Friday, June 23, 2006

Hiram "Harry" Bingham IV honored with stamp

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:

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 .

But this letter may throw a little cold water on the issue (from here )

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
Managing Editor

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.

Sincerely yours,
s/ ...Yad Vashem
File #10404

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


Anonymous said...

i don;t get it. On the question of being within American law, while perhaps technically within the law -- which I am not entirely certain about -- Bingham certainly was acting against express instructions. In doing so, he risked his professional career, and in fact was fired.

On the question of rescuing jews, the visas he issued rescued jews! If he had not issued them, they would have died. They were rescued. He rescued them. How was Schindler's actions any different? If anything, Schindler started out with ulterior motives: he intended to make money off the Jews. Bingham had apparently no ulterior motives.

How does the cheap womanizing comment warrant mention?

Full disclosure: my mother survived because she made it on to Schindler's List. I don't feel comfortable with the distinction between Schindler and Bingham.

BTW, Bingham's stamp is part of a plate of 6 diplomatic heroes. The Bingham stamp cannot be purchased in bulk without buying 6 times as many stamps as you need.

Anonymous said...

maybe the guy who made the ink that the visas were stamped with should also get recognition?

Anonymous said...

I never heard of this fellow before I started to get e-mails about the stamp.
I agree that it is a good thing to recognize people who went beyond the call of duty. I also recognize that out honoree here does deserve credit.
I found the matter interesting, so I posted it in the tent. Since we are concerned with embelishment and legacy building, I figured I would provide a fuller context.

Anonymous said...

Neo tzig says:

Since we are concerned with embelishment and legacy building, I figured I would provide a fuller context.

are you joking?

Anonymous said...

Do I sound like I'm joking?

Milhouse said...

The man was an antisemite and a holocaust denier. He was not fired, he resigned because he didn't want to be posted overseas any more. Yes, he cooperated with Varian Fry, when he could have sat on his hands; for that kumt em a yasher koach, but nothing more. He did not break any American laws, he did not put himself at any risk, and the claim that he suffered for it has no source. He himself blamed the Jews for the way his life turned out.