MI6 honors British spy for saving 10,000 Jews from Nazi Germany

Frank Foley's acts of heroism were never acknowledged during his lifetime.

January 30, 2018 17:43
3 minute read.
MI6 honors British spy for saving 10,000 Jews from Nazi Germany

Major Frank Foley, former British Secret Intelligence Service officer. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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In a rare acknowledgement of its secretive work, Britain's MI6, officially the Secret Intelligent Service, honored late British intelligence officer Major Frank Foley on Tuesday for saving an estimated 10,000 German Jews in Nazi Germany prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

The most senior spy in Berlin, stationed in the German capital's British Embassy, Foley issued thousands of visas to German Jews seeking to flee Nazi persecution - an act of heroism that was never acknowledged during his lifetime.

MI6 honored Foley, who died in 1958, with the unveiling of a bust at the agency's London headquarters. The ceremony was attended by family members and the Holocaust Education Trust.

Foley's cover story for his espionage activity in Germany was his work as a passport control officer at the Berlin embassy, moving to Berlin in 1920 to report on the changes taking place in the country.

Visas issued by Foley, who was described as "the Scarlet Pimpernel" at the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, enabled German Jews to "legally" emigrate to Britain or Palestine.

Despite not being protected by diplomatic immunity, Foley risked arrest and even his life by entering concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen, to present camp authorities with visas issued for Jewish prisoners, enabling them to escape.

Foley also hid Jewish families fleeing from persecution in his home.

Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service Alex Younger applauded Foley's heroism at Tuesday's ceremony.

“While many condemned and criticized the Nazis’ discriminative laws, Frank took action," Younger said.

“With little regard for his personal safety he took a stance against evil. Despite exposing himself to significant personal risk, Frank made a decision to help. He knew the dire consequences were he to get caught."

MI6 chief Alex Younger speaks in this still image from video, December 8, 2016. (CROWN COPYRIGHT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

“There is a mantra that surrounds MI6’s history that reads ‘Our successes are private, our failures are public’... It’s a wonderful thing for MI6 that one of its most distinguished members’ successes are no longer private."

Recognition of Foley's heroic acts only came decades after his death, with the former spy being awarded the "Righteous Among the Nations" status by Israel's Holocaust center Yad Vashem in 1999.

In November 2004, a plaque honoring Foley was unveiled at the British Embassy in Berlin to mark the 120th anniversary of his birth at a ceremony attended by survivors, family members and senior British politicians.

At the ceremony, one survivor who owed her life to Foley paid tribute to the former officer.

"His name is written on my heart... I owe my life to this man I never met, a man of humanity in a time of unparalleled inhumanity," said Elisheva Lernau.

Elisheva Lernau, a Jewish refugee, stands next to a plaque commemorating Frank Foley at the British embassy in Berlin November 24, 2004 (Reuters)

Foley was awarded the title of British Hero of the Holocaust by the British government in 2010.

Karen Pollock, the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, praised Foley's courage following the unveiling of the bust.

“Frank Foley’s courageous actions saved 10,000 Jewish people from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis – he is an example to all of us about the importance of standing up to be counted even in the most difficult of circumstances," said Pollock.

“As we educate the next generation about the darkness and destruction of the Holocaust, we are fortunate to be able to point to the few who risked their own lives to save others. We are delighted that his actions will be honored in this permanent way.”

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