Jan Zwartendijk was director of the Lithuanian operations of Philips, a Dutch manufacturer of light bulbs and radios, when he took on the part-time duties of acting consul for The Netherlands in June 1940. He was appointed by the Dutch ambassador posted in Riga, Latvia, L.P.J. de Decker.

Zwartendijk's appointment coincided with the Soviet takeover of Lithuania. Initially, a few Dutch Jewish residents of Lithuania seeking to escape Soviet rule approached Zwartendijk for visas to enter Dutch colonies in the East or West Indies. Acting on de Decker's authorization, Zwartendijk agreed to help them. As word spread, many Polish Jewish refugees who had fled occupied Poland in 1939 also sought escape with the help of Zwartendijk's visas.

In a conscious deceit, Zwartendijk signed his name to a declaration that looked like a destination visa for Curaçao and other Dutch possessions in the West Indies. Using words originally provided by de Decker, it stated that a visa was not required to enter these colonies. In reality, however, obtaining entry was up to the discretion of the colonial governor, who rarely granted it. Although no refugee entered Curaçao with the Zwartendijk visa, it provided the first step in leaving Lithuania via an eastern, Trans-Siberian route to Japan. As the Soviets closed all consulates in Lithuania, the refugees expected they could make other travel arrangements in Moscow or Tokyo, where consulates were still operational.

With "Curaçao visas" in hand, refugees approached Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Lithuania, for visas to transit through Japan on the way across the Pacific to Curaçao. Because Japan still maintained relations with the Dutch government-in-exile, Sugihara recognized Zwartendijk's visa and began issuing the required transit visas.

Between July 26 and August 2, 1940, Zwartendijk issued over 2,400 "Curaçao visas." His operation was shut down after the Soviets seized his Philips office in early August as part of their nationalization of the Lithuanian economy. In fall 1940 Zwartendijk returned to German-occupied Netherlands and worked for Philips at its headquarters in Eindhoven.

Many of the individuals Zwartendijk helped never knew his real name and only referred to him as "Mr. Philips Radio." In 1997, Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial, named Zwartendijk one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" for the help he gave Jews in Lithuania. Zwartendijk died in 1979 at the age of 80. He is survived by his three children.

Source: ushmm.org/museum/press/kits/flightandrescue/zwart2.htm 


May His Blessed Memory Live Forever

Holocaust Survivors' Network --Isurvived.org