Righteous Gentiles and Holocaust Rescuers

Some righteous Gentiles stood up to the Nazis, and helped their Jewish neighbors, despite grave dangers.

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Religious Responses

Despite the Vatican failure to act, many priests, nuns, and laymen hid Jews in monasteries, convents, schools, and hospitals and protected them with false baptismal certificates. However, as Saul Friedlander's memoirs show, many Catholic priests proselytized and converted their "guests." Moreover, after the war, many Jewish children were never returned to Jewish families, even after lengthy court battles.

Nevertheless, some clergymen went to great lengths to protect the Jewish education and observance of their wards. Catholic, Protestant, Quaker, and Unitarian relief organizations cooperated with the Catholic church in France to rescue 12,000 Jewish children; they arranged safehouses and smuggled small numbers into Switzerland and Spain.

In Lvov, the Metropolitan Andreas Sheptitsky defended the Jews against the Nazis, and he and his Ukrainian compatriots hid about 150 Jews in monasteries in eastern Galicia. Furthermore, the French Huguenot Pastor Andre Trocme converted the small French Protestant village of Le Chambon into a mountain hideout for 1,000 Jewish persecutees. Le Chambon was as unique as the mass rescue of Danish Jews, because the entire town supported the rescue and accepted arrest and torture rather than betray the Jews they hid.

Lay Catholics, such as the German Dr. Gertrude Luckner, who headed the Caritas Catholica, also extended help to Jews and non-Aryan Christians in Germany. She was deported to Ravensbruck for her aid to the persecuted. After the war, Dr. Luckner was honored for her courage by the Israeli government. It must be noted that much of this Christian help was actually rendered to fellow Christians (converted Jews), who were classified as Jews due to their descent under Nazi racial laws.

In addition to active help, many clergymen also protested the mistreatment and deportations of Jews as violations of divine and human laws. The Catholic pastor of St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin, Bernard Lichtenburg, prayed publicly for the Jews until his arrest and death on the way to Dachau. The rescue work of priests of all Christian denominations is well-documented in postwar literature.

Mass Rescues

Spectacular rescues by mass resistance also occurred, as for example, the rescue of 7,000 Danish Jews in October 1943. The combination of a mass resistance, the proximity of receptive neutral Sweden, advance warnings of Nazi deportations, and identification with the persecutees by a whole nation made this episode almost unique.

Similar smaller rescue operations occurred in Greece, where Jews were hidden in the mountains or on islands. Later, Greek Jews were smuggled into Turkey. Similar popular aid to the Jews was rendered in Finland and in Holland there was a protest strike in February 1941, against the deportation of Dutch Jews. The Italian army also helped Jews in their occupation zones in France and Yugoslavia, and they played an important role in rescuing Italian Jews before the Germans occupied Italy in September 1943.

Resistance movements also helped Jews. Sometimes, this aid was intended to help the Jews; often it was rendered in the context of the general anti-Nazi resistance. In Yugoslavia, Serbian partisans attacked a concentration camp near Nish in 1941, freeing a small number of Jews. On April 19, 1943, the Committee for Jewish Defense, aided by Christian railroad workers, attacked a Belgian transport leaving Malines for Auschwitz. Several hundred Jewish deportees escaped with the help of the Belgian resistance.

A unique example of anti-Nazi resistance occurred in the Bialystok ghetto, where several anti-Nazi German and Austrian soldiers were sentenced to death for smuggling weapons and wireless sets to the Jewish resistance. One of these men, Otto Busse, survived and settled in the Kibbutz Nes Amin in 1969, devoting his life to Israel as a concrete example of "Christian atonement."

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Sybil Milton (1941-2000) was a leading scholar of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and a senior historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.