How a ‘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

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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. 

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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.

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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.
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Faithlife Staff

Faithlife (makers of Logos Bible Software) is the largest developer of Bible study software and creator of the world's first integrated ministry platform—a full suite of ministry, communication, and management tools for churches.

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Written by Faithlife Staff