Foreign Office honours the spies who saved us

By Leon Symons, November 27, 2008

The heroic efforts of a group of British diplomats who helped thousands of Jews escape the Nazis in Germany and elsewhere in occupied Europe were finally officially recognised last week.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband unveiled a plaque commemorating their selfless actions on a main staircase wall in the Foreign Office.

There are no names on the plaque because there was no record of the actions they took. At least 11 are known. Frank Foley was arguably the most famous, while Robert Smallbones and Thomas Preston were two more.

Mr Miliband said: "This plaque honours those British diplomats who helped Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution during one of Europe's darkest hours.

"Some of these individuals are well known to us. Frank Foley, for example, the passport control officer and secret intelligence service head of station in Berlin, who visited concentration camps to get Jews out and hid others in his home; or Robert Smallbones, our consul-general in Frankfurt, who worked 18-hour days issuing visas on his own authority in the aftermath of the Kristallnacht pogrom. Others who also helped may have escaped history's limelight, but all their efforts deserve to be remembered."

The idea for the memorial came last year from Sir Sigmund Sternberg, founder of the Three Faiths Forum, who said: "The brave British diplomats, known and unknown, who displayed their concern for the suffering of Jews and other victims of Nazism, are properly entitled to the recognition and appreciation we accord them with the unveiling of this plaque.

"It will forever be a reminder of the fact that, even in the most terrible of circumstances, individuals of good conscience can make a contribution to the safeguarding of humanity."

Historian Sir Martin Gilbert said: "It is important to recognise individual bravery. It is also important to provide a reminder that human beings can, in situations where civilized values are being undermined, find the strength of character and purpose to resist the evil impulses of the age and to rescue the victims of barbarity."

Today (November 28), the Holocaust Educational Trust will launch the first Frank Foley lecture in his home town of Stourbridge. Karen Pollock, HET chief executive, said she hoped this would become an annual event. The speaker will be Michael Smith, the author of the biography: Foley: The spy who saved 10,000 Jews.

Last updated: 2:25pm, November 27 2008