The passports of Carl Lutz – A Swiss Hero

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I have already written several articles about Carl Lutz, the Swiss Vice-Consul who saved many Jewish lives during the Holocaust in Budapest, Hungary. But today, I like to show you Lutz’s travel documents used in 1929, 1941, and 1950. I thank the “Archiv für Zeitgeschichte” in Zürich, Switzerland, for providing me with pictures of two of the passports. The 1929 document, which is a US passport, was kindly provided by my dear friend Agnes Hirschi, the stepdaughter of Lutz. Furthermore, I included the Swiss passport of Carl’s wife Magda, which was a generous gift from Agnes to me some years ago. Her travel document is remarkable as it was one of the last passports issued by Carl Lutz in his final position in Bregenz, Austria, in 1961. passports carl lutz swiss

What Carl Lutz did during his duty from 1942 to 1945, even when facing Heinrich Himmler in Budapest, was much more than just fulfilling his obligations. In such dark times, during war and Holocaust, he acted not only human but brave and righteous. Indeed, there were not many men of his character during these years. passports carl lutz swiss

Carl Lutz issued so-called protection letters and protection passes, a kind of document he had already “invented” years before in Palestine, covering German diplomatic interests vis-à-vis Great Britain in 1940. These documents were later also used (copied) by Wallenberg, Born, Rotta, and others to save even more Jewish lives.

For me, Carl Lutz is the “Inventor” of these Schutzbriefe and Schutzpaesse (Protection letters and protection passes); hence, his actions play a much more significant role than other righteous diplomats. Hundreds of thousands more Jews would have perished without such documents in the Holocaust. passports carl lutz swiss

The Passports

passports carl lutz swiss
Carl Lutz US passport from 1929. Courtesy of Agnes Hirschi.
passports carl lutz swiss
Swiss Diplomatic passport of Lutz, 1941 for his post as Vice-Consul in Budapest. Archiv für Zeitgeschichte, ETH Zürich: NL Carl Lutz / 8
passports carl lutz swiss
Swiss passport of Lutz, Bern 1950. Archiv für Zeitgeschichte, ETH Zürich: NL Carl Lutz / 8
passports carl lutz swiss
Swiss passport of Magda Lutz 1961 issued by her husband Carl Lutz at his final post as Consul General in Bregenz, Austria. Authors collection.


Further reading…

Carl Lutz – The forgotten Swiss Hero
Under Swiss Protection – Accounts from Wartime
The Passport of Madga Lutz – The wife of a Hero
Swiss Protection Letter – Escaping the Holocaust in Budapest in 1944

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...