Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering how one man confronted evil

British spy rescued Jews in Nazi Germany in example to churches

By Sharon Sheridan
Posted Jan 31, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] For many, the Holocaust remains the ultimate example of evil. A retired Episcopal priest in Florida can take pride in knowing a family member confronted that evil and saved thousands of lives.

Frank Foley “was what you might call an uncle-in-law: He married my mother’s sister,” recounted the Rev. John Kelley of Safety Harbor, located near Clearwater.

A Roman Catholic Englishman who considered entering the priesthood, Foley was in East Prussia on a European tour when World War I began.

Fearing internment as an enemy alien, Kelley said, “Somehow, he got hold of an East Prussian officer’s uniform.” Foley boarded a train and posed as an officer traveling to join his unit on the Western front. He ultimately hiked into Holland and rode a fishing boat back to England, where he joined the army as an officer. Sent to the front in 1918, he was severely wounded in his first action.

His exploits hadn’t gone unnoticed. MI6, British military intelligence, recruited him and posted him to Berlin as head of station. His cover as the top British spy in Berlin was passport control officer.

“Back then, the passport control officer had absolute authority over who got visas to go to Britain or British dependencies,” Kelley explained.

And that is how he began saving lives.

“When Hitler came to power in ’33, my uncle was very, very much aware of what was going on and what happened,” Kelley said. He and his mother visited Foley in 1934, celebrating his sixth birthday there.

“I have a very, very vivid memory of him,” he said. “I remember a number of things about that visit. I remember seeing a squad of German brownshirts, who were the forerunners of the SS, goose-stepping down the street.”

Kelley also remembers his mother questioning Foley about late-night visitors. “We had no idea at that point that he was with MI6.”

They later learned Foley received visits from espionage contacts, and from Jews seeking visas to escape Germany. At that time, Germany let Jews leave — provided they left their assets behind — Kelley noted.

“He gave a lot of visas to Palestine, which made the Palestinians very angry,” Kelley said. Foley also was criticized for giving visas to Jewish communists.

“He broke rules, he made up rules, he ignored rules. He was criticized for this,” Kelley said. “He said he did what he did, rescuing the Jews, to show the churches what they should have done or been doing.”

Two weeks before World War II began, Foley was posted to Norway, where he helped organize the resistance movement.

After Foley’s death in 1958, Kelley said, “a group of Jewish people whom he had given visas to get out of Germany got some land in Israel, and they created a special memorial park in memory of my uncle and planted trees for each family or each person that he got out.”

In 1999, Israel officially recognized Foley as “righteous among the nations” at the national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. Kelley represented the family at the ceremony, to which he was asked to wear clericals. Several Israeli military students attended, the idea being to show them how those in authority can help people, Kelley said.

“Several people came up to me with tears in their eyes who said, ‘If it wasn’t for your uncle, I wouldn’t be here today.’ It was quite a ceremony.”

Foley’s story is told in the book “Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews” by Michael Smith, published by Coronet Books, Hodder and Stoughton, London.

— Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent.