spacer spacer spacer
yalealumnimagazine.com   about the Yale Alumni Magazine   classified & display advertising   back issues 1992-present   our blogs   The Yale Classifieds   yam@yale.edu   support us


The Yale Alumni Magazine is owned and operated by Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., a nonprofit corporation independent of Yale University.

The content of the magazine and its website is the responsibility of the editors and does not necessarily reflect the views of Yale or its officers.


Civil Disobedience

Since 1998, Robert Kim Bingham ’65 has been campaigning for a U.S. postage stamp in honor of his father, Hiram Bingham IV ’25 (son of the Hiram Bingham who discovered Machu Picchu), who saved hundreds of Jews and other refugees while working for the U.S. State Department as vice consul in Marseille from 1937 to 1941. On May 30, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a Bingham stamp as part of its “Distinguished American Diplomats” series. Robert Kim Bingham, a special counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, lives in Salem, Connecticut. Bryan Mark Rigg ’96, the author of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers and Rescued From the Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe, talked to Bingham about his father’s life.

Y: Why did your father go into the diplomatic service?

B: As a strong Christian, he believed in helping others. He took the golden rule of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” seriously and felt he could do the most for his fellow man by working in the government.

Y: How would you describe your father?


“My father did the right thing even though he had to disobey the U.S. government.”

B: He was a man with a high sense of integrity and a gentle heart. He was very humble—that is why we never knew about his heroic efforts until after his death in 1988, when the family went through his personal archive. He was the only diplomat from America honored at the initial Yad Vashem “Visas for Life” exhibition in Israel in 1998. Ironically, he would probably be embarrassed by all this attention. He only allowed himself to brag about his wonderful wife, Rose, and his 11 children.

Y: How was your father in a position to rescue Jews in Marseille?

B: He could issue visas, and he did so for many Jews. He also hid several in his diplomatic residence. We know he saved hundreds, and he may have helped several thousand more to escape. He helped rescue the famous painter Marc Chagall, the prominent anti-Nazi writer Lion Feuchtwanger, and the brilliant Nobel Prize physiologist Otto Meyerhof.

Y: What do you think he felt he was helping Jews to escape from? Most diplomats at his level did not understand the Holocaust. They may have heard rumors and even received some actual reports about the killing, but most did not understand or want to believe what they were being told.

B: Well, my father saw the lines of desperate people outside the consulate. He could not turn his back on them. They were souls in need. When he heard about the concentration camps, he actually went and visited them.

Y: Wait a minute. Your father went to Nazi camps? Most U.S. diplomats didn’t take the initiative to do that.

B: Yes, we learned from his papers that he was able to visit camps like Gurs and others. He was horrified by what he saw and this motivated him to help people. He was giving individuals visas a few days before they were to be deported.

Y: Officials like immigration head Breckenridge Long and Secretary of State Cordell Hull showed themselves to be quite bigoted about helping Jews suffering under Hitler. Why do you think your father acted as he did?

B: He was full of compassion. Before I went to work for the government, he told me that the greatest good is done from having compassion for your fellow man. He never mentioned how he rescued people during World War II, but now I know that when he told me this, he was speaking from a place of conviction expressed in action.

Y: Did your father ever have any problems with U.S. officials for what he was doing?

B: Well, you mention Cordell Hull. Hull did write the embassy in September 1940 reprimanding the U.S. officials there for helping Jews escape. He was disappointed that officials disobeyed immigration policies and local Vichy laws. There is even evidence to suggest that the Vichy French and Germans were complaining about Harry to Washington, D.C. Although Hull does not mention my father by name, it was clear that he was one of the people Hull was addressing. My father defied department policy. We also found his writings from 1945 expressing his anger at the State Department for passing him over for promotion; he soon thereafter resigned from the foreign service.

Y: What do you think is most important to take away from your father’s life?

B: My father believed that if you know something is right and do not act on it, then you really do not believe in it. Most lack the courage when it comes to doing the right thing. My father did the right thing even though he had to disobey the U.S. government and jeopardize his career. He did it because he knew that ultimately, it was evil to obey laws that would send people to their deaths. We still have genocide today throughout the world, and we can do so much more. This stamp issued in my father’s memory should be a reminder to all of us to examine our lives and see if we are being honest with the information we are receiving. Life is all about doing the best you can with the information you have. the end


©1992–2012, Yale Alumni Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Yale Alumni Magazine, P.O. Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905, USA. yam@yale.edu