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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In Hiding

Many Jews were saved by hiding and also by illegal frontier crossings. Anne Frank's family hid in the concealed annex of an Amsterdam office building with the help of a Christian friend, and the family of Emmanuel Ringelblum (the Warsaw ghetto historian) hid in Warsaw in a specially prepared underground bunker camouflaged by a Polish gardener's greenhouse. Both the Franks and the Ringelblums were caught and perished. About 20,000 Polish Jews, however, did survive hidden in Aryan Warsaw. Likewise, 5,000 Dutch Jews and several thousand German Jews were hidden in the heart of the Nazi Empire, in Berlin and Hamburg.

Gentiles, like the teacher Joop Westerweel, smuggled about 100 Jewish children (Palestine Pioneers) across the Dutch border through the French Pyrenees to safety in Spain. He worked alongside Yehoyahim Simon ("Shushu") in the Zionist Halutzim (pioneer) movement. Both Shushu and Westerweel were eventually caught by the Germans and executed.

Spontaneous gestures by supportive Christian neighbors and friends led to aid for Jews in hiding and on the run. Although the Jewish underground railway to Palestine continued with difficulty throughout World War II, some Jews did escape the European arena and made it to safety in Palestine, Turkey, Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain.

Although Yad Vashem (Israel's Memorial to the Six Million) has honored over 1,200 Righteous Among the Nations since 1953, it is impossible to generalize about the motives, deeds, and actual numbers of these rescuers. Some rescuers acted within the planned context of guerilla units and resistance movements, others used the buildings and funds of the Roman Catholic church to aid Jews.

The rescuers were able to use the national humiliation caused by the German occupation to build limited popular support and help the Jews. They were few in number but ethically and morally strong. Although the number of Jews they saved was small, they provide a beacon of victory for posterity, a victory over the capitulation and collaboration of the majority of their compatriots.

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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.