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‘FRANCE PASSEPORT NANSEN’ on cover; orange with green stripes at top left and lower right of cover; photograph on page 3; pages 16-17 blank; accordion fold
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:
Valentine Kurow was a 34-year-old Jewish woman originally from the seaport town of Odessa in Russia. She had fled Russia with her mother just after the Revolution in 1917 and the ensuing civil war. She was apparently an opera singer from information obtained on a Brussels, Belgium work permit she had completed in 1939. She cited impresario Jean van Glabbeke of the Théatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels where in 1939 she may have sung in the opera Carmen. In any case, she found herself in Bordeaux, France just ahead of the German invasion on May 10, 1940, a stateless immigrant along with thousands of Jews fleeing south attempting to escape the advancing Nazi juggernaut. On June 5, 1940, diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Consul General in the Portuguese Legation in France, signed a Portuguese visa for her, and Valentine was able to cross into Portugal and sail from Lisbon to the United States on the Exeter on July 18, 1940.
This story is all the more remarkable because de Sousa Mendes himself was at this time undergoing a crisis of conscience. Rabbi Chaim Kruger, a Belgian refugee, had prevailed upon de Sousa Mendes, a devout Catholic, to issue visas for all Jewish refugees. After an initial demurral, and a firm refusal on the part of the Rabbi to accept visas for his own family unless all Jews were served, de Sousa Mendes capitulated and, “standing with God against man,” defied Salazar and the notorious “Circular 14” and began issuing lifesaving visas to all refugees. For his sustained defiance of his orders and his actions on behalf of the beleaguered Jews, de Sousa Mendes would be dismissed from service by Salazar and denied retirement benefits for his large family. (See 2022.1.19ab)
The passport itself is a French “Nansen” passport, issued to Ms. Kurow in Paris, France on August 22, 1939, and numbered 27.699. Her photograph is on page 3. Nansen passports were first issued in 1922 by the League of Nations to manage the staggering refugee crisis after World War I. In the wake of that war, governments were upended, national boundaries redrawn with some nations absorbed by other nations, thus creating enormous chaos for stateless refugees trapped in the untenable situation of trying to find sanctuary in countries where they did not fear persecution but lacked the requisite identity documents and proof of nationality to cross borders legally. Many no longer had passports, making international travel virtually impossible. The first Nansen passport was a recognition of the need on the part of both the International Red Cross and the League of Nations to create identity certificates for refugees from the civil war following the Russian Revolution, with the new government of the Soviet Union revoking the citizenship of Russians living abroad, and with the refusal of many former citizens to return. Fridtjof Nansen convened the first conference on this crisis to provide stateless refugees with international protection by way of a travel and identity instrument that gave them an identity and legitimacy. The so-called Nansen passport would in time be recognized by fifty governments.
5 x 3 1/2"
Valentine Kurow, Jean van Glabbeke, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Salazar, Fridtjof Nansen
"Rare Late-Issue "Nansen" Passport with Visa Signed by Aristides de Sousa Mendes for Woman Fleeing France for Safety" (1939). Bulmash Family Holocaust Collection. 2023.1.10.