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Holocaust Memorial Day - How a Somerset spy saved thousands of lives

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Today marks 75 years since the end of the Holocaust

On 27 January every year people around the world come together for Holocaust Memorial Day, to remember all those who died as a result of this or other genocides, and honour those who survived.

It's also the 75th anniversary of when the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz, was liberated.

Here, SSDC's Community Heritage Access Centre team provide a story about how a man from Somerset played a role in saving thousands of lives. You can find out more in a display which is currently at Yeovil Library and can be seen until Wednesday 29 January...

Major Francis Edward Foley

"Major Francis Edward Foley (1884-1958) from Highbridge in Somerset was the passport control officer at the British embassy in Berlin in the 1930s and was instrumental in helping hundreds of Jews escape Germany after Kristallnacht by bending the rules to stamp passports and issue visas.

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"He later became known as the 'British Schindler' and was named an official British Hero of the Holocaust in 2010. However, his job in passport control was a cover as he was also head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in Berlin and had been involved in recruiting agents in a successful attempt to learn German military secrets in the build-up to the war.

"His heroics went unheralded at the time but at the trial of the high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Foley was described as a 'Scarlet Pimpernel' for the way he risked his own life to save Jews threatened with death by the Nazis. Despite having no diplomatic immunity and being liable to arrest at any time, Foley's humanitarian acts in the passport office allowed Jews to escape "legally" to Britain or Palestine, which was then controlled by the British.

Passport image

"Sometimes he went further, going into internment camps to get Jews out, hiding them in his home and helping them get forged passports. One Jewish aid worker estimated that he saved tens of thousands of people from the Holocaust. 

"In 1941 he was involved in the questioning of Rudolph Hess, Hitler's deputy, who had mysteriously flown to Scotland. Then, in 1942, he helped coordinate MI5 and MI6 in running a network of double agents called the Double Cross System.

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"After the war Foley returned to Berlin (under the cover of Assistant Inspector General of the Public Safety Branch of the Control Commission in Germany), where he was involved in hunting for ex-SS war criminals. He later retired to Stourbridge where he died in 1958 and today he is remembered by a statue in his home town of Highbridge."

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