In the midst of World War II, Konstanty Rokicki, who worked at the Polish Embassy in Bern as vice-consul, produced several thousand of false Latin American passports which saved lives of “many hundreds” of Jews. In 2019, Rokicki was named Righteous Among the Nations.
Konstanty Rokicki, second lieutenant of the Polish Army, intelligence operative and veteran of Poland’s war of independence, joined the consular service of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1931. Before he took the position of vice-consul in Bern in 1939, he had worked in the Polish Consulate in Minsk, then in Riga and Cairo. After the war, he stayed to live in Switzerland where he died in penniless obscurity in 1958.
In 2017, almost 60 years after Rokicki’s death, diplomats at Poland’s Embassy in Switzerland discovered with astonishment that between 1941 and 1943 the same hand filled out thousands of fabricated passports which served as protection documents for Jews during the Holocaust. It was Rokicki’s.
A number of other also took part in the operation. The so-called Ładoś Group included ambassador Aleksander Ładoś, his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz, as well as an embassy employee Julius Kühl. The procedure was as simple as it was dangerous: Rokicki bribed the Paraguayan honorary consul with money from Jewish and Polish donors to obtain blank passport forms, which he then filled out with names from lists provided by Jewish organisations in Geneva and Zurich. The documents were backdated to December 1942 to prevent discovery. They were then smuggled to the German-occupied Poland and Netherlands and handed to those in danger of deportation.
Based on the serial numbers of the documents produced, it is estimated that at least 1,056 false passports were issued for 2,500 people. In addition, documents confirming Paraguayan citizenship were forged for 2,000 other Jews. According to research, in total, the efforts of the Ładoś Group might have given a chance of survival to as many as 8,000 to 10,000 people. Among them was Adam Daniel Rotfeld, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2005.
In 1943, the operation came to the attention of German officials and an investigation was ordered. Ambassador Ładoś personally intervened with the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs threatening them with an international scandal. The Swiss authorities abstained from further action.
After the war, Rokicki stayed in Switzerland, not wanting to sere the Communists. He died in poverty in Luzern. His gravestone at the Friedenthal cemetery was restored in 2018.
On April, 16, 2019, some 60 years after his death, Yad Vashem declared Rokicki a Righteous Among the Nations. He is the 6707th Pole recognised for helping Jews during Holocaust.