Hiram (Harry) Bingham IV grew up in a Connecticut family whose members were well known for being missionaries (Hiram I & II) and explorers (Hiram III.)
He was a US diplomat stationed in Marseilles, France during World War II when Germany was invading France.
At great personal risk and against State Department orders, he (a Protestant Christian) used his government status to help over 2,500 Jewish people escape the Holocaust as they escaped Hitler’s occupied Europe from 1939-1941.
He organized clandestine rescue efforts and escapes, harbored many refugees at his diplomatic residence and issued “visas for life” and affidavits of eligibility for passage.
Hiram IV helped some of the most notable intellectuals and artists to escape, including Marc Chagall, (artist;) Leon Feuchtwanger, (author;) Golo Mann, (historian, son of Thomas Mann;) Hannah Arendt, (philosopher;) Max Ernst, (artist and poet;) and Dr. and Mrs. Otto Meyerhof, (Nobel Prize winning physicist.)
When the State Department learned of his actions, he was transferred to Lisbon, Portugal and later to Argentina.
In the eyes of the State Department, he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted.
He was not following established State Department policy – ultimately, he had to resign from the Foreign Service.
Bingham refrained from speaking about his service; his family had limited information about what he had done during the war.
Little was known of his extraordinary activities until after his death; then, family members found thousands of letters and official documents attesting to his quiet heroism.
His son, Robert “Kim” Bingham, wrote a book about him titled, “Courageous Dissent: How Harry Bingham Defied his Government to Save Lives”.
In 1998, Hiram IV was recognized as one of eleven diplomats who saved 200,000-lives from the Holocaust, which amounts to one-million descendents of survivors today.
He is the only US Diplomat who has been officially honored by the State of Israel as a “righteous diplomat.”
He was the only American diplomat recognized during Israel’s 50th Anniversary at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
Sixty years after leaving the Foreign Service (in 2002,) the State Department posthumously recognized Bingham with the department’s American Foreign Service Association “Constructive Dissent” award.
In 2005, Bingham was posthumously given a letter of commendation from Israel’s Holocaust Museum. In 2006, a US commemorative postage stamp was issued in his honor.
More than 450 supporters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center gathered for the 2011 Humanitarian Award Dinner. There, the Medal of Valor was awarded posthumously to Sir Winston Churchill, Hiram Bingham IV and Pope John Paul II.
Hiram I is my great-great-great-grandfather, Hiram Bingham IV is a cousin. We did not know this story until a couple years ago. Kim came to visit in Hawaiʻi and we had the opportunity to sit down with him and learn more about his father (Hiram IV, Harry.)
Prior to the missionaries arriving in the islands, the flat plain just south of the village of Honolulu was a barren, windswept dust bowl – little more than a desert. However, in the midst of this sun-parched land there was an oasis, a spring whose waters were reserved exclusively for the land’s high chiefs and chiefesses.
One such noble who frequented this pool was the chiefess Ha‘o. Eventually these waters, and the surrounding land, came to be known as Ka Wai a Ha‘o – the freshwater pool of Ha‘o.
In 1820, the first missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i, and found themselves well-accepted by royalty as well as the general populace. They were granted land at Kawaiaha‘o for the purpose of establishing their residence and church.
The missionaries, less the group left on the Big Island, landed at Honolulu on April 19, 1820. Four days later, Hiram Bingham, the leader of the group, preached the first formal Protestant sermon in the islands. Initial services were in thatched structures. Later, a more permanent church was built.
The church, constructed between 1836 and 1842, was in the New England style of the Hawaiian missionary and has been restored and altered several times since first erected. The “Kauikeaouli clock,” donated by King Kamehameha III in 1850, still tolls the hours to this day.
Revered as the Protestant “mother church” and often called “the Westminster Abbey of Hawai‘i” this structure is an outgrowth of the original Mission Church founded in Boston and is the first foreign church on O‘ahu (1820).
Within its walls the kingdom’s royalty prayed, sang hymns, were married, christened their children and finally laid in state. As the state church, it was the scene of many celebrated events associated with the Hawaiian Kingdom – inaugurations, funerals, weddings, thanksgiving ceremonies.
The “Stone Church,” as it came to be known, is in fact not built of stone, but of giant slabs of coral hewn from ocean reefs. These slabs had to be quarried from under water; each weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Natives dove 10 to 20 feet to hand-chisel these pieces from the reef, then raised them to the surface, loaded some 14,000 of the slabs into canoes and ferried them to shore.
Following five years of construction, The Stone Church was ready for dedication ceremonies on July 21, 1842. The grounds of Kawaiaha‘o overflowed with 4,000 to 5,000 faithful worshippers. King Kamehameha III, who contributed generously to the fund to build the church, attended the service.
Kawaiaha‘o Church was designed and founded by its first pastor, Hiram Bingham, my great-great-great grandfather. Hiram left the islands on August 3, 1840 and never saw the completed church. Kawaiaha‘o Church is listed on the state and national registers of historic sites.
Kawaiaha‘o Church continues to serve as a center of worship for Hawai‘i’s people, with services conducted every Sunday in Hawaiian and English. Approximately 85% of the services are in English; at least one song and the Lord’s Prayer (as a congregation) are in Hawaiian.
The image shows Kawaiaha‘o Church, as drawn by Bingham, and a centennial memorial to Hiram Bingham, mounted on its entrance wall.
(I have also uploaded several old and new images of Kawaiaha‘o Church in a folder of like name in the Photos section of my Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-T-Young/1332665638)