Media Contacts

Office of Media Relations
2000 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20006

Phone: 202-994-6460
Fax: 202-994-9025
E-mail: [email protected]


Swiss Diplomat Carl Lutz Awarded George Washington University’s President’s Medal

Carl Lutz
GW President Steven Knapp and Agnes Hirschi

Alumnus Who Saved Jewish Families from Extermination will be Portrayed in an Upcoming Hollywood Film

March 05, 2014
Maralee Csellar
202-994-7564; [email protected]
Candace Smith
202-994-3566; [email protected]
WASHINGTON—Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, B.A. ’24, who saved the lives of 62,000 Jews from Nazi persecution, was posthumously awarded the George Washington University President’s Medal—the highest honor the university president can bestow. George Washington President Steven Knapp presented the award during a ceremony Monday at the university. Mr. Lutz’s daughter, Agnes Hirschi, accepted the award on his behalf.
“The George Washington University is proud to award the President’s Medal posthumously to our distinguished alumnus Carl Lutz, with immeasurable gratitude for his heroism and humanity,” Dr. Knapp said.
While stationed in Budapest from 1942 to 1945, Mr. Lutz served as head of Switzerland’s foreign interests section, representing the interests of a dozen countries which had severed ties with the Hungarian government (then aligned with Germany). During this time, he used protecting power mandates (allowing Switzerland to protect citizens of other countries living in Hungary), saving Jewish families from extermination.
When the Germans began occupying Hungary in 1944, Mr. Lutz set up 76 safe houses around Budapest, declaring them annexes of the Swiss Legation — among these locations was the legendary Glass House, where 3,000 Jews found refuge and the Zionist Youth Movement was headquartered. Mr. Lutz negotiated with the Hungarian government and the Nazis to issue letters of protection to 8,000 Hungarian Jews, guaranteeing their safety. In an audacious feat of diplomatic skill, he then deliberately misinterpreted the permission he had received as applying to families rather than individuals, and secretly issued tens of thousands of additional letters, sometimes literally pulling Hungarian Jews out of concentration camp marching lines and handing them protection documents.
"It is a distinctive honor for me to be part of this ceremony and to pay tribute to my former colleague and fellow citizen Carl Lutz, whose resolve, great courage, and moral integrity gave him the strength to save so many people’s lives. His attitude deserves our deep gratitude and recognition, and I am thankful to the George Washington University for honoring their alumnus Carl Lutz with the President's Medal," said Manuel Sager, ambassador of Switzerland to the United States.
Mr. Lutz has been honored many times for his bravery. In 1957, he was recognized by the Swiss Parliament, in 1999, a national postage stamp was issued by the Swiss Confederation, and was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1991, the city of Budapest established the Carl Lutz Monument, located at the entrance to the city’s former Jewish quarter. This spring he will be portrayed in an upcoming film by Hollywood’s Liberty Studios, Walking with the Enemy.
Established in 1988, the George Washington University’s President’s Medal is given to individuals who have exhibited courage, character and leadership in their chosen fields and who exemplify the ability to improve the lives of others. Past recipients include Mikhail Gorbachev; Walter Cronkite; Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres; United States Sens. William Frist and Joseph Lieberman; NASA astronaut Charles J. Camarda, M.S. ’80; Tony- and Emmy-award winning actor Hal Holbrook; jazz legend David Brubeck; Carlos Slim; philanthropist Albert H. Small; and Norma Lee and Morton Funger, A.A. ’52, B.A. ’53, and labor leader James P. Hoffa.
In the heart of the nation’s capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 130 countries.