Britain’s Schindler: Frank Foley, the MI6 Spy Who Saved 10,000 German Jews

Francis Edward Foley was an unassuming passport control officer at the British Embassy in Berlin who risked his life to help Jewish families escape Nazi Germany. 


Major Francis ‘Frank’ Foley was a compassionate hero when he joined the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) post-war. Stationed in Berlin from 1922 to 1939, Foley was Britain's most senior spy and utilized his role as passport control officer at the British Embassy to extend a lifeline to thousands of Jews threatened by the horrors of war in Nazi Germany.

Frank Foley, MI6 hero
Frank Foley

He stands in comparison to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist celebrated for rescuing 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, but Foley emerged from the shadows as an unsung hero credited with safeguarding an astonishing 10,000 German Jewish lives.

“We heard that there was this man, Foley, who was kind to the Jews,” recalled Miriam Posner, who was 16 when she traveled from East Prussia to beg for a visa to Palestine, although she did not meet Britain’s entry conditions. “Foley saved my life. He just paced up and down a little and then asked for my passport and put the visa stamp on it. He did not ask any questions.”


“He was small and quiet,” she added. “You would never suspect he was a spy.”

Frank Foley: The Unassuming Spy

Born in 1884, Foley was a small, slightly overweight man in spectacles. Yet, beneath this unremarkable exterior, he carried out extraordinary deeds.

He grew up in Somerset, England, and trained at a seminary in France, initially considering life in the priesthood but later transferring to the Université de France in Poitiers to study Classics. He traveled extensively in Europe, becoming fluent in French and German, and decided to pursue an academic career. World War I intervened. Foley graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1917.

He commanded an infantry company, was mentioned in despatches, and became part of a small unit responsible for recruiting and running spies in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Berlin was a mega-city in the 1920s


Britain’s Schindler: Frank Foley, the MI6 Spy Who Saved 10,000 German Jews

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Francis Edward Foley was an unassuming passport control officer at the British Embassy in Berlin who risked his life to help Jewish families escape Nazi Germany. 


Major Francis ‘Frank’ Foley was a compassionate hero when he joined the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) post-war. Stationed in Berlin from 1922 to 1939, Foley was Britain's most senior spy and utilized his role as passport control officer at the British Embassy to extend a lifeline to thousands of Jews threatened by the horrors of war in Nazi Germany.

Frank Foley, MI6 hero
Frank Foley

He stands in comparison to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist celebrated for rescuing 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, but Foley emerged from the shadows as an unsung hero credited with safeguarding an astonishing 10,000 German Jewish lives.

“We heard that there was this man, Foley, who was kind to the Jews,” recalled Miriam Posner, who was 16 when she traveled from East Prussia to beg for a visa to Palestine, although she did not meet Britain’s entry conditions. “Foley saved my life. He just paced up and down a little and then asked for my passport and put the visa stamp on it. He did not ask any questions.”


“He was small and quiet,” she added. “You would never suspect he was a spy.”

Frank Foley: The Unassuming Spy

Born in 1884, Foley was a small, slightly overweight man in spectacles. Yet, beneath this unremarkable exterior, he carried out extraordinary deeds.

He grew up in Somerset, England, and trained at a seminary in France, initially considering life in the priesthood but later transferring to the Université de France in Poitiers to study Classics. He traveled extensively in Europe, becoming fluent in French and German, and decided to pursue an academic career. World War I intervened. Foley graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1917.

He commanded an infantry company, was mentioned in despatches, and became part of a small unit responsible for recruiting and running spies in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Berlin was a mega-city in the 1920s


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Post-War Germany

Arriving in Berlin in 1920, Foley observed and reported on the political and social changes gripping Germany. Amid the anti-Semitic measures imposed by the Nazis, Foley risked his life repeatedly, flouting numerous Nazi laws to help Jewish individuals escape the country.

Notably, he entered concentration camps like Sachsenhausen, presenting visas to authorities to liberate Jews. Foley's selfless efforts extended to hiding Jews in his home and leveraging his covert skills to provide them with false papers, forged passports, and visas - even if it meant breaking laws.

His office became a beacon of hope as an increasing number of Jews sought immigration visas to Palestine, the UK, and other parts of the British Empire. Despite the risks, Foley courageously issued 10,000 visas for British Mandatory Palestine, defying authority and demonstrating exceptional humanity.

Operating without diplomatic immunity, Foley continuously risked his life. When he was finally evacuated from Berlin, he left a stack of pre-approved visas and instructions for their distribution to Jews fleeing Germany.

"Visa rules at the time were stringent: applicants needed to prove they had £1,000 ($1,200) to support themselves," according to Sir Simon McDonald, head of Britain's Diplomatic Service. "Frank applied the rules with compassionate imagination. He would accept payments of £10 on the grounds that £990 would somehow magically appear once the refugee disembarked in the port of Haifa in Israel.  When people said they had no money at all, he would hint that a friend might write them a letter promising them £1,000. And when he found out about illegal Zionist operations to smuggle Jews from Germany to Palestine, Foley kept quiet, instead of telling his superiors as the (British) rules decreed."

Frank Foley: Recognition at last

Remarkably, Foley received no recognition during his lifetime. It wasn't until 1999 that his actions earned him the title of 'Righteous Amongst the Nations' at Yad Vashem in Israel. 

His remarkable story came to light thanks to the efforts of journalist Michael Smith, who highlighted Foley's extraordinary acts in his book Foley, the Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (1999). 

On the 120th anniversary of Foley's birth in 2004, a plaque in his honor was unveiled at the British Embassy in Berlin. The event was attended by survivors like Elisheva Lernau, then 91 years old: “His name is written on my heart… I owe my life to this man I never met, a man of humanity in a time of unparalleled inhumanity.”

In Highbridge, Somerset, a plaque adorns the house of Foley's birth, and in May 2005, a statue dedicated to this unsung hero was unveiled, forever honoring the man who risked everything to save others.

Foley was described during Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial by witness Benno Cohen: “There was one man who stood out above all others… a man who in my opinion was one of the greatest among the nations of the world. He rescued thousands of Jews from the jaws of death.”

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