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Central Wesleyan College alum featured in Ken Burns “U.S. and the Holocaust”

Documentary is airing on PBS and streaming online

In their latest acclaimed PBS documentary series, filmmakers Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein explore America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history. Central Wesleyan College alum Carl Lutz is featured in the series, credited with saving 62,000 Hungarian Jews from deportation to German concentration camps during World War II. 

Born in Switzerland, Lutz immigrated to the U.S. at age 18, working to make enough money to attend Central Wesleyan College in Warrenton studying for the Methodist ministry. 

He worked at the Swiss Consulates in Philadelphia and St. Louis. After leaving the U.S., he became the vice-consul to the Swiss Consulate in Jaffa, in what was then Palestine, until 1942.  After Jaffa,  Lutz became the Swiss vice-consul in Budapest, Hungary.  

Lutz issued letters of protection that authorized Jewish holders to immigrate to  Palestine and put them under Swiss protection against the Germans. Palestine was “under Swiss Protection,” preventing people from being called for forced labor or deportation to death camps. 

Among his many honors, Lutz was the first Swiss national named to the list of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust. 

Carl Lutz in 1944
Carl Lutz in 1944

Carl Lutz studied and lived around Warrenton. Born March 30, 1895 in Walzenhausen, Switzerland, he died February 12, 1975 in Bern, Switzerland.

Lutz is credited with saving 62,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

Carl Lutz lead the largest civilian rescue mission of the Holocaust

Who was Carl Lutz?

Carl Lutz, one of nine children, was born March 30, 1895, in Walzenhausen, Switzerland, where he attended local schools until he immigrated to the United States at the age of 18.

He lived and worked in the U.S. for more than twenty years. For most of these years he worked in Illinois, earning money to start his studies at Central Wesleyan College in Warrenton, Missouri.  

Before finishing his degree at Central Wesleyan, he moved to Washington D.C. in 1920, where he worked at the Swiss Legation and earned a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in 1924. 

Before leaving the United States in 1934, Lutz worked at the Swiss Consulates in Philadelphia and St. Louis.  After leaving the U.S., he became the vice-consul to the Swiss Consulate in Jaffa, in what was then Palestine, until 1942.   

Carl Lutz along with the Central Wesleyan College Gospel Team
Left to right, C. Schroeder, Lutz, Grabe, Deschner, and Miller, members of the Central Wesleyan College Gospel Team circa 1914. Part of the Warren County Historical Society collection.

Lutz in Budapest next to former U.S. Embassy with snow piles
Budapest V. Liberty Square in front of 12. To the left is the Swiss Vice-Consul Carl Lutz, and to the right is his deputy, Hans Steiner, in Budapest’s Liberty Square. The entrance to the Swiss-treated former U.S. Embassy building is in the background. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A lifetime of honors and awards

After Jaffa, Lutz became the Swiss vice-consul in Budapest, Hungary. In 1944, after the Nazis took over Budapest, he saved over 62,000 Hungarian Jews from being sent to death camps.  His wife, Trudi, played a large role in her husband’s activities.

Once the war was over, Lutz received many honors, including:

  • having a street named after him in Haifa and Jerusalem, Israel
  • receiving the Cross of Honor, Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany
  • and being named to the Righteous Among Nations list at the Holocaust Memorial in Israel.  

After passing away in 1975, he continued to receive honors, most notably a memorial dedicated to him in Budapest.

Carl had at least one daughter, Agnes.

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