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Passports Exhibit

Passports are formal documents issued by a government that state that an individual is a citizen of a particular country, with the rights of that country. Passports are primarily used for travel and/or identification. The Nuremberg race laws of September 15, 1935, stated that Jews were no longer Reich (German) citizens. Yet, Jews still had German Passports. On October 5, 1938, the Reich Ministry of the Interior invalidated all German passports held by Jews. Jews had to turn in their passports so they could have the letter “J” (for Jew) stamped on them. By August of 1938, German authorities declared that Jews with a “non-Jewish” first name had to add “Israel” or “Sara” to their name. Jews in Nazi-occupied countries also had these requirements.


Studying Holocaust-era passports can be fascinating. One can see the stamped “J” and the added Israel/Sara that show compliance with the laws. One can also see a photo and a name, which enables us to relate to the individual. We learn other information such as birthdate, birthplace, height, weight, eye color, and hair color. We can also analyze the handstamps to see where an individual has traveled, and we can assume that the person remained in the country that made the last handstamp in the passport. During the Holocaust when Jews and other persecuted groups were desperate to leave Nazi-occupied lands, passports marked with a “J” could be a death sentence while some passports, issued by free countries, could be lifesavers. Explore the passports in this collection.


WWII Passport of Heleni S. Pouttidou, issued by Greek Authorities to a 46-year-old Jewish woman who managed to escape to the USSR following the Nazi takeover of Greece in April 1941. She went to Turkey and then by train via Syria and Lebanon to Palestine. As an illegal immigrant, she did not get permanent permission to stay but was considered a temporary resident. Permission was extended seven times, from August 1942 until February 1947 as evidenced by the many Palestine hand stamps. This passport shows dozens of visas, transit and consular handstamps, including many permits of the Greek Consulate in Jerusalem as well as about 15 Greek and Turkish adhesives. This passport shows a woman’s unending quest to escape WWII and the ultimate reward of getting to safety.


United Kingdom passport issued by the British Consulate in Lisbon on March 24, 1941, to Mazaltob Levy, a “British Subject by Birth”.  The passport claims she was born in Lisbon, on December 23, 1911. We will never know if she was British by birth. Many Jews from Nazi-occupied lands went away from Germany. Some went east to Russia and became trapped there and were unable to escape.  Many others fled west to the free part of France. From France, many continued to go on foot across the heavily guarded border of Spain and then across the dangerous Pyrenees to Portugal. In Portugal, many Jews were able to obtain exit visas and leave mainland Europe.