Plaque unveiled in Marseille in honour of Czechoslovak diplomat Vladimír Vochoč

A memorial plaque was unveiled in the French city of Marseille on Friday dedicated to former Czechoslovak diplomat Vladimír Vochoč, who helped to save hundreds of Jews from France during the Holocaust. Despite his service to the country, he was persecuted by the Communists and spent more than seven years in prison.

Anne-Claire Veluire | Foto: Kristýna Maková,  Radio Prague International

Vladimír Vochoč, who served as Czechoslovakia’s consular official in Marseille between 1938 and 1941, enabled hundreds of Jews to escape from France by providing them with Czechoslovak passports. His actions were linked to a rescue operation organised by US journalist Varian Fry.

The two men allegedly struck a deal: While Vochoč issued a passport to anyone proposed by Varian Fry, the American financed the printing of the false documents. They are believed to have saved around 2,500 people in this way.

Anne-Claire Veluire is a former Radio Prague journalist who now works for the PR department of the City Hall in Marseille:

Jean Moulin | Photo: Studio Harcourt/RMN/,  public domain

“Among them was the famous French resistance fighter Jean Moulin, who allegedly left France on a Czechoslovak passport. The Association, which deals with his life and activities, states this on its website. I have searched for it, but the association has no such passport in its archives. This is a bit of a historical problem - none of the passports issued by Vochoč has actually survived.

“It is almost certain that among them was the recently deceased Czech Lotta Hitschmann, who founded a large humanitarian organisation in Canada. She travelled from Europe via Marseille, so it can be assumed that she had a passport issued by Vladimír Vochoč.”

In 2016, more than 30 years after his death, Vladimír Vochoč was awarded the “Righteous among the Nations”, the highest Israeli tribute to gentiles who saved the lives of Jews during the Second World War. It is thanks to this recognition that he has become more widely known in France, especially among historians.

As of this Friday, Vochoč will be commemorated by a new plaque, placed across the US Consulate General, next to the one commemorating Varian Fry. As Anne-Claire Veluire points out, the two men had more in common than saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Varian Fry | Photo: 'Poutníci'/Bohemian Heritage Found

“Both were under pressure from the Vichy regime for their work and had to leave France afterwards. In the US, Fry tried to draw attention to what was happening in Europe, even writing a newspaper article about the murder of Jews. However, he was not given any attention and only received recognition shortly before his death.”

Vladimír Vochoč, who also assisted demobilized Czechoslovak soldiers and aided Czechoslovak citizens stranded in France, escaped from France in 1941 and subsequently worked in the exile government in London.

Despite his service to the country, he was condemned in a communist show trial on charges of treason. He spent more than seven years in Valdice prison before being released under an amnesty in 1960. He died in 1985 at the age of 91.