Passport log sheds light on consular history

Passport log consular history

Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Learn more about the work of the Emergency Rescue Committee and humanitarians like Varian Fry, Mary Jayne Gold and Albert Hirschman who inspired Transatlantic.

By Lindsay Henderson Passport log consular history

U.S. Consulate General Marseille Passport log consular history

When the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille cleaned out its basement file room in the summer of 2014, an unusual item came to light. Too large to fit in a shredder, a massive old ledger book was set aside. One of the consulate’s locally employed staff flipped through it, noting the many names of famous Americans listed on its pages. Recognizing it for what it was—the consulate’s register of passport services for U.S. citizens from the early days of World War II—a record of a community during wartime and a document of brave Americans from all walks of life who took great risks to save the lives of others, she put it in a drawer for safekeeping.

Passport log book, US Consulate Marseilles

Nazi Regime in France

The port city of Marseille on France’s southern coast has been a crossroads for migration since ancient times. During the 1930s, it hosted thousands of refugees from the Spanish Civil War, and, as the Nazis rose to power in Germany, the city also hosted German Jews, dissidents, artists, and others who fled the Nazi regime. When Germany invaded France in June 1940, additional refugees flocked to Marseille from Paris and other parts of Nazi-occupied northern France. Many of these refugees—often stateless—were forced into camps located throughout the region, where conditions were often grim, and the threat of being sent to Nazi-occupied territory was constant. Passport log consular history

Emergency Rescue Committee

A private American group called the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) developed a list of anti-Nazi refugees who were in grave danger of being turned over to the Nazis. Reaching out to Eleanor Roosevelt for assistance, they managed to convince Congress to allocate a limited number of non-quota immigrant visas for these individuals.

Log book detail, US Consulate Marseilles

The ERC hired American journalist Varian Fry to go to Marseille, locate the people on the list, and to try to get them out of France. Using both legal and illegal techniques—including helping people legitimately obtain visas and exit permits, but also facilitating the smuggling of some travelers across the border into Spain—Fry helped more than 2,000 people emigrate to the United States.

Lindsay Henderson is U.S. consul general at Embassy Lima. 

Read the full exciting story at the State Magazine…
Netflix, new series – Transatlantic, inspired by the story of humanitarian Varian Fry & the origins of the International Rescue Committee.


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FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...