One of the ways to get Jewish people out of German internment camps in western Europe before they were deported “to the east” was to arrange a South American passport for them through consulates in Switzerland. In May 1943 a Dutch Jewish friend of John Weidner’s who was a refugee in Geneva found out about this trick and proposed it to Weidner.

This is what he told Weidner to do. First, find someone in an internment camp who is in serious danger of being deported to be killed in Poland [sic], not someone who is likely to be deported to a work camp. Then get all that person’s particulars: name, date of birth etc etc. Most importantly, find a way to talk to that person without the Germans knowing. Tell him or her what you are doing so that if the German commandant questions them about their sudden South American citizenship, they can respond that they have many relatives in South America and it’s entirely possible that one of them did this for them.

Weidner’s friend in Geneva proposed this as a test but doesn’t mention it again in his correspondence. But it did work. I know from other documents that a Dutch priest in Paris went into the notorious deportation camp of Drancy near Paris to arrange such passports for Dutch Jews interned there and that South American passports were then arranged through Weidner. And there are copies of such unlikely passports in the Weidner Archives.

The trick couldn’t be used for everyone because of the risk that the Germans would refuse to honor any such naturalizations if there were too many. But it did save a few people.