Rob Rinder presents his BBC Holocaust documentary
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Thomas Kendrick was at the center of British intelligence operations.
Publicly he was an English gentleman and socialite, but privately Mr. Kendrick was the mastermind behind a massive MI6 spy ring that spanned all of Europe.
Yet as World War II approached, while stationed in Vienna as the British passport officer, Mr Kendrick issued thousands of visas and passports to Jews, as they attempted to escape Nazi persecution.
It is estimated that Mr. Kendrick helped 10,000 people escape the coming Holocaust and has been referred to as “Oskar Schindler of Vienna” by historian Ms. Fry.
Ms Fry shared the miraculous story of the British spy this week on Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast.
She explained, “So things are very tricky in ’33 and ’34. You have fights and clashes in the streets of Vienna from the far left, the Communists are driven underground. It was a very dangerous time.
“And four years later, Hitler, as we know, annexed Austria and that’s when Kendrick’s intelligence work struggles to fight, because he is overtaken by this humanitarian crisis.
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Thomas Kendrick was at the center of British intelligence operations
Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938
“The persecution of Jews occurs overnight in Austria, as soon as Austria is annexed by Nazi Germany.
“So there is a crisis and he continues to save up to 200 Jews a day, and that is in official Foreign Ministry records for which he has not yet been recognized.
Ms Fry added: “There is now a campaign to try to get him recognized by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, because he saved a whole generation of Austrian Jews. “
The UK and US notoriously granted visas to only a limited number of pre-war Jewish refugees.
Mr Kendrick is estimated to have helped 10,000 people escape the coming Holocaust
By September 1939, 70,000 Jewish refugees had been accepted in Britain, but according to British Jewish associations, there were over 500,000 records of Jews who had not been admitted.
Louise London, author of “Whitehall and The Jews, 1933-1948,” even claimed that the British immigration process “was designed to keep large numbers of European Jews from entering, perhaps 10 times more than he does not let in ”.
Mr Kendrick, who was working against this strict immigration policy, was forced to act largely on his own, independent of UK authorities.
Ms Fry said: “He twists his fingers when he tries to get people out with illegal visas into Palestine, as was the case then, and through Yugoslavia.
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UK and US were notoriously strict about how many Jews they allowed entry
“It worked to some extent under visa regulations, but the restrictions that came into effect after Austria was annexed by Germany [were] much stricter.
“So he started falsifying documents to issue false visas, to issue illegal visas for example [for] a thousand teenagers to attend a sporting event in Palestine.
“Of course he knew they weren’t going to come back, that was his way of getting them out.”
The historian also described instances where Mr Kendrick added Jewish children to the passports of British businessmen and smuggled them out of Austria.
The spy was then arrested by the Gestapo and questioned before being expelled from Austria
The spy also helped a whole generation of Austrian Jews enter Africa, where they settled in Kenya, Namibia and Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.
She added, “He forged marriage certificates, anything to get them out.
“Another thing that comes to mind is this story that he sometimes smuggled Jews across the border in a diplomatic car.
“So he had a sign on the back of the window saying ‘diplomatic corps’ and the vehicle was not stopped. We don’t know how much it came out [that way].
“So anything for the rescue efforts. Unbelievable!”
Ultimately, Mr. Kendrick was betrayed by a double agent in 1938 and survived an assassination attempt.
The spy was then arrested by the Gestapo and questioned before being expelled from Austria and forced to return to Britain.
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