|Hiram Bingham IV Memorial Stamp
Hiram Bingham Honored
U.S. Diplomat Credited With Saving Thousands Of Jews From Nazis
To Be Immortalized On U.S. Postage Stamp
-- Larry Angert
Hiram Bingham IV, the U.S. diplomat
credited with saving more than 2,000 Jews and other
refugees in France from the invading Nazis, has been
immortalized as part of the U.S. Postal Service’s set
of “Distinguished American Diplomats” commemorative postage stamps.
In 1940 and 1941, as vice consul in Marseilles, France, Bingham issued visas and false passports to
Jews and other refugees against official U.S. policies, assisting in their escape and sometimes sheltering
them in his own home. Artist Marc Chagall, philosopher Hannah Arendt and novelist Lion Feuchtwanger
were among the refugees he rescued.
Robert Kim Bingham, one of Bingham’s 11 children, said “I hope by bringing out my father’s story we, as a society, can further the cause of making this world a more humane and loving place.” At the dedication ceremony for the new stamp, Congressman Tom Lantos (D. California, the only member of Congress who is a Holocaust
survivor), said, “Hiram Bingham's courage is an inspiration to us all. In an age when too many chose to
ignore the plight of the persecuted, he became directly engaged in their cause at significant risk to
himself. It is said that whoever saves one life saves the world. Humanity owes Hiram Bingham its
admiration for the example he provided in saving the world many thousands of times over.”
Born to a prominent Connecticut family in 1903, Bingham graduated from Yale in 1925 and studied
international law at Harvard. After he entered the Foreign Service in 1929, his postings included China,
Poland, and England. Following the fall of France in 1940, the armistice required the French to “surrender on demand all
Germans named by the German government in France.” Civil and military police began arresting
German and Jewish refugees the Nazis marked for death. Several influential Europeans tried to
convince the U.S. government to issue visas to allow the refugees to leave France and escape Nazi
persecution. Because of U.S. policy at the time, American officials refused.
In 1941, the U.S. government transferred Bingham to Portugal and then Argentina. In 1945, he retired
from the U.S. Foreign Service. Bingham died in 1988.
Interested in More Information?
Those interested in Bingham's activities in Vichy France ought to read
Varian Fry's memoir of the period. Fry, an American correspondent, undertook to
help Marc Chagall and others find the paperwork and funds to escape the Vichy
zone. See his book Surrender on Demand.
Among those helped by Fry a few of the notables were:
His work was continued by the International Rescue Committee and was
commemorated in the 1960's, after his death, by the collective exhibition of prints, Flight.
- Hannah Arendt
- Andri Breton
- Marc Chagall
- Max Ernst
- Lion Feuchtwanger
- Heinz Jolles
- Wilfredo Lam
- Wanda Landowska
- Jacques Lipchitz
- Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel
- Andre Masson
- Otto Meyerhoff
- Marcel Duchamp
- Franz Werfel
- Heinrich Mann
Former US 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
Bingham came from an illustrious family. His father (on whom the
fictional character Indiana Jones was based) 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
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.