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United States/Stamps : Who was Harry Bingham and why is he getting a stamp?

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11 Jun 2011
I am particularly ignorant about postal history, and history in general. A friend sent me this info which I thought might be of interest to those more scholarly members of SOR. David Teisler has some wonderful comments, so be sure to get to them at the end. Special thanks to Tim Auld for the handholding to get this up.
Dan C.

Who was Harry Bingham and why is he getting a stamp?


Just an interesting piece of evidence of the curious behavior of the Roosevelt administration toward the Jews during WWII :-

A few months ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV. For over fifty years, the State Department resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. For them he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Now, after
his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.

Bingham came from an illustrious family. His father (whom the fictional character Indiana Jones was based) was the archeologist who unearthed the Inca City of Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1911. Harry entered the US diplomatic service and, in 1939, was posted to Marseilles ,
France, as American Vice-Consul.

The USA was then neutral and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime, President Roosevelt's government ordered its representatives in Marseilles not to grant visas to any Jews. Bingham found this policy immoral and, risking his career, did all in his power to undermine it.

In defiance of his bosses in Washington , he granted over 2,500 USA visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He also sheltered Jews in his Marseilles home, and obtained forged identity papers to help Jews in their dangerous journeys across Europe . He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean and even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket. In 1941, Washington lost patience with him. He was sent to Argentina , where later he continued
to annoy his superiors by reporting on the movements of Nazi war criminals.

Eventually, he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely. Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found some letters in his belongings after his death. He has now been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations and the State of Israel.

I was completely unaware of him or his activities.

I am somewhat familiar with Roosevelt’s approach to Vichy. It’s not quite as cut and dried as it seems. Remember that America’s entry into the European theatre was through North Africa, and not the part occupied by Rommel, but through Darlan-controlled Vichy territory. Darlan had already demonstrated his willingness to risk the fleet rather than disobey Vichy orders. Roosevelt (and Eisenhower) were playing to Vichy not out of simple courtesy, but to try to keep them from taking an active part in defense against an American landing.

Only DeGualle, in London, was promoting an anti-Vichy approach, and he was a general without an army.

I say all this just so that Roosevelt isn’t tarred as anti-Semitic or as an appeaser. All history must be remembered in context, the same context that had America in bed with the Soviets, without whom it is unlikely the Allies would have defeated Germany (and without defeating Germany, there is no defeating Japan).

And, having said all this, I’d love it if you started off a similar conversation on our discussion board with your email or some variation of it.


(Message edited by admin on June 11, 2011)
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20 Jun 2011
re: Who was Harry Bingham and why is he getting a stamp?

David and Dan

Just a few comments. I of course was unaware of Bingham and his role in helping the Jews escape from Vichy France. However, I have been using my Netflix subscription to re-watch the TV mini-series "War and Remembrance" based on Herman Wouk's novel by the same name. In the series is a character named "Leslie Sloat" who is working within the State Department to get the US government to recognize the plight of the Jews in Europe during World War II. The actor even looks very much like the stamp's photo of Bingham. His and other activities are relevant since the primary character's Jewish daughter-in-law and grandson are trapped in Europe. Eventually she is sent to Auschwitz. Also there is character playing the American Consular officer in Marseilles who is detained by the Germans.

As far as the Roosevelt administration's attitude toward the Jews in World War II, I have a feeling that what we may view as a calculated disregard was really a pragmatic recognition that only winning the war could end their suffering. Also I might point out that Vichy France tolerated and protected their Jewish refugees up until the actual invasion of North Africa prompted the Germans to occupy all of France. Cordell Hull may have really allowed Bingham to do what he did in Vichy without officially approving of it. And we were not at war with Germany until they declared war on us after Pearl Harbor which was late in 1941.

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Silence in the face of adversity is the father of complicity and collusion, the first cousins of conspiracy..
20 Jun 2011
re: Who was Harry Bingham and why is he getting a stamp?

I was going to write a comment about Wouk's books, "Winds of War" and "War and Rememberance," and point out that they provide a intereting glimpse of how average people were effected by WW II, but you beat me too it.
The problem with Vichy, or at least one problem was that much of the French Fleet was moored at the Naval Base in Toulon Harbor, a few miles east of Marseille on the Mediterranean Sea.
The fear was that the Axis would violate the terms of the armistice and sieze all those vessels an act that would upset the balance of Naval power in the central Mediterannean and affect the battles raging acros the Libyan Desert as well as the defense of Malta.
Eventually when the US and British forces invaded Morocco and Algeria the Nazis did act but some of the officers and crews scuttled their vessels in Toulon Harbor to keep them from falling into Axis hands.
That is the background for some of the events of late 1942 and one of the reasons that the US did a delicate balancing act until Operation Torch was set in motion.
This is a somewhat neglected area of the history of WW II and even though Wouk's books are quasi-historical fiction he does, in my opinion try to create the story in a way that can lead to a greater understanding of the situation that Hiram Bingham found himself in during those tulmultuous days.

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