Friday, June 23, 2006

Harry Bingham

This is part of an email I received today. I think it's important for people to know about this man because there are too few heroes in the world, especially those who righteously dissent from authority.
Who was Harry Bingham and why is he getting a stamp?
A few months ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV. For over fifty years, the State Department resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. For them he was an insubordinate member of the US  diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Now, after his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.
Bingham came from an illustrious family. His father (on whom the fictional character Indiana Jones was based) was the archeologist who unearthed the Inca City of Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1911. Harry entered the US diplomatic service and, in 1939, was posted to Marseilles, France, as American Vice-Consul.
The USA was neutral in 1940 and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime, President Roosevelt's government ordered its representatives in Marseilles not to grant visas to any Jews. Bingham found this policy immoral and, risking his career, did all in his power to undermine it.
In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted over 2,500 USA visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and  Max Ernst and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He also sheltered Jews in his Marseilles  home, and obtained forged identity papers to help Jews in their dangerous journeys across Europe. He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean and even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket.

In 1941, Washington lost patience with him. He was sent to Argentina, where later he continued to annoy his superiors by reporting on the movements of Nazi war criminals.
Eventually, he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely. Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found some letters in his belongings after his death. He has now been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations and the State of Israel.



heartinsanfrancisco said...

I just read this article again, and realized that one of the reasons I felt moved to share it was because this brave and moral man is proof that one person can make a difference.

Th. said...


Yes, thank you for sharing--I had never heard it before.

An explosive said...

Thank you... This was so interesting I had no idea. ~M

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Nor had I until now.

My heart,

Wonderful to hear about somebody so GOOD amidst the daily barrage of bad news, isn't it?