The Diplomatic Passport of Georg F. Duckwitz

Seventy-seven years ago, in early October 1943, the Nazi regime attempted to deport Denmark’s Jewish community as part of the “final solution,” the genocide of Europe’s Jews. The heinous plan failed. The majority of the Jewish population were able to flee over the Sound to Sweden and to escape death. The story of the “human wall,” which Danes formed around their Jewish compatriots at that time, does credit to them and Denmark to this very day. Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz

One principal opponent of the Gestapo and SS in September/October 1943 was a German: Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, the maritime attaché at the German Legation in Copenhagen. Duckwitz informed Danish contacts of the planned deportation in good time, and as a result, measures were taken, which ultimately led to the rescue of so many people. Duckwitz was repeatedly honored for his actions and, in 1971, was awarded the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem memorial.

Duckwitz was a courageous man at a time when so many others lacked courage or conscience. His actions in Copenhagen bear convincing witness to his courage. Any act of assistance to Jews in the areas under German control was an act of resistance against a system based on the notion of the inferiority of Jews and the denial of their rights. Rescuing Jews was not only an act of humanity; it was also an act of subversion. As a man who early on had not been hostile to the system, Duckwitz had to come a long way before engaging in “humanitarian subversion.” Duckwitz, after all, belonged to a particular generation. He was a man of his time. The story of his life – with its leaps, deviations as well as contradictions, and inexplicability – is a German biography of the 20th century. Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz

Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz

Commemorating him, a member of the Foreign Service since 1939, is part and parcel of the Foreign Office’s efforts to come to grips with its own past. It is true that the Federal Foreign Office shunned examining this period of its history for many years and chose instead to cultivate an image of itself which stressed the notion of how German diplomats had kept a distance from the Nazi regime and had indeed stayed coolly remote. In contrast, historical research since the 1970s has increasingly produced evidence that distance and “inner resistance,” which – it has been shown – individual officials did demonstrate, certainly did not prevail in the Foreign Office as a whole. As an organization, it by no means remained on the sidelines, and it certainly did not oppose the regime. Instead, as the Nazi’s grip on power became ever more robust, it became a more or less reliable tool of the dictatorship. At best, it can be argued that in this, the Foreign Office was just like other state institutions, although that of course hardly exonerates it. Above all, according to the report drawn up by an independent commission of historians established in 2005, there can be no doubt that German diplomats actively participated in the Shoa. The commission’s report started a debate that is still ongoing. However, it undoubtedly marks a new phase in the efforts of the Foreign Office to come to terms with the crimes of National Socialism. Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz

It is part of the tradition of the Foreign Office to commemorate those who stood up against the prevailing zeitgeist and particularly against the crimes of the Nazis, colleagues whose moral compass not only continued to function but indeed guided their actions. For many years, the opponents of the regime associated with the attempted coup of 20 July 1944 have been the focus of attention. It is only in recent times that the Foreign Office has paid more considerable attention to other members of the Foreign Service who resisted the regime – people who, irrespective of their function, we’re guided by values and convictions, who refused to bow to a totalitarian regime. They included Fritz Kolbe, who risked his life to pass on large volumes of classified information to the United States, including reports on the deportation of Jews from Hungary.

Much remains to be done in this respect. This is true, for example of Gerhart Feine, a German diplomat who helped save many people from deportation in Budapest in 1944, cooperating with his Swiss colleague Carl Lutz. Feine had been largely forgotten until the commission of historians paid tribute to him in their report in 2010. We should also remember diplomats such as Michael Jovy, who entered the Foreign Service in the 1950s and who, alongside Duckwitz, is the only German diplomat honored in Yad Vashem to date.

Read more details about Duckwitz and The rescue of Danish Jews (pdf online)

I have never seen any documents issued or signed by Duckwitz. Still, when I researched a similar topic, I learned that the political archive of the German Federal Office holds his diplomatic passport. I asked the archive if I could have pictures of his diplomatic passport, and my wish was granted.

His diplomatic passport was issued on September 3, 1943, in Berlin in his function as shipping surveyor at the German embassy in Copenhagen showing plenty of border stamps and visas from Denmark and Switzerland.

The Political Archive of the German Foreign Office is the ‘memory’ of the foreign service. It has preserved the files on German foreign policy since 1867, as well as the international treaties signed by the Federal Republic of Germany and its predecessors in title. The records are preserved, processed, and made available to academics. I visited the archive twice in 2011, and it’s a fantastic source, also on passport history. Thanks again to the archive team for the support in the past and by sending me the pictures of this Duckwitz’s diplomatic passport. Also, for the permission to republish on my website.

Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz

Jewish Agency For Palestine In Berlin

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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...