Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Who was Harry Bingham and why is he getting a stamp?

Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV was an amazing human being.
He came from an illustrious family.
His father (whom the fictional character Indiana Jones was based) was the archeologist who unearthed the Inca City of Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1911.
Harry entered the US diplomatic service and, in 1939, was posted to Marseilles, France, as American Vice-Consul.

The USA was then neutral. President Roosevelt's government ordered its representatives in Marseilles not to grant visas to any Jews, since the administation didn't want to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime.
Bingham found this policy immoral and, risking his career, did all in his power to undermine it.
In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted over 2,500 USA visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and the family of the writer Thomas Mann.

He also sheltered Jews in his Marseilles home, and obtained forged identity papers to help Jews in their dangerous journeys across Europe.
He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean and even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket.
In 1941, Washington lost patience with him.
He was sent to Argentina, where later he continued to annoy his superiors by reporting on the movements of Nazi war criminals.
Eventually, he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely.

Bingham died almost penniless in 1988.

Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found some letters in his belongings after his death.
In 2001, Harry Bingham was portraited in the movie "Varian's War".

After fifty years, Bingham finally got the recognition he deserves.
A few months ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Bingham, finally and officially recognizing him as a hero.
A stamp honoring this amazing man can be purchased at any US postoffice.

Bingham is now been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations and the State of Israel.

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