Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Remembering Those Who Had Courage to Care

January 21, 2013 2:02 am 2 comments

A plaque in a Jewish cemetery in Britain commemorates the Righteous among the Nations. Photo: ceridwen.

It is fitting that the United Nations, as part of the international commemoration of the Holocaust on January 27, is paying tribute this year not only to the millions of innocents who died in the Nazi gas chambers, but also to those who made extraordinary sacrifices to hide and protect tens of thousands of Jews and others from certain death at the hands of Hitler’s genocidal pogrom.

I’m speaking, of course, of the rescuers — those individuals who made a calculated decision to shelter Jews and others wanted by the Nazis for no crime other than being the members of a deeply hated minority.

The rescuers’ heroic deeds are often forgotten amid the greater tragedy of the Shoah.

Fourteen years ago, a group of students in rural Whitwell, Tennessee, embarked on a remarkable classroom project in an effort to come to grips with the sheer enormity of the Holocaust. They did so by collecting paper clips.

Over a period of many months, the students collected six million paper clips, one for each of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It was a monumental undertaking, requiring hours of unforgiving tedium as the paper clips were collected and counted. But at the end of the day the students succeeded and filled the greater part of a rail car with paperclips.

I wish there could be a similar effort to raise awareness about the rescuers, those courageous individuals who went out of their way to save and protect Jewish lives.

Aside from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which in 1993 so greatly elevated public awareness of one rescuer in particular, the stories of the righteous gentiles who stepped up to make a profound, life-altering choice have been largely forgotten to history.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about the rescuers is that their varied ethnicities and religious backgrounds challenge our preconceived notions about who might risk his or her own life for the sake of Jews.

Apart from their willingness to help others, they do not seem to have much in common. They crossed gender, ethnic, religious, and socio-economic lines. They were Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Evangelical, Baptist, Lutheran and also Muslim. They were farmers, doctors, diplomats, peasants and kings. They were simple people of faith.

My very existence stands as testimony to those who had the courage to care. When I was a child in Nazi occupied Poland, I was taken in by a Polish Catholic woman who had been my nanny. She saved me by hiding my true identity from the Nazis. She provided food, shelter and a safe haven and raised me for four years until the war was over and my parents returned to claim me. She even had me baptized. And yet, while I’m eternally grateful for her sacrifice, it is still hard for me to understand why she went to such great lengths to keep me hidden. What was it that gave this poor, illiterate and uneducated woman the moral courage to save a life?

Others went to even more extraordinary lengths to protect their Jewish neighbors and friends. Consider the almost unfathomable story of Khaled Abdelwahhab, recently unearthed by the historian and writer Robert Satloff.

In 1942 the Germans arrived in Mahdia, a town on the eastern shore of Tunisia, where Mr. Abdelwahhab lived with his family. In the town, the Germans set up a house where they would capture Jewish girls and sexually violate them. Two local Jewish girls, unable to deal with the trauma of their experience at the house, committed suicide, and news of their fate spread like wildfire through the terrified town.

Abdelwahhab found out about it and did what he could to protect young girls by distracting the Germans with liquor and other pursuits. Later, after learning that a Jewish family was hiding in an olive oil factory, he warned them that they were in grave danger and gathered the family and all of their relatives and moved them to his family’s farm 20 miles to the west. He arranged for food and shelter, and every day, for over four months, he visited them, provided for them and made them feel safe.

Abdelwahhab risked his life for the sake of others in the face of humanity’s greatest evil. Here is a story we don’t hear every day — an Arab saving Jews.

Another lesser known story is that of Dr. Feng Shan Ho, a Chinese diplomat who issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees during World War II. Dr. Ho was among the first of a small number of diplomatic rescuers who took extraordinary measures and personal risk to do the right thing.

Ho served as the Chinese Consul General in Vienna from 1938 through 1940. Despite being ordered by his supervisors to cease his activities, he nonetheless facilitated the safe departure of thousands of Jews in 1938 and 1939 by issuing visas to the Chinese port city of Shanghai.

One would think that years later Ho would be deemed a national hero for his actions. On the contrary, Dr. Ho became the victim of a campaign by Chinese nationalists in Taiwan to discredit him, and he was eventually impeached and denied a pension for his 40 years of diplomatic service. He died before the world could fully acknowledge all that he had done.

In November, the Anti-Defamation League posthumously honored Dr. Ho with the ADL Jan Karski Courage to Care Award, and we have likewise honored Abdelwahhab for his remarkable actions.

The rescuers paved the way for us to understand how humanity can play a role, as it did to a sadly limited extent during the Holocaust, to take action and to prevent acts of hatred and genocide from happening again.

2 Comments

  • It moves me to learn of the number of “courageous individuals who went out of their way to save and protect Jewish lives” during the Holocaust. One of the lessons we must learn from this deeply saddening chapter how much Jewish people need to protect each other internationally. Look at the contrast between the non-Jewish heroes who risked everything to save Jewish lives, compared to the Jewish community in Vienna today, who are only too happy to turn a blind eye to the horrific injustice affecting the Schlesinger twins. In 2011, these two-year-old boys were taken from their capable mother in Vienna under the guard of armed police, yet the Jewish community remain silent. Have no lessons been learned???? Is it time for the Jews of Vienna to wake up???

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Dear Mr. Foxman,
    G-d has blessed you with the gift of life and all of us Jews who have known about you and your courageous work for the ADL with a great leader for justice. I am using this opportunity to speak for one man who has been repeatedly overlooked and completely rejected by Yad Vashem and the Israeli Supreme Court as a Righteous Among the Nations, Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You also rejected Rev. Bonhoeffer in the middle ’90s as a Righteous Among the Nations. I am asking you to again consider his name as a rescuer of Jews–Dorothee Fliess and her parents–at the risk of his own life in 1942 in Germany. I hold a signed and notarized affidavit by Ms. Fliess to this effect.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Jewish ‘Scandal’ Star Says He Remains True to Religious Ritual, Despite Scheduling, Dietary Conflicts

    Jewish ‘Scandal’ Star Says He Remains True to Religious Ritual, Despite Scheduling, Dietary Conflicts

    A star of the hit TV show Scandal told the community website Quora.com that, throughout his acting career, he has remained faithful to his Judaism, even when it has caused him to forfeit gigs. Joshua Malina, who plays the character of David Rosen on the ABC political-thriller series, reminisced about his early days in Hollywood, when he had no agent and could only go to open-call auditions. At one of these — a try-out for a commercial — he said he waited on a line that was “maybe a city […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Huffington Post Accused of ‘Jew-Hatred’ After Tweeting ‘Offensive’ Joke About Comedian at Video Music Awards

    Huffington Post Accused of ‘Jew-Hatred’ After Tweeting ‘Offensive’ Joke About Comedian at Video Music Awards

    The Huffington Post is facing backlash after joking about a Jewish comedian’s  appearance at the Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday night. Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky took part in Nick Jonas’ performance of his song “Bacon,” staged in a New York diner — in a cameo role as a waiter throwing a handful of bacon in the air. Commenting on the show, the Huffington Post tweeted, “not thrilled at the fat jew [he] wasted all that perfectly good bacon!!!!!!” The message angered many Twitter users, who thought the joke […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli Fans Mob, Dance With Basketball Player Amar’e Stoudemire at First Jerusalem Team Practice (VIDEO)

    Israeli basketball fans mobbed Hapoel Jerusalem’s newest player, American pro Amar’e Stoudemire, dancing around with him during a practice open to the public. On Friday, the team posted a video on Twitter of the happy romp with fans jumping around Stoudemire, while chanting in Hebrew. Unfamiliar with the lyrics, Stoudemire pumps his fist in the air. The basketball player, who has Jewish roots on his mother’s side, also waved a flag emblazoned with Hapoel Jerusalem’s logo. The former New York Knicks forward retired from the NBA earlier […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    Playboy Columnist Calls Israel’s ‘Burning Man’ Festival ‘Ultimate Revenge on Hitler’

    The Israeli version of the famed American Burning Man music festival is the “ultimate revenge on Hitler,” according to a column in Playboy magazine on Thursday. In his column, Jeff Weiss also took note of the fact that Midburn — a five-day bacchanal in the Negev Desert, self-described as an event celebrating “a communal life style, creativity, art and radical self-expression” — began on June 8, the day of the Sarona Market terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, which left four people dead. Weiss asked rhetorically, “What could needle the mustached […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →