Acts of Heroism and Compassion: Lessons From the Holocaust
JNS.org – Although memory begins around the age of two and a half, it lasts only about two months in adults, where non-emotional events and news stories are concerned. According to some studies, attention spans have gone down since the year 2000 from 12 seconds to eight, thanks largely to social media.
In other words, human beings now have a lower attention span than goldfish. This isn’t a good starting point for reeducating Americans about the Holocaust, which has been the focus of ignorant celebrities of late. With the number of survivors dwindling, there’s only one solution to this problem: to keep the drumbeat alive, and not only about the Nazis’ atrocities, but about the stories of heroism on the part of those who rescue Jews at their own peril.
Take Oskar Schindler, for example (portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s hit movie “Schindler’s list”), who saved 1,200 Jews. There’s also
Raoul Wallenberg, who saved 100,000 Hungarian Jews. Had there been 60 Raoul Wallenbergs, all of European Jewry would have been saved.
Chiune Sugihara was another such giant, issuing visas that saved 2,440 Jews, among them 300 children.
My colleague, Dr. Robert Meth, with whom I went to medical school, told me that his mother had been saved by Sugihara. His father was saved prior to the war by the Kitchener Camp, located near Sandwich in the Dover district of Kent.
Dr. Meth’s father was rounded up during Kristallnacht (“night of the broken glass”), which took place on Nov. 9-11, 1938—when the Nazis attacked Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. He was arrested and deported to Buchenwald; others were taken to Sachsenhausen and Dachau. At these concentration camps, Jews were subjected to torture and brutality.
The Central British Fund for German Jewry (now World Jewish Relief) persuaded the British Parliament to allow the rescue of Jews from Germany. The Kitchener Camp resulted from the softening of the British government’s hardline stance to those fleeing Nazi persecution.
Kristallnacht helped change the mindset of both the parliament and the public. Despite this change of thinking, Britain’s Home Office had made it a condition that the men at the Kitchener Camp leave Britain and emigrate within 12 months. Dr. Meth’s father made it to the United States as a result.
The Kitchener Camp saved 4,000 Jewish men. All had to leave their wives and family behind. They were not allowed in by the British. 887 of them enlisted in the British Army.
The Kitchener Camp was formerly a British Army base in World War I. The refugees themselves helped renovate the spartan accommodations. Although most did well at the Kitchener Camp, some complained that the physical labor was too much for them, since they had sustained injuries at the hands of the Nazis during their incarceration at the concentration camps.
A second, better known Central British Fund endeavor was the Kindertransport—the rescue of 10,000 predominantly Jewish children during the nine months leading up to WWII. More children would have been allowed in by the British, but the war made that impossible.
In the United States, although an attempt was made made to open up immigration to children from Nazi-controlled lands, through the Wagner-Rogers Bill, it was blocked by Senator Robert Rice Reynolds, a North Carolina Democrat and apologist for Nazi aggression in Europe; the bill never left committee.
Of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, 1.5 million were children.
The Kitchener Camp and the Kindertransport were acts of heroism and compassion. Looking back, one wonders why so much that could have been done wasn’t. These are eternal lessons that need to be repeated over and over again.
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.