Friday, March 16, 2012

Courageous Dissent

Hiram (Harry) Bingham IV grew up in a Connecticut family whose members were well known for being missionaries (Hiram I & II) and explorers (Hiram III.)

He was a US diplomat stationed in Marseilles, France during World War II when Germany was invading France.

At great personal risk and against State Department orders, he (a Protestant Christian) used his government status to help over 2,500 Jewish people escape the Holocaust as they escaped Hitler's occupied Europe from 1939-1941.

He organized clandestine rescue efforts and escapes, harbored many refugees at his diplomatic residence and issued "visas for life" and affidavits of eligibility for passage.

Hiram IV helped some of the most notable intellectuals and artists to escape, including Marc Chagall, (artist;) Leon Feuchtwanger, (author;) Golo Mann, (historian, son of Thomas Mann;) Hannah Arendt, (philosopher;) Max Ernst, (artist and poet;) and Dr. and Mrs. Otto Meyerhof, (Nobel Prize winning physicist.)

When the State Department learned of his actions, he was transferred to Lisbon, Portugal and later to Argentina.

In the eyes of the State Department, he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted.

He was not following established State Department policy - ultimately, he had to resign from the Foreign Service.

Bingham refrained from speaking about his service; his family had limited information about what he had done during the war.

Little was known of his extraordinary activities until after his death; then, family members found thousands of letters and official documents attesting to his quiet heroism.

His son, Robert "Kim" Bingham, wrote a book about him titled, "Courageous Dissent: How Harry Bingham Defied his Government to Save Lives".

In 1998, Hiram IV was recognized as one of eleven diplomats who saved 200,000-lives from the Holocaust, which amounts to one-million descendents of survivors today.  

He is the only US Diplomat who has been officially honored by the State of Israel as a "righteous diplomat."

He was the only American diplomat recognized during Israel's 50th Anniversary at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

Sixty years after leaving the Foreign Service (in 2002,) the State Department posthumously recognized Bingham with the department's American Foreign Service Association "Constructive Dissent" award.

In 2005, Bingham was posthumously given a letter of commendation from Israel's Holocaust Museum.  In 2006, a US commemorative postage stamp was issued in his honor.

More than 450 supporters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center gathered for the 2011 Humanitarian Award Dinner. There, the Medal of Valor was awarded posthumously to Sir Winston Churchill, Hiram Bingham IV and Pope John Paul II.

Hiram I is my great-great-great-grandfather, Hiram Bingham IV is a cousin. We did not know this story until a couple years ago.  Kim came to visit in Hawaiʻi and we had the opportunity to sit down with him and learn more about his father (Hiram IV, Harry.)

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