It is believed that six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered in the Nazi genocide during World War II. This dreadful count could have been much higher if it had not been for individuals and groups that risked their lives and personal well-being to hide, protect and rescue as many Jews as possible. These brave souls are known as “The Righteous Gentiles,” or as the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, Israel’s national Authority for the Remembrance of the Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust, labels them, “Righteous Among the Nations.”
These non-Jewish heroes, “Righteous Among the Nations,” were citizens of 47 different countries. More than 25,000 have been recognized and honored as rescuers by the Museum. Although, it is believed that this number is very low and some even say that there may have been as many as 100,000 of these rescuers. Of the 47 countries, Poland is the greatest contributor to this effort, with over 6,500 recorded rescuers. The Netherlands is not far behind with 5,400.
Some have estimated that, on an average, each rescuer helped one Jew escape the Nazi death camps and death chambers. So, somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 Jewish people were rescued by these Gentiles during the conflict of World War II. These were truly unselfish “Righteous Gentiles” indeed.
Two of the most famous of these brave rescuers would be Oskar Schindler (Schindler’s List book and movie) and Corrie Ten Boom and family (The Hiding Place book and movie).
Schindler was a German and former member of the Nazi Party, gambler, black market underworld figure and trusted by the Gestapo. He is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Polish Jews. The Ten Booms were a Christian family that began hiding Jews in their “secret room” between 1942 and 1944, when they were arrested after a Dutch informant told the Nazis of their operation.
We could tell of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews or Irena Sendler who defied the German Nazis and smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, or Pastor Andre Trocme and his wife, Magda, who hid and saved 5,000 Jewish lives. The stories are in the multiple thousands of bravery, ingenuity and heroism.
Profile studies have been made of these Righteous Gentiles, who risked their lives to save the lives of Jews. It seems they came from many walks of life and varied backgrounds. They were young and old alike, a cross-section of European life. They were socially responsible people; people concerned about other people and undesiring of taking any praise for their deeds.
Dr. Irwin Lutzer, Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, writes in his book, Hitler’s Cross, “They are people who believe that some things are more important than living comfortably when surrounded by injustice…Obviously the heroes during the Nazi era were not all Christians. Many were nominally ‘Christian’ while others perhaps had no faith at all. Certainly the Christians should have led the way, but sometimes they didn’t…Those who had a principled commitment to human rights and decency would be overcome by outrage in witnessing moral injustice. Their anger, mixed with sympathy, would motivate them to action.
As I write these stories from the terrible days of World War II, told to me by the men that faced the dangers of combat, I must step back sometimes and realize that it wasn’t just the boots on the battlefield that won that war. It also included those behind the scenes; those that sat behind desks or cared for wounded patients in the hospitals or aid tents; those that serviced the aircraft and manned the supply shelves and, to a great extent, these brave men and women that made up the powerful ranks of The Righteous Gentiles.
Now, I suppose a sharp point should be making each one of us uncomfortable right now, if we truly think about what these folks experienced. They experienced unselfish courage in the face of uncertainty and danger. They sacrificed the comfortable and experienced the uncomfortable to help others in their discomfort.
But what about you and me? What if you were called on to stand up for someone who is needy? Someone who cannot defend themselves? Someone who cannot repay you for your service?
Pastor Lutzer continued, “What would you or I have done if the Jews could have come to our door? I think that can be partly answered by asking another question: What are we doing now for those who come to our door – the poor, the person who experienced discrimination, or the unwanted children (both born and unborn) in our land? What would Christ do?” Ouch! Did I just touch a hot stove?
I know, I know…I am getting very personal now. But again, we must step back sometimes and evaluate what we are doing and why; who we really are on the inside, down deep, where no one knows but you, and what is truly important in life. We must see a bigger picture than our little private bubble that we walk around in, trying to avoid anyone that might puncture it.
Pastor Martin Niemoller, a survivor of the dark days of the war, said, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Some things to think about!