In 1938, the Cohens fled Austria in 1938 to Italy. In 1941, when the Nazi’s asked Italy to turn over its refugees, Mrs. Cohen took her children to a Priest, Father Anselmo, begging him to care for them and send them to Palestine after the war. Instead, the courageous priest hid the family in a car, covering them with a blue church carpet. At the Swiss border, the priest diverted the sentries, while the family escaped into Switzerland. Twenty years later, the Cohens found a similar rug, embroidered it with, “Blessed Be The Righteous Ones” in Latin and Hebrew, arranged for the Pope to walk upon it, and sent it to the aged priest’s church in Laterina, Italy.
And so goes one of my favorite stories of courageous “bedfellows” who, though not Jewish, and despite the risks, saved Jewish lives.
In 1953, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority established the “Righteous Among the Nations” program at Yad Vashem. Approximately 15,000 persons have received this high honor bestowed by the Jewish people, through the State of Israel, upon non-Jews.
Having a son, I felt, as a German, I should act. — Beate Klarsfeld
We Jews have heard of Oscar Schindler, his wife, Emilie (who deserved more credit than given), Anne Frank’s helpers, Raoul Wallenberg, and Beate Klarsfeld. but no Holocaust history would be complete without recognizing the thousands of lesser known non-Jews who contributed to our very survival. Here’s a tiny sampling.
First, The Countries:
Though in the tens of thousands, no exact figures of numbers of Jews saved during the Holocaust by non-Jews are available. Below are estimates.
France — 200,000 +; Belgium — 26,000; The Netherlands; 16,000; Italy – 35,000; Denmark – 7,200; Norway – 900; Germany and Austria – 5,000-15,000; Poland – 25,000-45,000; Lithuania – up to 1,000; Hungary – 200,000+; Greece 3,000-5,000; Yugoslavia – up to 5,000; Albania – 1,800. 10,000 Of Us – Saved! Aristides de Sousa Mendes
One of the most remarkable helpers was Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Consul-general in France. The man, known by those he helped as the “Angel of Bordeaux” saved 10,000 Jews through issuing transit visas against orders. He died a destitute outcast.
Thousands Of Us – Saved! Jan Zwartendijk, Chiune Sugihara
Thousands of Polish Jews survived through the efforts of Jan Zwartendijk, Dutch consul in Lithuania, and Chiune Su to Jews. About half fled just before the German invasion of Lithuania, and spent the war years in Shanghai. In 2000, Fight and Rescue, a special exhibition, opened at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, honoring, among others, these remarkable men.
Thousands Of Us Artists & Intellectuals – Saved! Varian Fry
It took years, but Varian Fry, unsung for two generations, has finally been fully recognized for his enormous courage. The New York editor, helped thousands of artists in Vichy France escape Nazi terror. He was part of a mission that saved, among countless others, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Andre Breton, and Jacques Lipchitz. In 1991, 50 years after his courageous action and 24 after his death, this American Schindler received his first official recognition from the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1996 he was the first American to be named “Righteous Among the Nations,” and Guinness (2001) notes his record for saving artists. Sadly, he never knew of the honors heaped upon him. He died in obscurity in 1967.
2,500 Of Us – Saved! Hiram Bingham IV
Through the efforts of his son, the unsung story of Hiram Bingham IV, is finally being told. The line from Salem, Connecticut is the stuff of legends. Hirams I and II were missionaries depicted in the book Hawaii. Archeologist Hiram Bingham III inspired Spielberg’s Indiana Jones. And Hiram IV, father of eleven, was an unsung hero. After his death in 1988, the family discovered hidden documents revealing that in 1939, Bingham was a vice consul in Marseilles, France. In 1940, despite State Department anti-Semitism, along with Varian Fry, Bingham issued visas, saving 2,500 refugees. Hiram Bingham IV has been officially honored by Israel as a “righteous diplomat,” and in 2006, through the efforts of his son, a U.S. stamp of him was issued in the series, “Distinguished American Diplomats.” Driven from his diplomatic career, like fellow rescuer Varian Fry, he died penniless, and virtually unknown.
56 Of Us–Saved! Anastazja & Karol Klimczak
Anastazja and husband Karol Klimczak, saved 56 Jews in Drohobycz, Poland. In 1943, a poorly dressed woman arrived at their doorstep with an eight-year-old child. The family took them in. Their mission began. Anastazja found more Jews hiding and provided shelter. In 1944, German soldiers entered the room full of hay (the hiding place). The couple, thinking quickly, diverted them, saving their Jewish group.
Ona Simaite, The Librarian
“When the Germans imprisoned the Jews of Vilna, I was ashamed that I myself was not Jewish. I felt that I had to do something.” – Ona Simaite A Lithuanian librarian at Vilna University, Ona Simaite, used her position to aid and rescue Jews from Vilna ghetto. On the pretext of retrieving books, she smuggled in provisions and smuggled out Jews. “Mother” to these Jews, she was caught, tortured, and sent to Dachau in 1944. She died peacefully in 1970.
Adelaide Hautval, The Doctor
French doctor, Adelaide Hautval, was arrested for crossing the demarcation line dividing France. While in jail awaiting trial, she vociferously protested the inhumane treatment of Jewish prisoners. As a “friend of the Jews,” she was sent to Auschwitz, where she refused to perform pseudo-medical “experiments.” In the 1964 London trial of Uris vs. Dering, Hautval testified that it was possible to disobey inhumane Nazi orders even in Auschwitz.
Barbara Makuch, The Teacher & Her Family
Makuch valiantly helped Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. As a teacher at a boy’s boarding school, she passed off Jews as students or put them to work in the school. With her mother, she took in a Jewish child at the desperate request of the girl’s mother. Afraid of being detected, she took the girl on a dangerous journey to Lvov to place her in a convent school. In Lvov, Makuch and her sister worked for Zegota, an underground group that helped Jews in hiding. Found out, she was sent to Ravensbruck. She survived to tell her story.
Joop Westerweel, The Teacher
Joop Westerweel a Dutch educator, created a secret network to help young members of a Zionist pioneering group avoid detection. But more, he accompanied them through occupied Belgium and France to the Spanish border. Eventually he was caught and executed by the Germans.
The Strange Rescue of Joseph Isaac Schneersohn–Saved!
One of the strangest Holocaust rescues took place in 1939 when Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe and his family escaped from Warsaw to the U.S. due to German officers Ernest Bloch, a half Jew (known as Mischlinges), and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of Nazi intelligence. Through urging by the American Lubavitcher community, VIPs interceded. Helmut Wohlthat, who headed up Goring’s Four-Year Plan (though sympathetic to Jews), contacted by the American consul general in Berlin, assigned Bloch and Canaris to execute the rescue plan. Despite close calls, the rebbe made it to New York.
The Strange Case of Eberhard Helmrich
He was a major in the Wehrmacht, Commander of a farm at Hyrawka labor camp in Poland, yet, Eberhard Helmrich protected Jews from deportation to concentration camps, and with his wife, smuggled 12 girls to safety. More, they dispatched scores of Jewish women to Berlin homes with fake credentials as Polish and Ukrainian housemaids.
On December 2, 1993, when a brick was thrown through the window of a Jewish home displaying a menorah, the town of Billings, Montana (pop.83,000) took action. A woman, deeply affected by the incident phoned her pastor — and the community rallied. Menorahs were seen in thousands of Christian, along with Jewish homes! One store’s billboard read: “Not in our town! No hate. No violence. Peace on earth.” Eventually the hate crimes died down, but residents continued to support one another. In Billings, when We Jews cry “Never Again!” We’re not alone.
Marnie Macauley, whose work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations, is the author of the acclaimed “Yiddishe Mamas: The Truth About the Jewish Mother” and the award-winning “A Little Joy, A Little Oy” calendar. These, as well as her new Joy of Jewish Humor: 2013 Day-to-Day Calendar can be found on Amazon.com, other online calendar/book sites, as well as fine booksellers. Marnie is also a counselor on Liveperson.com and invites you to connect with her on Facebook, Twitter LinkedIn, and Singularcity.com.
Marnie Macauley is listed in The Full Wiki’s Top Jewish American Writers, living or dead. (She’s busy deciding which)