How a British ‘Master Spy’ Saved Thousands of Jews in the Holocaust

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the Jewish liberation from Auschwitz. Despite the horrors that occurred at Auschwitz and other concentration camps, thousands of Jewish lives were spared because of the covert operations of unsung heroes. One such man was Francis “Frank” Foley.

Though most saw Foley as a “low-level British bureaucrat serving in Berlin” just before World War II,1he was actually a master spy in the MI6, the British intelligence service. He focused his efforts on the rise of German Communists, then on Hitler’s campaign to reactivate and expand the German military—until he learned what was happening in the Nazi concentration camps.2 He went on to secretly save thousands of Jewish lives.

To remember the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, we offer this reflection on Frank Foley’s selfless rescue missions, adapted from My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust

***

Foley’s intelligence operation . . . revealed evidence that Jewish inmates imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps being erected throughout Germany were suffering horrors. Despite his protests, however, his London superiors waved away the accounts as ridiculous exaggerations. Foley then appealed to British immigration officials, asking them to expedite Jewish requests for asylum in Great Britain and its colonies, but encountered more bureaucratic apathy. holocaust remembrance day blog

Frustrated but determined, Foley decided to help Germany’s Jews himself. Using his official cover as the British passport control officer in Berlin, he began issuing droves of passports to Jews seeking escape from Germany. Like Feng Shan Ho, his Chinese counterpart in Austria, Foley was motivated by more than just humanitarian concerns: his faith as a Christian compelled him to act, he believed—especially when so many of those who were persecuting the Jews claimed that they were Christians. 

. . . 

After Kristallnacht in 1938, the desperation increased within Germany’s Jewish community. Determined to escape the Nazis and save their families, German Jews began showing up unannounced at Foley’s Berlin apartment. As a passport officer, he did not have diplomatic immunity, and he knew what could happen to him if Nazi authorities learned he was issuing thousands of passports or personally harboring Jews. Despite the danger, he continued his mission. . . . Every month, hundreds of Jews came to Foley seeking escape from Nazi Germany. He realized that most of them would be hauled off to concentration camps before they could be processed by the ponderous, bureaucratic British immigration system—so he developed a streamlined process that severely stretched regulations but still complied with British law. 

As relations deteriorated between Nazi Germany and Britain and France, Foley realized that war was imminent and redoubled his efforts to help Jews escape Germany. When warfare erupted in September 1939, Foley disappeared—off on the first of many wartime espionage assignments in which he would distinguish himself as one of the key allied intelligence operatives of World War II. 

A few days before the war began, Leo Baeck, a leading German rabbi and one of Foley’s chief Jewish contacts, received a message to pick up a package from Foley’s office in the British consulate. Foley was gone when Baeck arrived, but the package awaited him. It was Frank Foley’s final outreach to the imperiled Jews of Germany. Inside were more than eighty British passports officially stamped and approved for travel outside Germany, each with the spaces for name and address left blank—to be filled in by escaping Jews whom Frank Foley had never met.

***

This post is adapted from My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust by Rod Gragg.

The title of this post is the addition of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife. 

holocaust remembrance day blog

  1. Gragg, Rod. My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust, “Francis Foley,” (Center Street Publishing, 2017).
  2. Gradd, 2017.

Comments

  1. Irving Salzman says:

    Wow, thanks for this wonderful story. I had never heretofore heard of Frank Foley. But his story is a blessing. My own father was saved by a Polish farmer who hid my dad, his mother, and two sisters in his barn for 18 months, allowing them to survive the Holocaust. The farmer was awarded the Righteous Medal of Honor posthumously by Yad Vashem in a ceremony in Krakow, Poland last summer, which I had the privilege of attending. The farmer was a deeply religious, God-fearing Catholic man. I have a wonderful relationship with his descendants and family today. And, yes, I use Logos Bible Software all the time in my ministry as a messianic rabbi in Northern New Jersey.

    • Karen Engle says:

      Hi, Irving! Thank you for your beautiful post and for sharing your family history. We’re glad the post ministered to you. I’ve been to Yad Vashem many times and have walked through the olive tree garden memorial for the “righteous among the nations.” I wonder if I passed a memorial to that farmer.

      Best, Karen

      • Irving Salzman says:

        Thank you, Karen! I’m not sure if there is a memorial to the farmer in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem or not. That is a very interesting question though. I will have to check the next time God graces me with a visit there. But with 35,000+ honorees (and counting), it’s doubtful they’re able to honor every honoree in the Garden. But who knows? Maybe they have a memorial plaque somewhere. But what I know of a certainty is that his name and story are included in the Righteous of the Nations Database at Yad Vashem. (I have seen that personally.) I’m told by the family that there isn’t a day that the farmer’s daughter, now in her 80s, doesn’t look at the Medal of Honor, proudly displayed in their home. I discovered the whereabouts of the farmer’s family “quite accidentally” in the summer of 2014, when my Polish interpreter/guide and I received information from the town hall in the nearest largest town that they were not really supposed to give us as to the address of the farmer’s family. When I say “largest town,” it is all relative; it is a very secluded area of Poland and the largest town in the area only has 4000 residents. The family of the farmer still live on the farm about 30 minutes away from the town. When we got the address, we showed up on their doortstep totally unannounced. But after they found out who I was, they hugged me and kissed me and treated me as one of their own family members. They shared stories of my dad that I never knew before. I truly love that family. I have been back to visit them twice since. Were it not for that farmer who saved my dad, I would not be here today.

  2. I am an African American Christian female who teaches the Bible. I love hearing stories of Jews who “outran” the Holocaust and survived. It is for that reason that I will be purchasing Gragg’s book, My Brother’s Keeper… These stories of God’s grace speak of freedom and remind me very much of the freedom African American slaves received on the Underground Railroad as well as through other means. So that more Jews receive a greater, more lasting freedom in Christ, I contribute to Chosen People Ministries so that even many more might be saved!

    • Karen Engle says:

      Hi Claire,
      Thanks for your comment! We’re glad it ministered to you. There are many wonderful stories in My Brother’s Keeper of non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save lives. I hope you enjoy it!
      Karen