|With the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany (1933), anti-Semitism became the official policy of the state. The Nazi regime carried out a master plan to systematically liquidate the Jewish communities in the countries under their control. Six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, were murdered in the countries of Europe occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II (1939-1945). Most of the several hundred million Europeans under Nazi rule either kept silent and stood by, or collaborated with the murderers. Some extended a helping hand, trying to save Jews from the Nazis.
At Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, close to 24,000 persons from 45 countries have thus far been identified and honored, under a program created by law (1963). These are the "Righteous Among the Nations."
Those so recognized are awarded the Righteous Medal and a certificate of honor (to their next-of-kin in the event of a posthumous recognition) and their names are inscribed on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. This is the highest honor bestowed by the Jewish people, through the State of Israel, on non-Jews.
The Righteous Among the Nations who experience economic difficulties - wherever they reside - are aided financially by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, a New York-based philanthropic organization which was created for this purpose. The Anne Frank Fonds, based in Basle, Switzerland, looks after those in need of medication. The Righteous residing in Israel (some 35 people) automatically receive a generous state pension.
The Righteous Among the Nations
Recognition of the Righteous is based on the following criteria:
- Aid was extended by non-Jews in situations where Jews were helpless and threatened with death or deportation to concentration camps.
- The rescuer was aware that in extending such aid he was risking his life, safety and personal freedom (the Nazis considered assisting Jews a capital offense).
- No material reward or substantial compensation was exacted by the rescuer from the rescued as a condition for extending aid.
- Such rescue or aid is attested to by the rescued persons, or substantiated by first-hand eyewitness reports and, where possible, by bona-fide archival documentation.
Many types of help were extended to Jews by individual non-Jews; but usually the help took one of the following four forms:
- Sheltering a Jew in one's home, or in lay or religious institutions, shielded from the outside world and concealed from public view.
- Helping a Jew pass as a non-Jew by providing false credentials or baptismal certificates (issued by the clergy as a means for obtaining bona fide credentials).
- Aiding Jews to flee to a safer location, or across a border to a safer country. This involved accompanying adults and children on surreptitious journeys over distances inside occupied territories to a border, and negotiating safe crossings of such borders.
- Temporary adoption of Jewish children (for the duration of the war).
No exact figures of Jews saved through the assistance of individual non-Jews are available, though their numbers run to the many tens of thousands. In France, over 200,000 Jews survived, many of them thanks to non-Jews. The approximate figures for some other European countries are: Belgium - 26,000; the Netherlands - 16,000; Italy - 35,000; Denmark - 7,200; Norway - 900; Germany and Austria - 5,000-15,000; Poland - 25,000-45,000; Lithuania - up to 1,000; Hungary - over 200,000, a great many of them through the heroic efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz (see further); Greece 3,000-5,000; Yugoslavia - up to 5,000; Albania - 1,800. No figures are available as yet for the Ukraine and Russia.
Rescue of Jews from the Nazis
Among the rescuers were Christian clergymen, who felt compelled to resist Nazism on religious grounds and to help Jews survive the Nazi Holocaust as a religious obligation.
- Abbe Joseph André from Namur, and Father Bruno Reynders, from Mt. Cesar, both in Belgium, cooperated with Jewish underground groups in finding safe places for hundreds of children, and returning them to the Jewish fold after the war.
- Anna Borkowska, a Polish nun in a Dominican convent outside Vilnius, Lithuania, helped Abba Kovner and other resistance fighters by hiding them in her convent, even smuggling arms to them in the ghetto.
- The Capuchin monk Pierre-Marie Benoit helped hundreds of Jews escape to Switzerland and Spain from Southern France. Trailed by the Gestapo, he escaped to Rome, where he continued his rescue work from his office in the Capuchin college and in coordination with the main Jewish welfare organization (Delasem). A legendary figure, he was dubbed "father of the Jews" by those he rescued.
- Father Dragutin Jesih, in Croatia, was executed by the pro-Nazi Ustase militia, for sheltering Jews in his home and elsewhere.
- In the Italian Apennines town of Assisi, Monsignor Guiseppe Nicolini, along with fathers Rufino Niccaci and Aldo Brunacci, aided hundreds of fleeing Jews, providing them with shelter and new identities.
- Mother Marie Skobtzova, a Russian revolutionary turned nun who resided in Paris, suffered martyrdom in the Ravensbruck concentration camp for directing a network of aid to Jews in the Paris region.
Humanitarian ideals motivated many of the Righteous:
- Elizabeth Abegg, a Berlin school teacher (dismissed by the authorities for her pronounced anti-Nazi views), and a believing Quaker, helped many of her former Jewish students, as well as other Jews in distress, find shelter and comfort and helped secure funds with which they hoped to reach the Swiss border.
- Dr. Petras Baublys, head of an orphanage in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, gave shelter to Jewish children in his orphanage until permanent places of refuge could be found for them.
- Johannes Bogaard, a religiously devout Dutch farmer with little formal education, spread a large protective net over scores of Jews on his farm and in nearby localities.
- Witold Fomienko hid scores of Jews in the Lutsk region of the Ukraine, braving threats from Germans and hostile local kinsmen.
- Dr. Adelaide Hautval was arrested for illegally crossing the demarcation line dividing the two parts of France. While in jail awaiting trial, she vociferously protested the inhuman treatment of fellow Jewish prisoners. Censured as a "friend of the Jews," she was sent to Auschwitz, where she refused to join a team of doctors performing pseudo-medical experiments on women. After the war, Hautval testified, in the 1964 London trial of Uris vs. Dering, that it was possible to disobey inhuman Nazi orders even in Auschwitz.
- Olena Hryhoryshyn, an illiterate Ukrainian farmer, took under her wing an orphaned Jewish girl despite threats from neighbors and acquaintances. She wandered with the girl from place to place, sheltering her from the evil designs of both Nazis and Ukrainian militia members.
- Karolina Kmita, in Poland, hid two abandoned Jewish girls in a forest, in a hole covered with twigs, and made nocturnal visits through deep snow to her forlorn charges, bringing food, warm clothes and comfort.
- Wladyslaw Kowalski, a retired colonel in the Polish army and the Warsaw representative of the Dutch Philips concern, used his freedom of movement to help some 50 Jews in the Warsaw region, moving them to places of refuge with friends, and remained with his charges in an underground bunker, until the arrival of the Russians in January 1945.
- Jannis Lipke, a Latvian dockworker, did likewise for over 40 Jews who fled the rigors of the Riga ghetto.
- Yvonne Nèvejean, a Belgian educator, worked with underground Jewish groups in spiriting hundreds of children to safety, sheltering them with private families, or religious and lay institutions, under assumed names.
- Irena Sendler, an employee of the Warsaw health department and a member of the Polish underground organization for aid to Jews, helped find places of hiding for scores of Jewish children snatched from the burning Warsaw ghetto.
- Ona Simaite, a librarian in Vilnius University, took advantage of her freedom of movement into the Jewish ghetto, ostensibly to retrieve books loaned to Jews before the war, as a pretext to secure valuable literary works by Jewish authors. She also looked after Jews in hiding outside the ghetto. Arrested during an attempt to smuggle a Jewish girl outside the ghetto, she was tortured and sent to a concentration camp. She survived but suffered permanent damage to her health.
- Joop Westerweel, a Dutch educator and sworn pacifist, created a clandestine network to help Jewish youth, members of a Zionist pioneering group, avoid detection. He then accompanied them through occupied Belgium and France to the Spanish border. He was eventually apprehended and executed by the Germans.
- In Poland, Dr. Jan Zabinski, a well-known zoologist and head of the Warsaw parks administration under the German occupation, hid Jews in empty cages for various lengths of time.
Some government officials and diplomats also earned the title of Righteous Among the Nations:
- Angelos Evert, who headed the Athens police force during the German occupation of that city, issued over one hundred false credentials to Jews, thus making it possible for them to elude the Nazi dragnet.
- Paul Grüninger, Swiss police commandant of St. Gallen, permitted thousands of Jews entry into Switzerland, in violation of instructions. He was dismissed without retirement benefits.
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul-general in Bordeaux, France, gave thousands of Jews transit visas through Portugal, in contravention of instructions. He, too, was dismissed and died destitute in 1954.
- In Budapest, Hungary, Swiss ambassador Carl Lutz braved bureaucratic tangles and personal dangers to protect thousands of Jews.
- Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese consul-general in Kovno, Lithuania, issued transit visas to almost two thousand Jews and was punished by his government.
- To even a greater degree, Swedish Count Raoul Wallenberg, the epitome of altruism at its best, protected thousands of Jews from the Nazis and the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross henchmen. Arrested by the liberating Russians on 17 January 1945, for reasons still unknown, he was never seen again.
These persons may not have risked their lives, but, in their decision to risk their careers for the sake of numerous helpless persons, have, in the opinion of Yad Vashem, earned the award of Righteous Among the Nations.
Some Germans in uniform and German civilians employed in the occupied territories, are among the Righteous among the Nations:
- Sgt. Hugo Armann, stationed in Baranowice, Eastern Poland, helped many Jews flee the ghetto and, armed with weapons provided by him, they reached the woods and joined the partisans.
- Major Eberhard Helmrich, head of an agricultural station in Drohobycz, Poland, helped scores of Jewish women by dispatching them with fake credentials as Polish and Ukrainian housemaids to Berlin, where his wife Donata arranged their employment in German homes whose owners were unaware of the girls' true origin.
- In Przemysl, Poland, Major Max Liedtke prevented the SS from staging a raid on the city's Jews, by ordering his soldiers to stop them from crossing a bridge. He was dismissed from his post and sent to the front. He died in Russian captivity.
- Oskar Schindler, a German businessman in Cracow, Poland single-handedly saved some 1,200 Jews in a rescue feat unparalleled in its daring and execution.
- Sergeant Anton Schmid, stationed in Vilnius, Lithuania, was executed in April 1942 for helping Jews inside and outside the city's ghetto.
Mention should also be made of a country and of communities that rescued Jews:
- Denmark, and its underground, saved almost the whole Jewish community in that country (some 7,200 souls out of a total estimated 8,000), in a single operation in October 1943 - by stealthily spiriting them across the Sound (the straits separating Denmark from Sweden) to safety.
- In the Netherlands, the village of Nieuwlande, in the Drente province, sheltered hundreds of Jews for long periods.
- In the mountainous region of Southern France, the Protestant community of Le Chambon sheltered thousands of Jews over an extended period, and helped some to cross into Switzerland.
Honoring the Righteous Among the Nations
Yad Vashem believes that honoring the Righteous among the Nations has educational and moral implications:
- Israel has an ethical obligation to acknowledge, honor and salute, on behalf of the Jewish people, those non-Jews who helped Jews in the hour of their greatest need, despite great risk to themselves.
- The deeds of the Righteous prove that it was possible to help. The excuse that the Nazi terror machine paralyzed voluntary acts in defiance of official policy is belied by the deeds of thousands of persons from all walks of life who helped Jews survive the Final Solution.
- The deeds of the Righteous serve as role models for future generations and as a parameter for moral conduct, even under circumstances of great physical and psychological stress. They prove that one can and should oppose evil, that resistance is possible, not only as part of a group, but as an individual.
- The deeds of the Righteous help balance the terrible legacy of the Third Reich. Their example drives home the lesson that life is a value unto itself. Hence, the motto - from the Talmud - appearing on the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations: "Whosoever preserves one life - it is as though he has preserved the entire world."
For further information, please contact:
Department of the Righteous Among the Nations
P.O. Box 3477