Elliott School Honors Life, Legacy of Swiss Diplomat Carl Lutz

More than 100 students, faculty, staff and residents joined us at the Elliott School on Tuesday, Oct. 23, to hear about the late Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, whose bravery and tireless efforts saved the lives of 62,000 Jewish people living in Hungary during the Holocaust. Lutz has a GW connection, having received his B.A. from the Columbian College in 1924.

Lutz acted “without hesitation to help the Budapest Jewish community,” said Martin Werner Dahinden, the ambassador of Switzerland to the U.S, at the event. Lutz received his bachelor’s degree in 1924 from GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and is a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

“There is a reason why we need to remember and keep the memory of people like Carl Lutz alive,” Dahinden said. “He serves as a role model for future generations. We want to remember the heroism so that it continues unabated.”

Lutz’s rescue strategy involved issuing letters of protection that helped guarantee a Jewish person’s safety in Hungary. He negotiated with the country’s government and German regime to secure 8,000 of these letters to hand out to Jewish residents of  Hungary. He then secretly issued tens of thousands more letters than he was originally granted, which historians say was the largest civilian rescue operation of World War II.

Lutz also set up 76 safe houses in Hungary that were under Swiss protection.

The Oct. 23 event also featured remarks from Dean Reuben Brigety; Frederic Hayat of the G.I.L. Reform Jewish Community of Geneva, Switzerland; Agnes Hirschi, Lutz’s step-daughter; and Katrina Lantos Swett, the president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Swett said Lutz was “willing to shred the rules to do what was morally right.” She emphasized that it is important to study his story and actions to help “show the path” on what to do when faced with seemingly intractable moral challenges.

The event was sponsored by the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, Embassy of Switzerland, the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and the Hungarian American Coalition. View our photo album from the event.

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