Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

10 Notable Righteous Gentiles

In honor of Yom HaShoah, we pay tribute to those individuals declared by Yad Vashem as ‘The Righteous Among the Nations’

By: Zak Edwards

Published: May 2nd, 2014 in News » World

10 Notable Righteous Gentiles

As Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) was this week, we decided to pay tribute to some of the countless men and women who risked their lives to help Jewish families escape the horrors of the Shoah.

The Holocaust was unprecedented in its horrors and we should take time to look at how many of the tactics used against Jews also made helping them nearly impossible. Today, we’ve decided to look at some of the countless Righteous Gentiles, the non-Jews who took unimaginable risk to stand up and help those in need during the Holocaust. The list is in no way ranked, but instead looks to highlight a small section of those who aided people in need during the Shoah.

Unfortunately, this list can in no way be comprehensive, nor can any other, as many of the good deeds by Gentiles throughout this period have disappeared with history. But here are some of the Righteous among the Nations as declared by Yad Vashem who saved many lives during one of the world’s greatest tragedies.

1. Oskar Schindler

Everyone knows the name Oskar Schindler and not simply because of the Steven Spielberg film. Initially a man who used Jewish labor because they were cheaper than Polish workers, Schindler eventually spent his entire fortune in bribes, black market supplies, and other expenses saving the lives of roughly 1,200 Jews, who now call themselves Schindlerjuden. Schindler ran an an enamelware factory called Rekord Ltd that was originally run by a Jewish group. During the war, he ended up hiring over 1,000 Jews to work and making connections to make sure the company could keep its workers alive and in the country. After the Nazis ordered local Jews into a new concentration camp, Schindler managed to establish a separate camp that avoided the horrors. He was arrested three times during the war and was left destitute for his efforts.

2. The City of Shanghai

A little known fact: the city of Shanghai unconditionally accepted over 18,000 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1941. This was more than Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and British India combined. Shanghai even set up a ghetto for the Jews and multiple institutions joined in providing food, shelter, and aid to the incoming Jewish refugees.

Conditions did change after the Japanese invasion however, but the Japanese General Hideki Tōjō refused to hand them back over to the Germans. The group was relocated and experienced widespread hunger and poor living conditions after Japanese occupation, but were never sent to concentration camps and were generally allowed to move freely and work. While not exactly ideal, the treatment of the Jewish community was exceptionally better than back in ghettoized Europe. After the war, almost all of the Jews in China left, but they survived where others in Europe had not.

3. Aristides de Sousa Mendes

A Portuguese diplomat, Sousa Mendes was key in issuing thousands of fake passports and documents to Jews throughout Europe to ensure their safe travel from Nazi-occupied areas. On November 11, 1939, Portugal issued Circular 14, a law that clearly defined immigration policies to restrict the number of incoming Jewish refugees on the basis of economics rather than ideology. Of course, this restricted an area where many Jews were hoping to escape to and, as such, many Jewish lives were put at risk through the decree.

Sousa Mendes was ordered to follow Circular 14 and instead openly and directly disobeyed it “on the grounds that it was an inhumane and racist directive. He started issuing passports immediately, but later began falsifying other documents to grant people fake citizenships. When Spain finally surrendered, Sousa Mendes reportedly angrily yelled to anyone who would listen “From now on I’m giving everyone visas. There will be no more nationalities, races or religions.” After that, he did so until he was finally caught and stopped by his superiors in 1940. In his short time of defiance, however, Sousa Mendes saved the lives of thousands of Jews.

4. Irena Sendler

As the head of Żegota, Irena Sendler aided thousands of Jewish children through the Polish Underground Railroad, a secret organization designed to get Jews out of Poland. Sendler first started falsifying documents soon after Germany invaded Poland and became heavily involved in the Council to Aid Jews. Because of her nursing and social work background, Sendler was able to enter Jewish ghettos and used this mobility to organize smuggling children out of the ghettos. During the war, she managed to save an estimated 2,500 Jewish children by organizing a complex network of sympathetic organizations, including Catholic nunneries and orphanages. In 1943, however, she was caught, tortured, and sentenced to death by the Nazis. Thankfully, her friends in Żegota managed to bribe her guards and she narrowly avoided execution, and lived until 2008.

5. Henryk Sławik

A Polish politician who saved the lives of an estimated 5,000 Jews, Sławik started by doing what most high ranking officials did: falsify documents. These documents were initially made once Sławik landed in Hungary after fighting the Nazis with Polish forces, forging papers to disguise Jews as members of other religions and families. Also importantly, Sławik created an orphanage for Jewish children, officially called School for Children of Polish Officers. The School was regularly visited by sympathetic Catholics to keep up appearances. When the Nazis did take Hungary, Sławik used his considerable connections and political power to help all of the Jews escape, an estimated 5,000. Unfortunately, he was discovered and taken to Mauthausen concentration camp where he was hanged, probably in August 1944.

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