Risk yourself for others: how representatives of different countries and religions saved Jews during the Holocaust
On January 27, the whole world honors the memory of the victims of one of the greatest tragedies of mankind - the Holocaust. And although at that time most Europeans reacted to the genocide with indifference, and some countries even took part in the extermination of the Jews, everywhere there were people of various religious beliefs who risked their lives to help the Jews. It was about such heroes of that time that the publication told Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
The help of these people was expressed in many ways - from single actions of individuals to entire organized groups, large and small, who united their efforts for this.
The rescue of Jews during the Holocaust was accompanied by a host of difficulties. Allied priorities to win the war and the inability to reach those in need of assistance hindered rescue operations to a certain extent.
Those who wanted to help the Jews survive the danger risked being captured and punished in the most cruel way. It was not easy to organize the supply of everything necessary for hiding people. In addition, hostility towards Jews among the non-Jewish population, especially in Eastern Europe, was a serious obstacle to their salvation.
One of the most famous and large-scale rescue acts took place in Nazi-occupied Denmark. In October 1943, in response to increased resistance and acts of sabotage, the German occupation authorities introduced martial law in Denmark. Taking advantage of this situation, the leaders of the German Security Police (Siepo) decided to deport the Jews from Denmark.
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On September 28, 1943, a German businessman warned the Danish authorities about the upcoming operation, planned for the night of October 1-2, 1943. With the help of non-Jewish neighbors and friends, practically all the Jews of Denmark were hidden. During the following days, the Danish resistance organized a rescue operation, during which local fishermen transported about 7 Jews (out of 200 Jews living in the country) in their small boats to neutral Sweden, where they received asylum.
In the so-called General Government (the interior of occupied Poland), some Christian Poles tried to help the Jews.
For example, Żegota (the code name for the Jewish Aid Council), a Polish underground organization that provided Jews with a livelihood, began operating in September 1942. Members of the Polish National Army (AK - Home Army) and the Communist People's Army (AL - Army of Ludow) assisted Jewish fighters in attacking German positions during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943.
Sofia Banicka and her mother from Warsaw became an integral part of the Polish resistance after her father was killed by a Russian bomb in 1941. Like everyone else, they tried to avoid detection all the time while they were underground fighting the Nazis. Lechaim.
“I have never been interrogated or caught, though I don't know why,” she says. - I was just lucky. Luck, it was only luck, because I kept people and weapons in my house from the winter of 1941 until the Polish uprising in August 1944.
Another sad story was shared by Alex and Mela Roslan. They are originally from Poland and lived near Bialystok during the war. He had a textile business and Alex noticed that his Jewish clientele had disappeared, so he put on a star and entered the ghetto.
“I saw a lot of children, hungry and starving,” said Roslan. “They were so skinny. Parents were transferred to "farms", but we knew what that meant. I came home and told Mela that we should do something. We decided to go to Warsaw.”
The young couple rented an apartment and hid three young rich brothers: Yakov, Sholom and David Gutgelt. Although they were never discovered, a tragedy nevertheless happened: Sholom died of an illness, and the Roslans' son Yurek was killed by a Nazi sniper. But Jacob and David survived the war and eventually reunited with their father in Israel.
In general, the help of the Polish underground was small: few weapons and a small amount of ammunition. From the beginning of the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp at the end of July 1942 until the autumn of 1944, when the German invaders razed Warsaw to the ground, at least 20 Jews found refuge in Warsaw and its environs thanks to the help of Polish citizens.
At the same time, the people who saved the Jews were of various religions: Protestants and Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims. Some European churches, orphanages, and families provided shelter for Jews.
Unreal stories of real people
In some cases, even those Jews who managed to hide were helped, as was the case with Anne Frank's family in the Netherlands.
But it wasn't just a story of salvation. Aart and Johte Vos lived in an artists' colony called Lauren, not far from Amsterdam, and their home became a safe haven for 36 Jews.
“More and more people came to hide in our house,” Johte recalled. “We had mattresses all over the floor and had to be masked in case the Germans came.”
The couple's courage was controversial within the home, with one of their own children questioning the risks they were taking. However, this was never an issue for them, as they could not stand idly by.
Peter and Joyce Midema emigrated to Canada in 1952. He was a Presbyterian minister in Holland and became an early advocate for helping Jews in the face of the Nazi onslaught. They worked together to shelter and support Jews during the war.
“He felt he should practice what he preached,” Yohte explained. "He was always one step ahead and told his parishioners, 'If you refuse to open your home and heart to an innocent fugitive, you have no place in the community of the right.'"
Semmy Riekerk worked with husband Joop Wortman to rescue Jews as part of the Dutch resistance.
“My sister helped too, but I didn’t know it at the time,” she said. “You never told anyone anything they didn't need to know. My husband used anyone he could trust."
In 1942 they organized attempts to steal and forge documents to help Jews escape, but later focused their energy on saving children.
When Joop Wortman was captured and then killed in Bergen-Belsen in 1944, Rikerk continued his work herself: “I had to continue his work until the end of the war. They gave me a book that listed 300 names and said, “These are people who hide children. Every month you have to take ration cards and money for them.” Banks provided money from the Dutch government in exile and our organization provided ration cards.”
Johann de Vries, a coal miner, and his wife Janke took into their home in 1942 two Jewish children, a brother and sister, Solomon and Eva Haringman. The couple raised them with their two children and became short-term adoptive parents for other refugees. The Jewish children were reunited with their mother in Amsterdam after the war and then moved to Israel when she died in 1947.
Other countries and resistance in Germany
In France, a Protestant community from the small town of Chambon-sur-Lignon sheltered between 3 and 5 refugees, most of whom were Jews. And in France, Belgium and Italy, underground organizations were controlled by the Catholic clergy, thanks to which thousands of Jews were saved. The underground network was especially developed in southern France, where Jews were hidden and secretly transported to Switzerland, Spain, and also to northern Italy.
Some high-ranking people used their position to save the Jews. For example, in Budapest, the capital of German-occupied Hungary, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, the Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, and the Italian Giorgio Perlasca, posing as a Spanish diplomat, supplied tens of thousands of Jews with forged "protective passports" in 1944.
These documents helped them bypass most of the anti-Jewish measures taken by the Hungarian government and avoided being deported to Germany. The German industrialist Oskar Schindler founded in Poland, not far from the Krakow ghetto, a factory for the production of metal products, where he hired more than a thousand Jews, thereby saving them from deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
At the same time, Germany itself had its own underground, which helped the Jews there too.
For example, Maria, Countess von Malzahn, grew up on a huge estate in the Silesian region of Germany with incredible wealth, a loving father, and a cruel and unforgiving mother. Family rebellion first led her to become a member of the underground in Berlin during the war.
“It was easy for me to resist Nazi authority because I always resisted my mother's authority,” she said.
The Countess hid Jews in a secret compartment in her sofa (and elsewhere) and once suggested to an SS officer that they shoot him while her future husband, Hans, was still inside. Fortunately, he called her words a bluff.
“I was the queen of the black market throughout the war,” she recalled. “But I had to be good at it because there were a lot of people around. I have always said that no matter what happens, I prefer to be in a difficult situation than go to bed with a bad conscience.
Helen Jacobs, who was born in Berlin, worked with a group called the Confessing Church that passed on false documents and identities to German Jews. Eventually, her circle of forgers was tracked down by the Gestapo and she was arrested in 1943. Helen said: “Since childhood, I have believed that each of us who receives the gift of life is responsible for our own lives and for what and with whom we choose to surround ourselves. That's why I fought Nazism."
Jacobs spent 20 months in prison for her "crimes", and when Helen was released, it turned out that her house had been burned down. As a German who fought the Nazis, she felt it was her duty to fight.
“I always knew how dangerous it was, but I did it for humanity, and because I was a patriot,” she explained. “I was ashamed of what the Germans were doing.”
In March 1943, plans by the Bulgarian government to deport over 11 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Thrace, Macedonia, and Pirot to Treblinka were thwarted by interference from the country's powerful political and religious figures; their opposition forced Tsar Boris III to cancel the deportation.
“Helping the Jews was not an advantage”
Other non-Jews, such as Jan Karski, a London-based diplomatic courier for the Polish government-in-exile, sought to draw public attention to Nazi genocide plans.
Jan Karski was originally a Polish spy who eventually became a professor at Georgetown University in Washington. Like the real James Bond, he once went to Slovakia and Hungary on a reconnaissance mission, and was eventually caught by the Germans before being rescued by the Polish resistance.
Shortly thereafter, he was recruited by the Jewish underground to take news of the Warsaw Ghetto and the extermination of the Jews directly to Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. But first he had to visit the ghetto to see for himself.
“The ghetto was creepy,” he said in an interview. “It wasn't part of the world. It was not part of humanity. I didn't belong to this place. That night I vomited blood. I saw terrible, terrible things that I will never forget. Therefore, he agreed to do what they asked.
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Karsky managed to meet with both leaders, but heard only that they were unwilling to directly spend resources on stopping the Holocaust, as their focus was on the war.
“Helping the Jews was not an advantage of the Allied military strategy,” he said.
When he asked the President what message he should convey to Poland, Roosevelt replied, “You will tell them that we will win the war and the enemy will be punished for their crimes. Justice will prevail. Tell your people they have a friend. It's what you tell them."
Even the Americans took part in the rescue of the Jews, and not a small one at that. The Quaker American Friends in the Service Committee, Unitarians, and other groups coordinated relief efforts for Jewish refugees in France, Portugal, and Spain throughout the war. Various American organizations have secured permission to enter the United States and accommodate about 1 Jewish children who arrived without parents.
Those who saved Jews during the Holocaust, whether they managed to help thousands of people or save just one life, proved that a person has the opportunity to make his choice even in the most critical circumstances. However, these and other manifestations of selflessness and courage, unfortunately, were able to protect only a small part of those who were doomed to destruction.
This topic is very painful and resonates with many of us. The author of many columns on our website, Ksenia Kirillova, dedicated her touching verse to the Holocaust, and we bring it to your attention:
Not worth dying in vain
Do not talk about life - do not jinx it.
I won't save anyone
Neither the new nor the old of you.
Under the cackle of tavern laughter,
As before, the people rejoice,
But the train of the great Reich
Stubbornly rushes forward.
We write columns of surnames -
Rows of indifferent columns.
But those we have kept
They look to us with hope.
The wagons are passing by
Hot copper trembles.
We enter the last name
We write, afraid to fail.
Trembling spreading ink,
The policeman is trading again.
The wagons are passing by
Almost touching your face.
Closer to Auschwitz and Plaszow,
The Reichsmark counts as a convoy.
Well, what are you? I'm not scared at all
You'll be back alive soon.
And here he draws a squiggle
Convoy on a white sheet ...
Not worth dying in vain
And there are too many deaths.
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