Sugihara + Zwartendijk Visas On Life-Saving Travel Document

Sugihara & Zwartendijk – two of righteous diplomats which took enormous personal risks to rescue Jews and others facing persecution and peril. They were true heroes; indeed, they were among the foremost human rights defenders of their day. Due to their actions thousands could escape Nazi Holocaust. Since I am collecting passports I was always interested in protection letters/passports and visas saving Jewish lives. sugihara Zwartendijk life-saving document

Thanks to my extensive network and thorough research, I was able to successfully locate and secure important documents. Over the years, I have seen 26 different documents issued by these diplomats.

A Travel document (Polish Certificate of Identity) for Silberberg Abraham-Adam
sugihara Zwartendijk life-saving document

Chiune Sugihara

Chiune Sugihara, born on January 1st, 1900 and passed away on July 31st, 1986, was a Japanese diplomat who served as the Vice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania during World War II. He played a crucial role in helping thousands of Jews escape the country by issuing them transit visas, allowing them to travel to Japan, many of whom were refugees from German-occupied Poland and residents of Lithuania.

Sugihara put his career and the safety of his family on the line by writing visas for over 6,000 Jewish refugees, enabling them to flee to Japanese territory. He also told the refugees to refer to him as “Sempo”, as it was a more easily pronounced version of his first name in Sino-Japanese reading for Western people. In recognition of his bravery, Israel honored him in 1985 with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”.

Jan Zwartendijk

Jan Zwartendijk, born on July 29th, 1896 in Rotterdam and passed away in 1976, was a Dutch businessman and diplomat who assisted Jews in escaping Lithuania during World War II. As the director of the Philips plants in Lithuania, he also served as an acting consul of the Dutch government-in-exile, working under the Dutch ambassador to Latvia, De Decker.

When the Soviet Union took control of Lithuania in 1940, Dutch Jewish residents in the country approached Zwartendijk for a visa to the Dutch Indies. With De Decker’s approval, Zwartendijk agreed to help them. This eventually led to Jews fleeing from German-occupied Poland also seeking his assistance.

Despite contravening diplomatic protocols, Zwartendijk signed a declaration that stated entry into Curaçao in the West Indies did not require a visa, ignoring the second part of the standard notice that required the governor’s permission. This was based on the precedent set by De Decker himself, who had earlier issued similar visas, and news of this possibility had spread to other Jews.

The refugees then approached Japanese consul, Chiune Sugihara, who defied official diplomatic rules and gave them transit visas through Japan. This provided many refugees with the opportunity to escape Lithuania and travel to the Far East via the Trans-Siberian railway. In the three weeks following July 26th, Zwartendijk wrote over 2,400 visas to Curaçao and some Jews copied more.

Many people who helped knew him only as “Mr. Philips Radio”. On August 3rd, when the Soviets closed down his Philips office, he returned to the occupied Netherlands and worked at the Philips headquarters in Eindhoven. He never spoke about his actions. Zwartendijk passed away in 1976 and was posthumously honored with the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in 1997.


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FAQ Passport History
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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...