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   Inside Out - West: Monday February 28, 2005

FRANK FOLEY - THE QUIET BRITON

Frank Foley
Frank Foley is finally getting the recognition he deserves

Despite being described as "a true British hero", by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the role Frank Foley played in helping thousands of Jews to escape from Nazi Germany has remained largely unrecognised even in his home town. But all that looks set to change.

Inside Out celebrates this true hero and the lives his bravery helped to save.

Born in Highbridge, Somerset, in 1884, Frank Foley, a quiet and unassuming man, was an MI6 agent based at the British Embassy in Berlin during the 1930s.

Witnessing Hitler's ruthless rise to power, he was well aware of the fate that lay ahead for Jewish people.

Working as a passport control officer as cover for his intelligence work, Frank Foley used his position to provide papers for Jewish people.

He not only interpreted the rules on visas loosely, enabling Jews to escape to Britain and Palestine, but he also helped to forge passports, and even sheltered people in his own home.

At great personal risk, Frank Foley's bravery and compassion saved thousands of lives and some even believe the figure could run into tens of thousands.

A hero uncovered

Michael Smith
Michael Smith travelled to Berlin to pay tribute to Frank Foley's life

Journalist Michael Smith first uncovered Frank Foley's incredible story after being tipped-off by one of his MI6 contacts.

He has now made it his personal mission to ensure this modest man finally gets the recognition he deserves.

"He was very moralistic. He'd been brought up a Catholic by his mother and studied to be a priest," says Michael.

"To him the whole Hitler regime was anathema - he said it was the rule of the devil on earth".

Unsung hero

Whilst Oskar Schindler's efforts in saving thousands of Jews were immortalised in the book Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally and the film Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg, Frank Foley's bravery has gone largely unnoticed.

Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent at the Daily Telegraph and author of a book about Frank Foley, suggests that this is due, in part, to the limited number of Jews he was able to help at any one time.

Schindler was a factory owner, employing and thereby saving the lives of 1,400 Jews who would ordinarily have been sent to the concentration camps.

Frank Foley
This quiet and modest man was Britain's top spy in Berlin

Many of the Jews Schindler saved remained in contact after fleeing Germany, thus giving a voice to his story.

In contrast, many of the thousands helped to safety with forged visas supplied by Frank Foley, were unaware of the identity of their life saving benefactor.

Many Jews would arrive in Palestine with visas they knew they shouldn't have, so understandably kept this information quiet.

In honour

In November 2004, a plaque was placed outside the British Embassy in Berlin to pay tribute to Frank Foley's remarkable courage.

This was the first time that the British government has officially recognised Frank Foley's bravery, but Michael would still like to see him achieve national recognition in the UK.

He says, "he was an amazing man with no apparent regard for the danger, saving lots of Jewish lives.

"I think he should be a national hero".

Frank Foley's efforts have already been recognised by Israel, which declared him a righteous gentile, like Oskar Schindler.

A statue commissioned in Frank Foley's honour
The statue celebrates Frank Foley and his home town Highbridge

Back in Highbridge, the local council have honoured his memory with a new road, whilst the Foley Committee have erected a plaque on the house where he was born.

"I think he was almost an embarrassment to the establishment and the government," says one committee member.

"He was doing it with his own religiously driven agenda. He went out on a limb - that's what I admire about him".

Unimpressed with the road which currently remains unfinished, the committee, through coffee mornings and donations, has raised over £20,000 to commission a statue in honour of his memory.

"We're very, very proud of him," explains Foley Committee member Joyce.

"We really want to make this something to put Highbridge on the map, because he really was such a brave man".

The statue is due to be unveiled in May 2005.

Now 47 years after his death in 1958, the man whose life as an intelligence officer depended on anonymity, in his home town at least, is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
The uncertain spy
The spy who came in from the cold
German submarines
U-Boats
Pill boxes
The poetry of war
Decoy Q-Ships

On bbc.co.uk
World War Two
Briton who saved Jews remembered
Radio 4 - Listen again - Frank Foley

On the rest of the web
World War II
World War II Timeline

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Mike Jones (Burnham-on-Sea)
I applaud Frank Foley's contribution to the Jewish people he saved during WW2. As for the street named after him, it's a great pity the council cannot be shamed into completing it. Currently it's a road that leads to nowhere! The Highbridge end is fenced off next to what was the BT Radio Station and the Burnham-on-Sea counterpart terminates in a load of rubble. All that is stopping the road is a few hundred yards and it's been like that for ages it seems. The council (Sedgemoor) is pleading poverty (as usual) - surely someone somewhere could "gee" them up and shame them into finishing this road and in doing so honouring the man who's name it takes. Even the road name signs are starting to look the worse for wear. I'm sure the BBC has a strong voice to get things moving!

ronald adams
As a Jew I am blown away by the courage and tenacity of this great man, Frank Foley. I am delighted that the Foley committee are intent on honouring his memory so many years after the War. I must attend the unveiling of the statue in May and wish to be sure that I am advised when exactly this will take place. My heartfelt thanks go to the Foley committee and their helpers in Highbridge. They have every reason to feel proud.



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