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The Holocaust was a time of overwhelming terror and enduring grief.  The ultimate expression of man’s inhumanity with hardly a trace of human kindness to lighten that darkness.   However there were some deeds of courage and compassion during the Holocaust that one can consider when contemplating humanity's  past and hope for the future.

The following are only some of the extraordinary men and women, who, at very great personal risk have acted to save lives.

Most of their deeds were unnoticed and not acknowledged during their lifetimes but many have been honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial with the title “Righteous among the Nations” or “Righteous Gentiles” recognizing those non-Jews who helped save Jews from the Holocaust.
 

Raoul Wallenberg (1912 – 1947?)
Swedish Diplomat

Immediately following his arrival as First Secretary to the Swedish embassy in Budapest in July 1944, Wallenberg used his diplomatic status to issue “protective passports” to thousands of Jews, identifying them as Swedish citizens, thereby preventing their deportation to death camps. He would often personally intervene to obtain the release of these passport bearers, including those with forged documents, from the Jews who were forced to march toward the Austrian-Hungarian border for deportation, saving as many lives as possible. He even rented more than 30 buildings to house about 10,000 Jewish refugees, putting up fake signs as “The Swedish Research Institute” and hanging the Swedish flag to avoid detection.  All in all, this soft-spoken Swede is credited to have rescued more Jews than any single rescuer or country, around 100,000 of them; but he was unable to save his own.  In January 1945, he was taken by the Soviet Red Army troops to a Soviet prison, where he was reported to have died in 1947, although the exact circumstances of his death are still very much in dispute.
 

Giovanni Palatucci (1909 – 1945)
Italian Police Official and Lawyer

Palatucci entered the police service in 1936 and was assigned to be in charge the Adriatic seaport of Fiume (present day Rijeka, Croatia). When anti-Jewish laws were enacted in 1938, he used his authority as chief of the Foreigners’ Office to forge travel papers that permitted hundreds of Jews flee persecution in Eastern Europe and settle in Fiume, sometimes even providing them with funds. However, his effort became riskier in 1943, when Mussolini’s government fell and the Nazis occupied the place. In defiance against orders to arrest and deport the Jews in the area, he made sure that they were sent instead to a prison-turned refugee camp managed by his uncle, Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci, in Campania southern Italy, by destroying documented records of some 5,000 Jewish refugees, thus saving them from certain death in concentration camps. When his activities were discovered in 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo, and sent to Dachau, where he died just a few months shy of his 36th birthday.
 

Oskar Schindler (1908 – 1974)
German Industrialist

 

Oskar Schindler was an unlikely rescuer of the Jews. He was a Nazi and a businessman at that time, yet he heeded the call of his conscience. He initially sought to profit from the 1939 German invasion of Poland by hiding wealthy Jews and employing around 1,000 cheap Jewish slave laborers for his ammunition factory in Poland. However, appalled by the immense brutality of Nazism, he began shielding his workers without any regard for cost. He smuggled children out of ghettos and used his connections in high places to request for hundreds of Jews to be moved to an adjoining factory. He would call on his legendary charm and persuasive eloquence to help his “Schindlerjuden” (”Schindler Jews” as they came to be known) get out of difficult situations, claiming that women, children, handicapped and unskilled workers were vital to his business. While he died penniless at age 66 having spent all his wealth by the end of the war and having failed in his post-war business efforts, he gained the perpetual gratitude of his Jews, whom he affectionately referred to as “my children.”

He is the only Nazi to be buried in a cemetery in Jerusalem.

Andre Trocmé (1901 – 1971)
French Protestant Pastor



Andre Trocmé, as the spiritual leader of the town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and as a man clearly driven by ethical and religious convictions, spoke against discrimination as the Nazis were gaining power in bordering Germany and repeatedly asked his congregation to help protect “the people of the Bible.” When the Nazi occupied France, he and his wife Magda (1901 – 1996) arranged for the rescue of between 3,000 to 5,000 Jews fleeing the Nazi persecution. Under their leadership, many private families willing to take in Jewish refugees and children were located, and town schools got ready for a sudden increase in the number of students. Their courageous efforts made Le Chambon and nearby villages a unique refuge in Nazi-occupied France. When forced to produce a list of Jews in the town, he responded, “We do not know what a Jew is; we know only men.” Despite rumors of his imminent arrest, he encouraged his congregation to “do the will of God and not of men.” In January 1971, Yad Vashem recognized André and Magda Trocmé as “Righteous among the Nations.”

Irena Sendler (1910 – 2008)
Polish Catholic Social Worker

People and their households caught hiding Jews risked death sentences in German-occupied Poland. As a Jewish sympathizer since childhood, Sendler (Sendlerowa) and her friends produced thousands of false documents to help Jewish families prior to joining the resistance group Zegota (Council for Aid to Jews). Upon her appointment as head of Zegota’s newly formed children’s department, she organized the smuggling of some 2,500 children out of Warsaw ghetto and had them placed in Polish families, orphanages and convents. She gave each child a new identity and carefully recorded their names and placements so that they could be returned to surviving relatives after the war. Her work was interrupted when she was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death by the Gestapo in 1943. However, she was successfully rescued by Zegota before her scheduled execution. She then went into hiding and resumed her work for Jewish children for the remainder of the war. In 2003, she received Poland’s highest civilian decoration, the Order of the White Eagle.

“Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth and not a title to glory.” – Sendler’s letter to Polish Parliament

Nicholas Winton (1909 – )
British Stockbroker


In 1939, Winton visited Prague at the invitation of a friend from the British Embassy and was alarmed by the influx of refugees, endangered by the impending Nazi invasion. He noticed that the refugee camps set up by the British team were dealing mostly with the elderly and other vulnerable adults, but nothing was being done for the children. So he took it upon himself to organize the Czech Kindertransport, managing to save 669 children out eight trains prior to the outbreak of World War II and finding them foster parents in England and Sweden. He was not troubled by the fact that his humanitarian efforts went unrecognized for he did not view his acts as something extraordinary. His exploits became known only in 1988 when his late wife discovered lists of children and letters from their parents in the attic. He is very much revered as the father who rescued his many “children” from certain death in Nazi camps. Known as “Schindler of Britain,” Winton currently lives in Maindenhead, Great Britain; he was knighted in 2002 and was nominated by the Czech government for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.
 

Chiune Sugihara (1900 – 1986)
Japanese Diplomat

Though Sugihara was named vice-consul of the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1939, his main duty was to keep the Japanese forces informed of the Soviet and German troop movements. Following the 1940 Soviet invasion of Lithuania, Polish Jews as well as Lithuanian Jews had difficulty acquiring exit visa, making it unsafe to travel and difficult to find countries that will issue them. With no discernible motivation other than to do the right thing, he started issuing visas to all who applied including those who did not meet immigration requirements, allowing them to enter Japan for up to 15 days, in direct violation of his orders. He was subsequently reassigned to Berlin when the Soviet took over Lithuania. While en route to the train station, he continued to give out visas for a mob of desperate refugees surrounding his car. However, many passports remained unstamped when he boarded the train, so he threw the official stamp to the crowd. His altruistic acts saved anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 Jews based on some estimates. Sugihara, the “Japanese Schindler,” was honored as “Righteous among the Nations” by the Israeli government in 1985.

“I cannot allow these people to die, people who have come to me for help with death staring them in the eyes. Whatever punishment may be imposed on me, I know I should follow my conscience.” – Sugihara

Varian Fry (1907 – 1967)
American Journalist


Distressed by what he personally saw of Nazi barbarities against Jews during his 1935 Berlin visit as a foreign correspondent for an American journal, the Harvard-educated Fry started to help raise funds for European anti-Nazi movements. Following the 1940 invasion of France, he went to Marseille and ran an elaborate rescue network in direct opposition to French and even some American authorities. Despite being under constant surveillance by the puppet Vichy regime, he was able to secure visas with the aid of American Vice-Consul in Marseille Hiram Bingham IV for around 3,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees (among whom were many prominent artists and intellectuals including Marc Chagall and Wilhelm Herzog among others) escape to neutral Portugal before making their way to the United States. A few months prior to his death, France presented him with the Legion of Honor for his heroic work in Marseille from 1940 to1941. Fry, also known as the “American Schindler,” was posthumously honored by Yad Vashem in 1996, the very first American to be listed as “Righteous among the Nations.”

 

The Holocaust specifically targeted the Jews in what the Nazi termed as the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” Other victims of the Nazi regime included gypsies, religious groups, the mentally and physically disabled; homosexuals; prisoners of war; intelligentsia and political activists; and races that were deemed inferior. Considering all the victims of Nazi persecution, the total number of casualties is estimated to be between nine and eleven million including six million Jews and two million Gentile Poles, absolutely making World War II the costliest war in terms of human lives.

 

 

  

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