Schindler, unlike Bingham IV, was a rescuer of Jews and that is way Schindler was awarded with the "Righteous Among the Nations" title and Bingham IV was not.
In our herein concurring study to Vad Yashem's rendered opinion, we stated all along, that the late Hiram "Harry" Bingham IV was a good man during evil times and may his goodness be an inspiration and an example for others to follow in trying times. But his goodness and sympathy for Varian Fry's crusade can never ever be translated into a hero of the Holocaust which Bingham IV clearly was not.
May he rest in peace.
K. K. Brattman
Here is the letter from Yad Vashem:
The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority
Jerusalem, 7 March, 2005
Dear Mrs. Bingham-Endicott,
The Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, after examining all the elements in this interesting case, wishes to express its appreciation for the behavior of your late father, Hiram Bingham IV, in facilitating the emigration of Jewish persons from France, during 1940-41, when your father served in the U.S. consulate in Marseilles.
The Commission was impressed by your father's positive and friendly disposition to all who approached him for obtaining visas to the USA, and especially to Mr. Varian Fry, and for his efforts to obtain these visas through diplomatic channels. This included facilitating the exit of Mr. Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife from France, after a visa was received for them through the intervention of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the President.
Yad Vashem wishes to express its thanks for the humanitarian disposition of your father at a time of persecution of Jews by the Vichy regime in France. Hiram Bingham's assistance in this regard stands out by contrast to certain other officials who rather acted suspiciously toward Jewish refugees wishing to enter the United States. Please be assured that your father's positive behavior, which has been richly documented, will remain inscribed in our archives for the benefit of future generations.
With best wishes to you and to the other members of the Bingham family.
s/ ...Yad Vashem
P.O.B. 3477, JERUSALEM
91034TEL. 02-6443400 FAX. 02-6443443
Editor's Note: Abigail Bingham Endicott, daughter of the late Hiram Bingham IV, acknowledged to us (in her April 5, 2005, email) receiving from Yad Vashem the above posted determination letter and, thanked us for the kind words that we have placed herein.
This quote probably best sums it up:
"He [Bingham] has a heart of gold. He does everything he can to help us, within American law."
- Varian Fry