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Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Thomas Kendrick was at the centre of British intelligence operations.
Publicly, he was an English gentleman and socialite, yet in private Mr Kendrick was the mastermind behind an enormous MI6 spy network that spanned the whole of Europe.
Yet in the run up to World War 2, while stationed in Vienna as a British passport officer, Mr Kendrick issued thousand of visas and passports to Jews, as they attempted to escape Nazi persecution.
Mr Kendrick is estimated to have helped 10,000 people escape the coming Holocaust, and has been labelled “Vienna’s Oskar Schindler” by historian Ms Fry.
Ms Fry recounted the British spy’s miraculous story this week on Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast.
She explained: “So things are very tricky in ‘33 and ‘34. You’ve got fights and clashes on the streets of Vienna from the far left , the communists are being driven underground. It was a very dangerous time.
“And four years later Hitler, as we know, annexes Austria and that’s when Kendrick’s intelligence work struggles, because he’s overwhelmed by this humanitarian crisis.
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“The persecution of Jews happens overnight in Austria, as soon as Austria is annexed by Nazi Germany.
“So there is a crisis and he goes on to save up to 200 jew a day, and that’s in official foreign office files for which he has yet to be recognised.
Ms Fry added: “There is a campaign now to try to get him recognised at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, because he saved a whole generation of Austrian Jews.”
The UK and US notoriously only granted visas to a limited number of Jewish refugees in the run up to war.
By September 1939, 70,000 Jewish refugees had been accepted in Britain, yet according to the British Jewish associations there were more than 500,000 case files of Jews who were not admitted.
Louise London, author of ‘Whitehall and The Jews, 1933-1948’ even claimed that the UK immigration process “was designed to keep out large numbers of European Jews ‒ perhaps 10 times as many as it let in.”
Mr Kendrick, who was working against this strict immigration policy, was forced to act largely on his own, independent of the UK authorities.
Ms Fry said: “He gets wrapped fingers when he’s trying to smuggle people out on illegal visas to Palestine, as it then was, and out through Yugoslavia.
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“He did work within the visa regulations up to a point, but the restrictions that were coming in once Austria was annexed by Germany [were] far stricter.
“So he started to forge documents to issue false visas, to issue illegal visas for example [for] a thousand teenagers to attend a sporting event in Palestine.
“Of course he knew they weren’t going to come back ‒ that was his way of getting them out.”
The historian also described cases where Mr Kendrick would add Jewish children to the passports of British businessmen and smuggle them out of Austria.
The spy also helped a whole generation of Austrian Jews into Africa, where they settled in Kenya, Namibia and South Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.
She added: “He forged marriage certificates, anything to get them out.
“Another thing that sticks in my mind is this story that he smuggled Jews occasionally over the border in a diplomatic car.
“So he had a sign in the back of the window saying ‘corp diplomatic’ and the vehicle wasn’t stopped. We don’t know how many he got out [that way].
“So anything for the rescue efforts. Incredible!”
Ultimately Mr Kendrick was betrayed by a double agent in 1938 and survived an assassination attempt.
The spy was then arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated before being expelled from Austria and forced to return to Britain.
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