Spartacus Blog

Frank Foley, a Christian worth remembering at Christmas

Thursday, 24th December, 2015

John Simkin

When Adolf Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in the Reichstag. Hitler ordered the arrests of leading figures in the the Social Democrat Party and Communist Party and they were sent to recently opened concentration camps. Newspapers that supported these political parties were also closed down during the 1933 General Election.

Although it was extremely difficult for the opposition parties to campaign properly, Hitler and the Nazi Party still failed to win an overall victory in the election on 5th March, 1933. The NSDAP received 43.9% of the vote and only 288 seats out of the available 647. The Catholic Centre Party (BVP) also did well, increasing their votes from 4,230,600 to 4,424,900. (1)

Hitler now proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour. The only way this could be achieved was by obtaining the support of the Catholic Centre Party. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. (2)

Once in power Adolf Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The day after the March, 1933, election, stormtroopers hunted down Jews in Berlin and gave them savage beatings. Synagogues were trashed and all over Germany gangs of brownshirts attacked Jews. In the first three months of Hitler rule, over forty Jews were murdered. (3)

Hitler announced that on 1st April, 1933, that a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful. As a child Christa Wolf watched the SA organize the boycott of Jewish businesses. "A pair of SA men stood outside the door of the Jewish shops, next to the white enamel plate, and prevented anyone who could not prove that he lived in the building from entering and baring his Aryan body before non-Aryan eyes." (4)

Michael von Faulhaber, the Archbishop of Munich, and the author of Judenum, Christentum, Germanentum, that defended the principles of racial tolerance and humanity and called for the people of Germany to respect the Jewish religion. On 12th March, 1933, Faulhaber went to see Pope Pius XI. On his return he made the following statement: "After my recent experience in Rome in the highest circles, which I cannot reveal here, I must say that I found, despite everything, a greater tolerance with regard to the new government... Let us meditate on the words of the Holy Father, who in a consistory, without mentioning his name, indicated before the whole world in Adolf Hitler the statesmen who first, after the Pope himself, has raised his voice against Bolshevism." (5)

On 24th April, 1933, it was reported "that Cardinal Faulhaber had issued an order to the clergy to support the new regime in which he (Faulhaber) had confidence". In the first few months of the new government no Church leaders spoke against the persecution of the Jews. The Concordat between the Nazis and the Catholic Church was signed in July 1933. It gave them the right to hold Catholic services and provided protection for its other organisations such as schools, youth groups and newspapers. However, there was a clause in the agreement that said "Catholic clerics who hold an ecclesiastical office in Germany or who exercise pastoral or educational functions must be a German citizen." The reason for this is that with the rapid rise in anti-semitism in Germany, some Jews had joined the Catholic Church for protection. When the Nuremberg Laws were passed, Jews lost the rights of citizenship and could no longer seek protection from the Catholic Church. (6)

The lack of protests led to the claims that the church was unconcerned about anything except its own welfare. However, this was not true of all Catholics. Erich Klausener, the leader of the Berlin's Catholic Action movement, was an outspoken critic of Hitler's racial policies. A meeting held at Hoppegarten racecourse, on 24th June, 1934, where he spoke out against political oppression, attracted 60,000 people. Six days later he was shot dead in his office by SS officer Kurt Gildisch. Not one German cardinal or bishop protested about this savage act. (7)

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
John Heartfield, On the founding of the State Church (June, 1933)
(Copyright The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive)

August von Galen, Bishop of Münster and Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Eichstätt, did deliver sermons that criticised the racial policies of Hitler. Their opposition increased when they discovered details of Hitler's euthanasia programme. Both these men were never arrested and this destroys the argument that religious leaders kept quiet in order to keep themselves out of the concentration camps. Church leaders were protected by the Nazis. It was those without senior positions who were the ones in danger.

At the time that Hitler came to power the population of Germany was approximately 67% Protestant and 33% Catholic (Jews made up less than 1% of the population). The Protestant Church had a long history of anti-semitism that dated back to Martin Luther. In 1543 he published On the Jews and Their Lies. In the final section of the book, Luther addressed himself to the question of how Christian rulers should treat their Jewish subjects. "What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy... First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them... Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.... Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them... Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb." (8) As Derek Wilson pointed out: "Attitudes to his harsh and uncompromising advice have inevitably been coloured by the appalling events of later centuries and predominately by the Holocaust." (9)

Before the Nazis came to power it was common for leading Protestants to make anti-semitic statements. Lutheran bishops urged people to vote for Hitler. Before the 1932 Presidential election, the Bishop of Kurmark stated that in the past he had always encouraged people to vote for Protestant candidates. However, this time he urged the people to vote for Adolf Hitler: "Among the candidates there is once again a Catholic, namely Hitler. But he is not a candidate of the Roman Catholic Church, rather the leader of the great national movement, to which millions of the Protestants belong." (10)

In July 1933, Pastor Ludwig Müller, a long-term supporter of Hitler was elected as Reich Bishop. His work was supported by Professor Ernst Bergmann, who in 1934 issued the Twenty-Five Points of the German Religion. This included the following: (i) The Jewish Old Testament as well as parts of the New Testament are not suitable for the new Germany. (ii) Christ was not Jewish but a Nordic martyr put to death by the Jews, a warrior whose death rescued the world from Jewish influence. (iii) Adolf Hitler is the new Messiah sent to earth to save the world from the Jews. (11)

Martin Niemöller was the pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ at Dahlem. He was a long-term supporter of Hitler and he made speeches where he argued that Germany needed a Führer. In his sermons he also espoused Hitler's views on race and nationality. During the 1933 General Election he described the programme of the Nazi Party as a "renewal movement based on a Christian moral foundation". However, he objected to the election of Muller and on 21st September, he wrote to all German pastors inviting them to join him in his newly formed Pastors' Emergency League. An estimated 7,000 pastors joined him including Dietrich Bonhoffer. (12)

Niemöller established himself as the leader of the Protestant resistance to Hitler. However, as he admitted later, he remained a committed member of the Nazi Party. Niemöller pointed out that his group "acted as if we had only to sustain the church" and did not accept that they had a "responsibility for the whole nation". Niemöller therefore did not criticize the Nazi Party for putting its political opponents into concentration camps.

Niemöller wrote after the war: "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me." (13)

The New Christianity. 100% Aryan.Philip Zec, Daily Mirror (16th May, 1941)
The New Christianity. 100% Aryan.
Philip Zec, Daily Mirror (16th May, 1941)

Although religious leaders did little to resist Hitler, that is not true of the general population. Between 1933 and 1939 the ordinary courts sentenced 225,000 people to a total of 600,000 years' imprisonment for political and religious offences. During the Nazi period of power, three million Germans were held at one time or another in prison or in the concentration camps on political and religious grounds. (14)

It is claimed that the man who did the most for Jews in Nazi Germany, who had been motivated by his Christian faith, was an Englishman, Frank Foley. He was educated at St Joseph's Roman Catholic School, at Burnham-on-Sea and Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit-run school. (15) Foley studied at a Roman Catholic seminary in Poitiers. However, the "freedom and excesses of student life made him reconsider his suitability for the priesthood and he decided instead on an academic career". (16)

In 1908 he began travelling around Europe, taking teaching jobs to pay his way. (17) On the outbreak of the First World War Foley was living in Hamburg. After escaping back to England he joined the Bedford and Hertfordshire Regiment in 1915. It was not until February 1917 that as a second lieutenant he was sent to the Western Front. According to Michael Smith: "Foley was just five feet four inches tall and in what appears to have been an attempt to compensate for this he had a tendency to bark orders at his men. But coming from a relatively poor background and having been educated in France, rather than at one of the English public schools that produced so many of his fellow officers, he enjoyed an easy rappirt with the troops and seems to have been genuinely well liked." (18)

On 21st March, 1917, Foley was seriously injured when his left lung was damaged by a German bullet. After a six week stay in hospital it was decided that he was no longer fit for front-line action. A senior officer had noted his language skills and he was encouraged to apply for "secret service" with the Intelligence Corps. In 1919, after being interviewed by Mansfield Smith-Cumming, he was recruited by Military Intelligence (MI6) and sent to the British Embassy at Berlin. His cover job was Director of the Passport Control Office. (19)

Foley lived in a flat in Wilmersdorf, a largely Jewish middle-class area in the west of the city. In 1921 he married Kay Lee, the daughter of a hotelier from Dartmouth. The couple's daughter Ursula was born a year later. (20) His first task was to monitor the activities of Bolshevik agents in Germany. It was estimated that there were at least 50,000 Russians in Berlin. Most of them had fled from communism but some were believed to be Cheka agents. (21) During this period Foley developed "a long standing and officially established liaison" with the German police "for the exchange of information about Communism". (22)

Frank Foley also observed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The day after Hitler gained power stormtroopers hunted down Jews in Berlin and gave them savage beatings. Synagogues were trashed and all over Germany gangs of brownshirts attacked Jews. In the first three months of Hitler rule, over forty Jews were murdered. (23) "He (Foley) was appalled by the moral and social depravity of the regime and horrified in the distress and desperation of the Jews as Nazi persecution against them increased." (24)

Hitler urged Jews to leave Germany. On 29th March 1933, Frank Foley sent a message to London: "This office is overwhelmed with applications from Jews to proceed to Palestine, to England, to anywhere in the British Empire." (25) By the end of the year some 65,000 Germans had emigrated. Most of these headed for neighbouring countries such as France and Holland, believing that Hitler would be removed in the near future and they could return to their homes. (26)

Others wanted to move to the Jewish homeland in Palestine. Since the First World War Britain had administered the area with instructions from the League of Nations to "facilitate Jewish immigration". However, after Palestinian Arabs began to riot, British policy on immigration was a constant attempt to appease the Arabs with strict limits on the number of Jews to be allowed into Palestine.

The number of Jews emigrating increased after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race in 1935. The first Reich Law of Citizenship divided people in Germany into two categories. The citizen of "pure German blood" and the rest of the population. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour forbade inter-marrying between the two groups. Some 250 decrees followed these laws. These excluded Jews from official positions and professions. They were also forced to wear the "Star of David". (27)

Adolf Hitler encouraged Jews to emigrate to Palestine by allowing "Jews who left for Palestine to transfer a significant portion of their assets there... while those who left for other countries had to leave much of what they owned behind". Richard Evans has argued: "The reasons for the Nazis' favoured treatment of emigrants to Palestine were complex. On the one hand, they regarded the Zionist movement as a significant part of the world Jewish conspiracy they had dedicated their lives to destroying. On the other, helping Jewish emigration to Palestine might mitigate international criticism of anti-semitic measures at home." (28)

In April 1936, the Arabs declared a general strike, began attacking Jewish property and killed 21 Jews in Palestine. (29) Benno Cohen, chairman of the German Zionist Organisation, complained that after the Arab unrest began, the British Government limited the influx of Jews to Palestine more and more severely. "It was the period of the British policy of appeasement when everything was done in Britain to placate the Nazis and to reduce Arab pressure in Palestine and the whole of the Middle East to a minimum. There were British envoys in posts in Berlin at that time who carried out London's policy to the letter, who were impervious to humanitarian considerations and who more often worked for the greater good of the Nazi regime in friendly cooperation with its ministers". (30)

According to a book on the history of MI6: "Most wanted to go to Palestine, but the very strict quotas imposed by the British meant that few were eligible. Foley realised the danger they were in and tore up the rulebook, giving out visas that should never have been issued, hiding Jews in his home, helping them to obtain false papers and passports and even going into the concentration camps to obtain their release." (31)

Foley told MI6 headquarters about the growing anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. "It is becomring increasingly apparent that the Party has not departed from its original intentions and that its ultimate aim remains the disappearance of the Jews from Germany or, failing that, their relegation to a position of powerlessness and inferiority. Indications of this recrudescence of anti-semitism are apparent in recent legislative measures, in regulations governing admission to the liberal professions, in the boycotting of Jewish concems and in the increasing virulence of speeches of leading members of the Party." (32)

After Kristallnacht the numbers of Jews wishing to leave Germany increased dramatically. A journalist, James Holburn, who worked for The Glasgow Herald, reported large numbers of people outside the British Embassy: "Desperate Jews continue to flock to the British passport control offices in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany in the hope of gaining admission to Great Britain, Palestine or one of the Crown Colonies... A visit to the Passport Control Office here this morning showed that families were often represented only by their womenfolk, many of them in tears, while the men of the family waited in a concentration camp until some evidence of likelihood of emigration could be shown to the Secret Police. While harassed officials dealt firmly but as kindly as possible with such fortunate applicants as had come early enough to reach the inner offices - about 85 persons were seen this morning - a far larger crowd waited on the stairs outside or in the courtyard beneath in the hope of admittance. The doors were closed and guarded much to the annoyance of Germans seeking visas, some of whom complained angrily of being forced to wait among Jews and demanded preferential treatment, though without success." (33)

Reinhard Heydrich reported to Hermann Göring that 20,000 Jewish men had been arrested following Kristallnacht. (34) These men had been taken to concentration camps. However, in January 1939, Reinhard Heydrich ordered police authorities all over Germany to release all Jewish concentration camp prisoners who had emigration papers. They were to be told that they would be returned to the camp for life if they ever came back to Germany. (35) Benno Cohen argued that this meant that the wives of these men besieged Frank Foley in "order to effect the liberation of their husbands from the camps". (36)

The Jewish National Council for Palestine sent a telegram to the British government offering to take 10,000 German children into Palestine. The full cost of bringing the children from Germany and maintaining them in their new homes, as well as their education and vocational training would be paid for by the Palestine Jewish community and by "Zionists throughout the world". (37)

The Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, told his Cabinet colleagues that the proposal should be rejected because of a forthcoming conference to be held in London, between the British government and representation of Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian Jews, and the Arab States". He argued that "if these 10,000 children were allowed to enter Palestine, we should run a considerable risk that the Palestinian Arabs would not attend the Conference, and that, if they did attend, their confidence would be shaken and the atmosphere damaged." (38)

Frank Foley appears to have largely ignored the instructions he received from London. "Captain Foley had to carry out official policy. A happy chance had however brought to the post in Berlin a man who not only fully understood the orders issued to him but also had a heart for the people who often stood in long, anxious queues before him. He took advantage of his powers in so broadminded a way that many who under a stricter interpretation of orders would probably have been refused, were issued with the coveted visas to Palestine. To many who had to deal with him, he appeared almost as a saint." (39)

Margaret Reid had just arrived from London to help Frank Foley in his work. In the evening of 12th December, 1938, she wrote to her mother. "Today I spent entirely on filing - work that ought to have been seen to days before. The staff is about double its normal size and they are closing the office for two days a week in an effort to keep pace with the rush. There was a queue waiting when we got there at nine this morning and I believe some of them had been there since 4 am. When we had elbowed our way through, the porter tried to turn us away until I explained three times that we were here to work, when he laughed and took us to Captain Foley - our chief." (40)

Hubert Pollack, who worked closely with Frank Foley helping the Jews, later commented: "Immigration rules were very strict in those days of economic depression in order to prevent the entry of additional manpower looking for employment. But in the conflict between official duty and human duty Captain Foley decided unreservedly for the fulfilling of his human duty. He never took the easy way out. He never tried to make himself popular with the ambassador or the Home Office by giving a strict and narrow interpretation of the rules. He did not mind incurring the displeasure of top officials in the British Foreign Office and Home office. On the contrary, he was not above sophistic interpretation if he could help Jews to emigrate." (41)

Frank Foley
Frank Foley in 1939

Frank Foley told his friend, Benno Cohen, why he broke the rules to help the Jews in Nazi Germany: "What were the motives that stirred him to act like this? We who worked closely with him in those days often asked ourselves this question. Before all else, Foley was humane. In those dark days in Germany, to encounter a human being was no common occurrence. He told us that he was acting as a Christian and that he wanted to show us how little the Christians who were then in power in Germany had to do with real Christianity. He detested the Nazis and looked on their political system - as he once told me - as the rule of Satan upon earth. He loathed their base doings and regarded himself as duty bound to assist the victims of their misdeeds." (42)

Foley's biographer, Michael Smith, has argued: "He blatantly ignored the strict rules governing the issuance of visas to ensure that large numbers of Jews who might otherwise have gone to the gas chambers were assisted to safety in Palestine and the United Kingdom. Short, balding, and with his spectacles giving him an owlish appearance, Foley made an unlikely hero. Yet he went into the concentration camps to get people out, helped them obtain false passports and hid them in his own home, despite the fact that he had no diplomatic immunity and that the Germans, who were aware he was a spy, might arrest him at any time." (43)

On 25th August, 1939, Captain Foley and his team were ordered home. In a letter written on the ferry to Harwich, his assistant, Margaret Reid, expressed her regret at leaving the Berlin Passport Control Office behind. "They were a good crowd there and though I was worked off my feet I enjoyed the feeling of being of use and trusted." (44) Hubert Pollack has claimed that the Foley's team saved the lives of thousands of German Jews: "The number of Jews saved from Germany would have been tens of thousands less, yes, tens of thousands less, if an officious bureaucrat had set in Foley's place. There is no word of Jewish gratitude towards this man which could be exaggerated." (45)

Historians now accept that this figure of a least 10,000 Jews is correct. When you think of all the publicity Oskar Schindler has received, he is only credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews. The work of Foley, because he was working for MI6 remained a secret until after his death on 8th May 1958. It was not until Benno Cohen testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 that people became aware of what Foley had done. However, because no one has made a movie about the activities of Frank Foley, his name is not well-known. (46)

Maybe this Christmas we should spare a thought for this great Christian. We need to preserve the memory of people who made the correct moral judgements when living in Nazi Germany. I am reminded of what the authors of a book on the White Rose group said about the resistance movement: "The impact of the White Rose cannot be measured in tyrants destroyed, regimes overthrown, justice restored. A scale with another dimension is needed, and their significance is deeper; it goes even beyond the Third Reich, beyond Germany: if people like those who formed the White Rose can exist, believe as they believed, act as they acted, maybe it means that this weary, corrupted, and extremely endangered species we belong to has the right to survive, and to keep on trying." (47)

Previous Posts

Frank Foley, a Christian worth remembering at Christmas (24th December, 2015)

How did governments react to the Jewish Migration Crisis in December, 1938? (17th December, 2015)

Does going to war help the careers of politicians? (2nd December, 2015)

Art and Politics: The Work of John Heartfield (18th November, 2015)

The People we should be remembering on Remembrance Sunday (7th November, 2015)

Why Suffragette is a reactionary movie (21st October, 2015)

Volkswagen and Nazi Germany (1st October, 2015)

David Cameron's Trade Union Act and fascism in Europe (23rd September, 2015)

The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary (17th September, 2015)

Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England (12th September, 2015)

Jeremy Corbyn, the new Harold Wilson? (5th September, 2015)

Anne Boleyn in the history classroom (29th August, 2015)

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The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

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Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

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Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

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The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

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Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)


(1) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 265

(2) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 154

(3) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 15

(4) Christa Wolf, Patterns of Childhood (1976) page 79

(5) Michael von Faulhaber, statement (March, 1933)

(6) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 74

(7) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 56

(8) Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)

(9) Derek Wilson, Out of the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther (2007) page 313

(10) Dietrich Bronder, Before Hitler Came : A Historical Study (1964) page 276

(11) Ernst Bergmann, Twenty-Five Points of the German Religion (1934)

(12) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 80

(13) Martin Niemöller, First they came for the Communists (1946)

(14) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 15

(15) Michael Smith, Frank Foley : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(16) Keith Jeffrey, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence (2013) page 194

(17) Lyn Smith, Heroes of the Holocaust (2013) page 9

(18) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 9

(19) Lynn Barton, Western Morning News (2015)

(20) Lyn Smith, Heroes of the Holocaust (2013) page 10

(21) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 31

(22) Keith Jeffrey, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence (2013) page 302

(23) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 15

(24) Lyn Smith, Heroes of the Holocaust (2013) page 10

(25) Frank Foley, cable to MI6 headquarters (29th March 1933)

(26) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 45

(27) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 208

(28) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 556

(29) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 96

(30) Benno Cohen, statement (25th April, 1961)

(31) Michael Smith, Six: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (2010) page 371

(32) Frank Foley, cable to MI6 headquarters (January, 1935)

(33) James Holburn, The Glasgow Herald (November, 1938)

(34) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 67

(35) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 598

(36) Benno Cohen, statement (25th April, 1961)

(37) The Manchester Guardian (21st November, 1938)

(38) Malcolm MacDonald, cabinet minutes (14th December, 1938)

(39) Benno Cohen, statement (25th April, 1961)

(40) Margaret Reid, letter to her mother (12th December, 1938)

(41) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 110

(42) Benno Cohen, statement (25th April, 1961)

(43) Michael Smith, Frank Foley : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(44) Margaret Reid, letter to her mother (August, 1939)

(45) Michael Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999) page 171

(46) Benno Cohen, statement (25th April, 1961)

(47) Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (1986) page 185