February 25, 2012

Bingham's List

War is sweet to those who have no experience of it, but the experienced man trembles exceedingly at heart on its approach. ~ Pindar (518 - 438 BC).
As poetry is "passion recollected in tranquility" (Wordsworth), so perhaps history can be viewed as infamy robbed of passion. The lessons of war are dimmed by the passage of time. Once that occurs, the notion,"That can't happen now," takes root and another generation must pay the price for neglecting the costly sacrifice and struggles of their forefathers. Experience does matter, but perhaps the remembrance of that experience matters more.

In my prior post we touched briefly on the subject of mankind's satanic-inspired enmity towards the Jews - hundreds of lives lost but still a single incident, a lone, dark wave in a sea of hatred, prejudice and murder. Most of the time the waves are constant  and predictable, and the Jews have many centuries of  experience in making adjustments to accommodate these waves. But now and again the sea is roiled with malice; it becomes unpredictable and deadly beyond imagining. World War II was such a time, unequalled in ferocity and purpose.

But even in the greatest darkness there always seems to be a few points of light.

Few could have predicted the utter evil, the callous malevolence of the Nazis and how it fed sympathetic temperaments throughout the world. In this war the unspeakable became commonplace and sudden, violent death became a blessing. This is where Hiram "Harry" Bingham IV found himself at the onset of WWII.

In 1940, Bingham was a low-ranking American diplomat stationed in Marseilles.
Bingham, 37, was descended from prominent politicians, social scientists and missionaries. His grandfather's book, "A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands," presaged James Michener's Hawaii. His father, Hiram Bingham III, was a renowned explorer and, later, a U.S. senator. After a prep school and Ivy League education, Hiram, known as Harry, seemed destined for a brilliant career in the Foreign Service.
Hiram did not have the brilliant Foreign Service career envisioned by his family and friends. Instead, he ended up back on the family farm in Connecticut where he died in 1988. His career in the State Department was short circuited because he violated US foreign policy by assisting French Jews in escaping from the Vichy government - Nazi puppets - and certain death.
Bingham also worried that "the young Nazis [were] warped and infected with a fanaticism which may make them impossible to deal with for years." He added: "Hitler has all the virtues of the devil—courage, persistence, stamina, cunning, perseverance."

[...]But as World War II approached, Bingham made a series of life-altering choices. By sheltering Feuchtwanger in his private villa, Bingham violated both French law and U.S. policy. To draw attention to hunger and disease in the French camps, he challenged indifference and anti-Semitism among his State Department superiors. In speeding up visa and travel documents at the Marseilles consulate, he disobeyed orders from Washington. In all, an estimated 2,500 refugees were able to flee to safety because of Bingham's help. Some of his beneficiaries were famous—Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst—but most were not.
Bingham was ultimately bounced to Argentina just prior to the entry of the US into WWII. Serving as Vice Consul, Bingham was adamant in his disapproval of Argentina's sheltering of Nazi war criminals. His protests were ignored by the State Department. Bingham finally quit the Foreign Service shortly after the end of the war.

No one ever knew about his service to the Jews until his wife died in 1996. While going through his mother's effects, Hiram's son, William, discovered papers that had been put away for many years; these papers documented Hiram's life-saving actions.
Hiram Bingham IV

Perhaps demonstrating how Hiram thought of his life in relation to his God and other people, his daughter Abigail recalls a hymn that was often sung at family events:

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
'twixt that darkness and that light

A letter from the The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority honoring Hiram Bingham IV is here. There is even a commemorative postage stamp of Mr. Bingham.


Anonymous said...

Thank-You for sharing this story

sig94 said...

FuzzyD - my pleasure.