On October 26, Yad Vashem will recognize Hans von Dohnanyi as a Righteous Among the Nations at an official ceremony in Berlin. Yad Vashem recognizes as Righteous Among the Nations any Gentile proven to have saved Jews during the Holocaust at risk to his or her own life. Director of Yad Vashem’s Switzerland and German-speaking Countries Desk, Arik Rav-On, will preside over the ceremony, in which Israeli Consul to Germany Mordechay Lewy will present the award to von Dohnanyi’s children Klaus von Dohnanyi, Barbara von Dohnanyi-Bayer, and Christoph von Dohnanyi.
During World War II, von Dohnanyi was conscripted to serve in the information department of the German military intelligence organization (Abwehr). In September 1942, von Dohnanyi initiated the rescue of 13 Jews under cover of a clandestine Abwehr operation codenamed U-7. This operation involved deployment of Abwehr agents on foreign soil. Von Dohnanyi manipulated the operation’s shroud of secrecy and the Nazi bureaucracy in order to smuggle the group of Jews (which included elderly, crippled, and children) from Germany to safe harbor in Switzerland. His real goal was to save them from deportation to Nazi death camps, despite the great risk to his own life.
Von Dohnanyi planned the entire rescue operation, and he made a secret visit to Switzerland to verify that the group would be properly received. He also had several secret meetings with a member of the group, Friedrich Arnold, in order to coordinate the escape. Von Dohnanyi had been acquainted with Arnold before the war, and he had long sought a secure way in which to save him and his family.
Von Dohnanyi was later arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of anti-Nazi activity. He was initially charged with foreign currency violations, which he performed in order to transfer the rescued Jews’ funds to a Swiss bank. As part of the Nazis’ final purge of anti-Reich suspects, Von Dohnanyi was executed in April 1945.
In accordance with its eligibility criteria, Yad Vashem’s committee for the Righteous Among the Nations decided on June 17 to honor Hans von Dohnanyi as a Righteous Among the Nations. The decision was made on the basis of the evidence proving his heroic actions, including testimonies by members of the rescued group and other knowledgeable sources.
A person recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations is awarded a specially minted medal bearing his name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of his/her name being added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next of kin in ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through Israel's diplomatic representatives.