The stories of the diplomats Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiune Sugihara of Japan have become well known. But other envoys chose to risk their careers and even their lives, and defied official protocols, rules and immigration "policies" to rescue Jews. Many of these diplomats were censured or punished for their acts of courage. Some were fired or were stripped of their ranks and pensions. Others were ostracized in their home countries.
Their rescue efforts took many forms. Among other selfless acts, they issued visas, citizenship papers and other forms of documentation that allowed Jews to escape the Nazis.
Why did they do it?
Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Lithuania, said: "Those people told me the kind of horror they would have to face if they didn't get away from the Nazis and I believed them. There was no place else for them to go. . . . If I had waited any longer, even if permission came, it might have been too late."
In short, these officials chose not to be indifferent and to rise to a higher moral calling.
My grandfather, Tadeusz Brzezinski, who is honored in the exhibit, was such a diplomat. He served as the government of Poland's consul general in Leipzig from 1931 to 1935. That was before the most vicious phases of the Holocaust, but already Jews were being moved to concentration camps and losing their legal status - being made "stateless."
As consul general, Tadeusz Brzezinski provided Polish passports to Jews, both Polish and German, so they could be freed from internment or be able to leave Nazi Germany.
In doing so, Tadeusz Brzezinski went beyond his diplomatic instructions, which certainly placed him in potential conflict not only with the Nazi authorities but with his own superiors.
Documents bearing on his efforts to obtain the release of interned Jews were presented to my father by Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel at Blair House in 1977. At the time, Begin said that "the Jewish people never forget a mitzvah," a good deed.
In the second half of the 1940s, when Poland was taken over by the Communists, Tadeusz Brzezinski struggled with financial difficulties, and his wife urged him to go to the Jewish community to ask for professional opportunities. Brzezinski refused, saying that what he did was not something for which one claims a material reward.
During a trip to Leipzig, I saw official Nazi documents in which the German government complained to the Polish authorities about my grandfather's activities. But my grandfather's legacy is most vividly seen through the memories of those he rescued.
A letter by Friedel Katz of Bethesda, Maryland, to my father about my grandfather speaks for itself. One section in particular is worth citing: "I was a young law student in Berlin when Hitler came to power. Like so many, I fled the country and went to Lyon, France. There I met another refugee from Germany. H. W. Katz had been the youngest editor at the Berlin newspaper Die Welt am Montag.
"An engaged journalist, a Social Democrat, and a Jew, he found himself on a blacklist. He left Germany for France one week to the day after the book burning. When we wanted to marry we found out that the French would not permit us to do this because we had been made stateless. What to do?
"My future husband wrote to his father, who was still in Germany, to ask him for help. His father went to Leipzig, to see the Polish consul general, who was your father. And your father provided him with two Polish passports, one for me and one for H. W. Katz. These passports allowed us to get married. My Polish passport saved my life more than once, when I had to flee Paris (where my husband and I had moved when we were expecting a child) - with my little daughter - while my husband served as an engagé volontaire to fight the Nazis. For a refugee, as you know, a passport is a lifesaver."
Mark Brzezinski is an international lawyer in Washington. The original version of this article was published here in the International Herald Tribune on April 10 and has been printed here with the kind permission of the author.