Where can I find information on the Holocaust rescuers? Rescuers risked lives, endured concentration camps but brought light to a dark world when others looked away.
During World War II, much of the Jewish population of Europe was being exterminated by the Nazis. Usually the serious persecution would start with the destruction of the Jewish people's homes, businesses, or synagogues. Non-Jewish witnesses often joined in the looting and mocking of the Jews.
With the exception of Denmark, most occupied countries' governments, universities and other institutions remained silent about the treatment of the Jews.
Why did so many individuals stay uninvolved?
Many at first did not see or understand what was really happening.
Why didn't people understand?
Many who should have understood the Nazi objective may not have because they were in shock. Many soldiers, police, and SS troops were drunk with power. Many times the Nazis would shoot people for minor infractions.
People were afraid of upsetting the police. Brutality was a daily occurrence. Sometimes bystanders would witness a family they knew being shot or deported. When people lose someone they love, (or know) in a brutal way,they tend to shut down to survive emotionally. The oppression left many feeling hopeless.
Another stress bystanders and rescuers faced was food shortages. Many days, food was not available. Individuals worried daily if there would be enough food for their families survival.
Everyone knew that non-Jews who hid Jews could be shot or hung immediately. Many times the police would torture or shoot the rescuer's
children right in front of them. Bystanders did not want to put their own families at risk to suffer those consequences.
What Made the Difference?
In Eva Fogelman's book, Conscience and Courage, she explores the reasons why some individuals rescued and so many others did not. Her first point is that people had to be aware there was a problem. In Germany and the occupied countries, there was a lot of propaganda about the Jews being the enemy. The Nazis did a good job of hiding their true agenda, especially in the beginning. Fogelman said that noticing and interpreting the situation were the first steps to awareness.
Fogelman's book gives many examples of atrocities that rescue workers saw that finally forced them to understand what was happening.
She states that empathizing with the suffering of others was an essential ingredient to moving beyond awareness.
Her second point is that "rescuers would offer help but only if they felt there was a good chance they could pull it off." She lists the factors that increased the likelihood that a bystander would be able to succeed in hiding Jews as:
1) They were asked directly or knew of someone in imminent danger.
2) If they had a safe place to hide the Jews. (For example, farmers could hide people who could
pass as farmhands). Maybe they had spare rooms, basements, or attics where they could hide
3) The more Jewish the individual looked, the harder their physical characteristics would be to hide. If the individual who sought to be hidden looked Aryan, the rescuer could hire them or say they were relatives if the Gestapo came to call.
Thirdly, on page 158 she discusses how what a person or nation felt about the Third Reich affected whether an individual or country would get involved.
Fourth, rescuers might get involved because they loved Jewish people. They could care about the Jews as a people for many reasons. She talked about some people caring about the Jewish people because they knew someone who was Jewish. Others believed that the Jews were special because they were God's chosen people. Fogelman spends much time discussing the different types of moral rescuers.
Some rescuers were just moral people who may or may not have cared about Jewish people at all but who knew that the Nazis agenda was immoral. Some of these rescuers were religious, but not all of them. The rescuers could just be people whose lives had been spent in a caring profession like doctors or dentists.
An example of a rescuer that met most of Fogelman's criteria was Oskar Schindler.
Oskar Schindler became aware of the situation when he observed a young girl in a ghetto watching the German soldiers killing Jewish people.
Awareness drove him to the action of saving as many Jews as he could.
Schindler was able to use his business, connections, and money to rescue Jews. He was able to bring Jews into his business and keep them from being deported. He did socialize frequently with higher-ups in the Nazi party and used their names often to keep workers from being deported.
He did such a good job acting as "one of the boys" that according to Fogelman, Amon Goet, a brutally sadistic labor camp commandant, wanted to use Schindler for a character witness at his war trial. Fogelman(77)
When the Nazis uncovered Schindler's activities, Schindler took his own money to bribe Nazis in order to "buy" Jewish lives. In the end, he saved over 1,500 lives. He was willing to lose all that he had to save the Jews under his care. He did not lead a moral lifestyle, yet he had moral principles.
Two examples of women and their families who rescued Jews because of their religious convictions were:
Corrie Ten Boom, author of THE HIDING PLACE and Diet Emman, author of THE THINGS WE COULD NOT SAY.
Both Ten Boon and Emman paid for their convictions by going to concentration camps themselves. Corrie Ten Boom watched her sister die in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Diet Emman lost her fiancee for the cause as well. These women's devotion to the Lord energized them to do what was right.
Besides being in a position where they could help, clergymen had strong religious convictions of morality.
Many archbishops and denominational leaders were involved in the rescuing effort. Throughout the occupied countries, Catholic nuns and priests and pastors of churches would save Jewish lives, especially focusing on little children. Many of their denominations did not stand against Nazism outwardly, but individuals within the organization listened to their hearts and obeyed their convictions.
In Germany the Nazis were citizens. Due to longtime religious prejudice, Jews were already perceived as the enemy. Consequently, bystanders were less likely to become rescuers in Germany. Being considered a citizen made a big difference.
In Denmark, there was a strong reaction against the Nazis being in their country and in power:
"The Danish rescue action was largely
spontaneous, a reaction to the Nazi
disregard of Danish national pride
and Danish traditions and religious
and political convictions. The
Jews were Danish citizens or lived
under Danish protection and their
persecution was understood by the
Danes as an attack on their national
integrity." Bauer, 294-295
In fact, the Prince of Denmark himself told his citizens to protect the Jewish people within his country.
When the Nazis attempted to burn down the Jewish homes and synagogues, Danish police surrounded the synagogues and would not allow the Nazis to
The Danish ambassador, Duckwitz, had an opportunity to intervene. Duckwitz was able to alert the Danes that the Germans were sending boats to deport the Danish Jews.
When the Danes learned that these boats were coming, they warned all the Jews. The obstacle they had to overcome was that no one really knew who was Jewish, and who was not. Germany was not able to isolate the Danish Jews. The Danes' commitment kept nearly 8000 Jewish people from being deported.
The whole Danish government resigned when they received the ultimatum from Germany to impose a state of emergency.
The Danes "badgered the Germans about the Jews "˜whereabouts and the welfare "of the few citizens that Germany was able to deport."
The opposite happened in parts of Poland. Jewish people were not considered citizens at all. Poland had it's own issues in European affairs that made it a particularly volatile place.
There had been anti-Semitic propaganda there long before Hitler came. Most non-Jews wanted Jews isolated.
This was partially because when the Nazis forced the Jewish people into Ghettos, the SS troops would reward the Polish bystanders by allowing them to take possession of homes and the personal property of displaced Jews.
Later, when Jewish homes and businesses were being destroyed in the Warsaw ghetto, non Jews were outside the ghetto. They were enjoying Warsaw's newest park, Krasinski, and it's new carousel. Witnesses inside the ghetto could hear music from the carousel as the destruction continued.
The book, A Legacy of Hatred, by David A. Rausch discusses the intense hatred of many individuals in Poland toward Jews. It reveals that some Polish individuals continued their mistreatment of the Jews even after the war was over. Rausch states, "after the detested Nazis were defeated, some Poles pulled emaciated Jews who had barely survived the work camps off the trains headed for safety and killed them."Rausch, page 1
The French considered Jewish people citizens if
their family had been in France over five generations as citizens. Also, Jews who had made important civic contributions or had won military decorations would be called citizens. The French would allow the Jews considered citizens to claim exemption from the Anti-Semitic
measures that were being taken. This is another example of how citizenship made a difference in the way that Jews were treated.
A group that you would have expected to help the Jews was fellow Jews. Not so in France. When war broke out in 1939, even Jewish groups in France refused to help Jewish refugees who had been interned by the French as "enemy aliens."
Queen Elizabeth and King Leopold interceded for and saved several thousand Jewish people that were about to be deported.
Ambassadors and Officials
Many ambassadors would give out false certificates of citizenship so that people could leave the country. Examples include: Raoul Wallenberg from the Swedish embassy in Budapest, who is credited with saving 70,000 lives, and the Japanese counsel in Lithuania, who issued Japanese 3500 transit visas.
Mayors, Border police:
The mayor and police of a border town called Annemasse would often look the other way and allow groups of Jewish children to cross the border without interfering.
The group called the Circuit Garel had an operation whose goal was to spirit as many endangered children from France to safety in Switzerland as possible. The group that ran the Circuit Garel realized the tenuous situation of the Jews. They already had a property outside of occupied France between Annemasse and Switzerland. Their network and their camp gave them an opportunity and a place to hide the children.
The Circuit Garel was a group of children's workers, and had already been bringing children out to it's camp regularly for holiday camps before the war. Now instead of bringing only the children of railway workers to the "holiday camps," they were also able to spirit Jewish children out of France. From this camp they had clergy and other rescuers ready to guide the children into Switzerland.
Doctors, Dentists and other Professionals:
Doctors in Denmark admitted patients under assumed names into hospitals.
Dentists and doctors would give unnecessary operations and or unnecessary dental work (such as fillings and crowns) to people (that did not need them) in the concentration camps. They would set up unnecessary return appointments, so they could pass food and information to those
imprisoned in the camps.
To summarize, in countries where Jews were kept isolated, they were less likely to be rescued. If the Jewish population was known by others,
the Jews were more likely to be rescued. The people of Denmark rescued over 7,200 of their Jews. Everyone from small apartment dwellers to the top government officials was involved.
The world lost many brilliant, well-educated people during the Holocaust. If all countries had responded the way Denmark did, this is not a loss we would now have to live with.
1) Bauer, Yehuda and Keren, Nili.(1982) . A History of the Holocaust. (New York: Franklin Watts 1982)(A Grolier Company) ,279-292
2) Orbaan, Albert. Duel in the Shadows: True accounts of anti-Nazi underground warfare during World War II.(New York:Doubleday&Company,1965). Page 107-114
3)Miller, Russell and Editors of TIME-LIFE Books. The Resistance : World War II (Volume 17). ( Virginia: Time-Life Books Inc,1979) ,127-140
4) Rausch, David A. A Legacy of Hatred. (Why Christians Must Not Forget the Holocaust) Chicago: Moody Press: 1984
5) Fogelman, Eva. Conscience & Courage: Rescuers of Jews During The Holocaust. (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1994.), 54, 77
6) Ten Boom, Corrie with Sherrill, John and Sherrill, Elizabeth . The Hiding Place.(New Jersey: Fleming H Revell Company, 1971)
7)Eman, Diet with Schaap, James. Things We Couldn't Say. (Michigan: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company,1994.)