Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6, honored one of its officers on January 30, 2018, for his role in saving an estimated 10,000 German Jews in Nazi Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II. While stationed in the German British Embassy in Berlin, Major Francis
Frank Foley issued thousands of visas to German Jews seeking to flee Nazi persecution allowing them to immigrate to Britain or Palestine.
Foley was born on November 24, 1884 in Somerset, England. Foley graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Hertfordshire Regiment in 1917. He later was encouraged to apply for the Intelligence Corps and became part of a small unit in 1918, which was responsible for recruiting and running networks of secret agents in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. After the armistice, he served for a short time in the Inter-Allied Military Commission of Control in Cologne. He retired from the army in 1921.
Foley was subsequently offered the post of passport control officer in Berlin, which was a cover for his main duties as head of the British Secret Intelligence Service station. From 1922 to 1939, Foley recruited agents and acquired key details of German military research and development.
According to Yad Vashem, “From 1935, an ever growing number of Jews appealed to his office in order to obtain immigration visas to Palestine, to the United Kingdom and to all other parts of the then British Empire. They came either directly or through the Palestine Office of the Jewish Agency or through the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden (Aid Society of German Jewry). Immigration rules were strict in those days of economic depression, but it became more and more obvious that there was a growing need of Jews to leave Germany.” Defying the Foreign Office, he engaged in a secret project to help Jews escape Germany.
To qualify for entry to Palestine, £1,000 in hand was required to get a
capitalist visa. This was a sizable sum at the time, and unavailable to many Jews whose bank and other assets had been frozen by the Nazi authorities. In the case of Elisheva Lernau (born Elsbeth Kahn), who could produce only £10, Foley decided that the balance of £990 would be available to her the minute she landed in Haifa, and on the strength of this issued her a visa for Palestine. Foley similarly bent the rules very liberally in the case of Wolfgang Meyer-Michael, accepting his cousin's guarantee in writing that the sum would be available once Wolfgang had crossed the border into the Netherlands.
In this work, Foley was co-opted by Hubert Pollack, a Jewish community worker who brought to Foley's attention persons in desperate need of help to leave the country. In the case of Gunter Powitzer, jailed in Sachsenhausen for violation of the Nuremberg Laws and having intimate relations with a non-Jewish girl, which produced a child, Foley personally went to Sachsenhausen to hand him an exit visa for Palestine, which included Gunter's semi-Jewish son, and both left Germany in February 1939. In the matter of a 20-year-old woman imprisoned because of her membership in the outlawed Community Party, Foley ruled that since she was 18 years old at the time of her arrest, her membership in the Party was to be viewed simply as
youthful fervor and he granted her a visa.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Foley lacked diplomatic immunity; nevertheless, he “risked arrest and even his life by entering concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen, to present camp authorities with visas issued for Jewish prisoners, enabling them to escape. Foley also hid Jewish families fleeing from persecution in his home.” Among those they sheltered was Leo Baeck, chairman of the Association of German Rabbis.
Ultimately, Foley is credited with issuing 10,000 visas to Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany. Yad Vashem cites the case of Miriam Posner, who was 16 when she sought a visa to Palestine. “Foley saved my life. We heard that there was this man Foley who was kind to the Jews. My mother begged him. He just paced up and down a little and then asked for my passport and put the visa stamp on it. He did not ask any questions.”
Foley left Germany when the war began, but left behind visas with instructions to distributed them to people seeking to escape the Nazis.
In 1941, Foley was given the task of questioning Hitler’s Deputy Rudolf Hess, after Hess’s flight to Scotland. After Hess was hospitalized in 1942, Foley helped co-ordinate MI5 and MI6 in running a network of double agents called the Double Cross System.
Foley returned to Berlin very soon after the war under the cover of Assistant Inspector General of the Public Safety Branch of the Control Commission in Germany, where he was involved in hunting for ex-SS war criminals.
In 1949, Foley retired to Stourbridge, Worcestershire, where he died on May 8, 1958, before receiving any recognition for his heroism.
During the 1960 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Foley was described as “the Scarlet Pimpernel” for the way he risked his own life to save Jews threatened with death by the Nazis. Benno Cohn, head of the Zionist Federation in Germany, testified that immediately after Kristallnacht he frantically called his superiors in Jerusalem to find ways to save the Jews of Germany. He said,
we succeeded in getting a sizable number of Jews to Palestine. That was thanks to a man who is to my mind to be counted among the Righteous Gentiles … Captain Foley [who] did all he could to enable Jews to immigrate to Palestine.… One may say that he saved thousands of Jews from death.
Reverend John Kelley, Foley’s nephew, an Anglican priest said about his uncle: “I believe that God put Frank Foley in Berlin to do His Work. Foley did what he did as a witness to the Christian churches to show what they should have done at that time, but did not do.”
Captain Foley died in 1958.
On April 27, 1961, the Daily Mail ran a story written by Foley’s widow describing his efforts to save as many Jews as possibly with visas to the United Kingdom. She said that when he could not provide a British visa, he would contact friends working for other embassies to secure visas to their countries. His story was also told in the book, Foley, the Spy who saved 10,000 Jews (1999), by Michael Smith.
In 1999, Yad Vashem accorded him the honor of one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.” In 2004, a plaque honoring Foley was unveiled at the British Embassy in Berlin and, in 2010, he was awarded the title of British Hero of the Holocaust by the British government. At the 2018 ceremony, MI6 unveiled a bust of the agent at the agency’s London headquarters. The same year a statue of Foley was dedicated in Stourbridge.
Yad Vashem Archives M31–8378; M. Smith, Foley: the Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999); M. Paldiel, Saving the Jews (2000), 53–60.
[Mordecai Paldiel (2nd ed.)
Sources: Eytan Halon,
Mi6 Honors British Spy For Saving 10,000 Jews From Nazi Germany, Jerusalem Post, (January 30, 2018);
“Francis Foley,” Yad Vashem:
“Frank Foley,” Wikipedia;
Foley, Francis, Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.