Burg's son can't confirm story; father never discussed it

Fake Polish passport saved top Israeli politician from the Nazis, Warsaw says

Polish Embassy in Switzerland says German-born Yosef Burg, elected to first Knesset in 1949 and an MK for next 40 years, escaped as part of operation that rescued thousands of Jews

Interior Minister Yosef Burg on November 1, 1976. (Saar Yaacov/GPO)
Interior Minister Yosef Burg on November 1, 1976. (Saar Yaacov/GPO)

Yosef Burg, a prominent former Israeli politician who was elected to the first Knesset in 1949 and served as an MK for the next 40 years, was issued a fake Polish passport in 1940 to help him escape Nazi-controlled Europe, according to the Polish Embassy in Switzerland.

“Yosef Burg, who was trapped in Nazi-surrounded Switzerland, in August 1940 obtained an illegal Polish passport to escape to Spain and then to continue to Eretz Israel,” Polish Ambassador Jakub Kumoch said in a statement on Friday that cited previously unpublished documents from Israel’s state archives.

Kumoch said Burg was saved from the Nazis as part of a rescue operation by Aleksander Ładoś, who was Poland’s ambassador to Switzerland in 1940-1945, together with the World Jewish Congress.

Burg, who was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1909, was a Knesset member between 1949 and 1988, and served in many ministerial positions under seven Israeli prime ministers. He was one of the founders of the National Religious Party. Burg died in 1999. He never mentioned the Polish chapter of his life in public.

Avraham Burg in 2008. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Burg’s son, Avraham Burg, himself a former politician and Knesset speaker, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that he had no information regarding the accuracy of the new information and could not confirm it.

He said that while he knows his father came to Israel with a Polish passport, he has no additional information on the matter beyond what has been published.

Yosef Burg with his son Avraham Burg, pictured in the 1980s. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

He said he was recently contacted in an effort to locate the passport but was unable to help.

From left: Prime minister Menachem Begin, Yosef Burg and David Levy, seen in the Kesset in 1983. (Yossi Zamir/FLASH90)

Kumoch said that the documents had been reviewed by both Israeli and Polish historians, including Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, the former Yad Vashem director of the Department of Righteous Among the Nations. The story hasn’t been widely published in the past, although Kumoch said that a Polish-language article from 1995 briefly mentioned it.

Among the recently discovered documents, according to the Polish press release, is a 1946 application for citizenship in Mandatory Palestine in which Burg admits that he received fake Polish documents.

“It was impossible to receive a Spanish transit visa. Therefore, the Polish Consulate agreed to make it possible for me to return to Palestine by the issuance of a Polish passport,” Burg was said to have testified in 1946 to the British Authorities in Mandatory Palestine.

Aleksander Ładoś (Wikipedia)

Another document dates back to 1960, when Burg served as welfare minister in David Ben-Gurion’s government. In that document, the Interior Ministry informs Burg that his Polish passport had been located and forwarded to him.

Kumoch said in the statement that in and around 1940, “the Embassy of Poland in Switzerland issued thousands of Polish passports for Jewish refugees from all over occupied Europe to protect them against deportation or to help them escape from Europe.

“Months later, the Polish diplomats hatched a similar rescue scheme in which they fabricated Latin American documents for at least 8,000 people. Interestingly, the handwritings on the Polish passports from 1940 and on the Paraguayan passports from 1943 remarkably look the same.”

The Polish statement comes as Jerusalem and Warsaw have experienced diplomatic tensions over Polish officials’ rejection of any culpability by the nation for anti-Semitic atrocities of the past, particularly during the Holocaust.

Last year, the government in Poland introduced a controversial law that forbids blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes, though the legislation was softened following Israeli pressure to remove punitive measures.

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