Streetwise: Rehov Charles Lutz, Haifa

It is estimated that Charles Lutz saved 62,000 Jews between 1942-1945.

lutz street 88 224 (photo credit: Wendy Blumfield )
lutz street 88 224
(photo credit: Wendy Blumfield )
Charles Lutz the man and Bat Galim the neighborhood are synonymous with the concept of Jews on the move. Charles Lutz, the Swiss consul in Budapest from 1942-45, saved more than 62,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Bat Galim historically and geographically is the heart of Haifa, sandwiched between the railway station and the port, the Rambam Hospital and the naval base, the Oceanographic Institute and ancient port of Shikmona. It was at this beach that many clandestine ships arrived in the dead of night; among those that made the headlines was the battered Haim Arlosoroff crowded with 1,350 refugees which actually ran aground on the rocks of Bat Galim. Rehov Charles Lutz starts at the railway station, crosses the main street, Ha'aliya Hashniya, and leads into a quiet leafy neighborhood linking with Rehov Shahaf and the seafront promenade. It is therefore appropriate that a street in this neighborhood, so closely linked with the arrival of refugees and the growth of the modern State of Israel, should be named after Charles Lutz, a Righteous Gentile who fearlessly used every connection and resource to organize the rescue of Jews from Nazi-occupied Budapest. The late 19th and 20th centuries prior to World War II were a time of prosperity for the Jews of Budapest. They played a prominent part in the industrial and cultural boom of the city. There were synagogues and Jewish schools, hospitals and a rabbinical seminary, welfare agencies and an emerging Orthodox community. By 1930 there were more than 204,000 Jews and 125 synagogues in Budapest. During the early 1940s community life was restricted. Initially Hungary sided with Germany in the war, the reason why the country was not occupied until 1944. But even prior to the occupation, 15,000 Budapest Jews were killed in labor camps or deported. A ghetto was planned by Adolph Eichmann who actually had his office in the women's balcony of the Dohany Street Synagogue. There are mass graves in the courtyard of the synagogue memorialized today by a steel and granite sculpture of a weeping willow tree. Jews were forced to wear a yellow star and move into the ghetto in June 1944. Plans were made to deport them in July and August. Foreseeing this deterioration in conditions for the Jews, Lutz worked together with Raoul Wallenberg, secretary of the Swedish Foreign Ministry from 1942, the International Red Cross and other sympathetic embassies, issuing tens of thousands of identity documents and passports, organizing rescue missions and providing diplomatic immunity for 72 "safe houses." Lutz witnessed and tried to save victims from violent attacks, including the notorious Arrow Cross massacre on the banks of the Danube. A commemoration of this atrocity was inaugurated on Holocaust Memorial Day in Hungary in 2005. A safe haven was Lutz's headquarters, which also was a cover for the Zionist youth movement and the coordinated rescue and relief activities. Between 1942 and 1945 it is estimated that Lutz saved 62,000 Jews. But as deportation plans emerged in the summer of 1944, it was a race against time. Lutz actually received some cooperation from German officials. From 1934-40, Lutz had served in Palestine as Swiss consul. He helped to obtain the release of several German nationals who were imprisoned by the British and this was recognized when he was so desperately trying to rescue Jews in Budapest. In 1991, Tamas Szabo created a statue, a memorial to Lutz at the entrance of the former ghetto. The inscription in Hungarian is: "Whoever saves a life is considered as if he saved an entire world" (Talmud). In December 2006, Hungarian government officials, foreign diplomats and representatives of the Jewish community unveiled a memorial for Lutz in the park adjacent to the US Embassy. Born in 1895 in Switzerland, Lutz studied in the United States. He and his wife Trudi had fond memories of their time in Palestine and as an enthusiastic photographer kept numerous photo files and diaries "of six unforgettable years." In 1965 he was recognized as a Righteous Gentile and when he died in 1975, his wife entrusted his collection to Yad Vashem. The street in Bat Galim named after Charles Lutz is a crossing point between the old "workers suburb" and the modern development of Haifa. Potentially Bat Galim could be a quaint seaside resort and there are still some gems of architecture along the seafront and in the quiet suburban streets between the promenade and the busy main road. Some years ago the municipality made some attempt to landscape the promenade, but it has never become a center of restaurants and pension\s as one would expect in such a pretty little "village" with its beautiful beach. Today there is a mixed landscape of run-down apartment houses, falafel bars, rather scruffy cafes and some amazing architecture in narrow, winding, tree-lined streets leading to the magnificent beach. The residents are proud of their community and together with environmentalists and water sports enthusiasts fight an ongoing battle to prevent the area being destroyed by a marina development which would create a high brick wall between the homes and the sea. Historically Bat Galim made its presence long before Haifa began climbing Mount Carmel. A small port city since the Late Bronze Age in the 14th century BCE, it is mentioned in talmudic literature as a small fishing village in the third century CE. It is just along the shore from Shikmona, the Phoenician city famous for making the techelet dyes used in garments for the Temple high priests, and is opposite Elijah's Cave on the lower slopes of the mountain. Its early 20th century urban development was linked to the adjacent Templers German Colony and as the century moved on, the modern State of Israel influenced the building and infrastructure. At the northernmost point of Bat Galim, just where Rehov Charles Lutz ends, the beach is blocked by the naval base and the vast campus of the Rappaport Technion Medical School and Rambam Hospital.