An unsung Holocause hero, until now (Book review) (National Post, June 14, 1999)

By Barbara Kay

Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

By Michael Smith

(Hodder & Stoughton, 352 pages, $44.95)

Thanks to Michael Smith, an intelligence affairs journalist at The

Daily Telegraph, Frank Foley will join Oskar Schindler and Raoul

Wallenberg in the small but glittering firmament of Holocaust


Foley's rescue from a historical oubliette began by chance during

unrelated research. A former MI6 officer interviewed by Smith spoke

glowingly of a brilliant spy who had helped thousands of Jews escape

from Nazi Germany: ``Schindler pales into insignificance alongside

his work, I don't think [Foley] ever got the recognition he should

have done.''

Further investigation revealed that Yad Vashem, the Israeli

institution mandated to preserve the memory of Holocaust ``martyrs

and heroes,'' had never awarded Frank Foley the highest distinction

(to gentiles): ``Righteous among the Nations'' -- on grounds of

``insufficient evidence.'' But Smith found plenty of evidence -- and

he became eager to archive and publish the full, inspirational story

of this unsung hero.

This is a birth-to-death chronicle that is classic (even retro) in

style. Its voice is lucid, manly, objective and trustworthy. Smith

is no rooter after the delectable truffles of childhood traumas that

Explain All. Foley is simply the true story of an unconflicted man

and his times.

Recruited by the newly founded MI6 in 1918, largely for his fluency

in German and French, Foley was sent to Berlin as Passport Control

Officer. Overtly, he monitored all applicants for visas to Britain

and her empire. Covertly, he spied. At first it was the Bolsheviks,

as Berlin was the epicentre of Russian plans for world revolution.

And in that feverishly hedonistic and volatile between-wars

atmosphere (``couples desperate for cash made love live on stage''),

Communist agitators did indeed find propitious terrain for converts.

Soon, however, and against diplomatic conventions, Foley was spying

on his host country.

With cool expertise, Smith takes us through Hitler's rise to power,

using a judicious selection of historical description and survivor

accounts to evoke the poisonous racist ether that settled over

Berlin. Working 14-hour days to cope with sometimes mile-long queues

of desperate, impoverished Jews frantic to obtain visas, Foley bent

every rule, acquired fake passports, exploited his Berlin network

for discreet rubber stampmakers, journeyed personally to

concentration camps waving last minute visas to snatch a few lucky

Jews from the jaws of death, and most amazingly -- for unlike

Wallenberg, Foley had no diplomatic status or immunity -- welcomed

fugitive Jews into his own home. (His wife, Kay, supporting him in

this and everything, is not adequately credited for her strength of


Why did Foley do it? Schindler's enterprises at least benefited

financially from his interventions. Foley had literally nothing to

gain. Smith steers scrupulously clear of speculation, and seems

content with the simple explanation of Benno Cohen, then chairman of

the German Zionist Organization and later Knesset member: ``He . . .

was acting as a Christian and . . . wanted to show us how little the

Christians who were then in power in Germany had to do with

Christianity. He detested the Nazis and looked on [them] as the rule

of Satan on Earth.''

All injustices, including the anti-Semitic strains in British

bureaucracy, provoked Foley to insubordination. Because of

arbitrarily reduced refugee quotas, he did not tell Whitehall about

the first ``Exodus'' sailings to Palestine, and when the Foreign

Office instructed him to stem the tide of Jewish flight to Shanghai

(the only refuge not requiring visas), his trenchant dispatch home

read: ``It would be considered humane on our part not to interfere

officially to prevent Jews choosing their own graveyards . . . They

would rather die as free men in Shanghai than as slaves in Dachau.''

But saving Jews was only part of Foley's career. He cultivated

anti-Nazi German scientists through whom the allies harvested

invaluable atomic information; he was the official interrogator of

deputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess (Foley considered Hess insane); he

organized the operation that was to save Norway's gold reserves from

the Nazis; and he oversaw the `Double-Cross' system -- feeding

disinformation to the Nazis to draw out their own plans in the

decisive final months of the war. Postwar, he flushed out Nazi gangs

in hiding. It all makes fascinating reading.

Foley retired to complete and utter obscurity in Devon, never

speaking to anyone of his adventures. He pottered Britishly about in

his garden until his death in 1973, his passing quite overlooked in

England, though not in Israel, where his German-Jewish beneficiaries

planted a garden in his honour and lobbied for a more suitable

commemoration. Happily, in writing this book, Smith achieved his

end. Foley was recently recognized as ``Righteous Among the

Nations'' by Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem. They

also serve who `only' write the history books.

© National Post 1999