front of you the Righteous I bow."
Heroes and Heroines of the Holocaust
Terese Pencak Schwartz
No other event in current history created so many stories of atrocities and horror as the Holocaust. Much has been written on the victimization of millions and the senseless murder of 11 million human beings. It is rare to find any sliver of goodness during that horrible time in history. Yet there are incredible stories of courage and humanity that are just beginning to be told. For many reason the heroes of these stories have not talked about their experiences. Only now, as many have aged to near extinction, they are beginning to talk -- coerced by second generation survivors who crave to hear their stories of valor.
Just as we should never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, we should also never forget the heroes of the Holocaust. There is perhaps more of a lesson in the story of the rescuers -- the heroes than even in the atrocities. Most of the victims unfortunately had no control -- no choice in their destiny. The rescuers, on the other hand, had choices. They could have chosen to have looked the other way -- as many around the world did. But not the heroes. The heroes made a decision. They chose to risk their own lives, their family's, and they often risked their homes and their own comfort to help save thousands of Jews.
At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem, there is a section called: Righteous of the Nations, set up in 1953 to honor the rescuers. As of January 1996 over 24,000 names have been recognized by Yad Vashem. This in no way represents the entire list of rescuers. Some countries will not allow names of rescuers to be reported. Yad Vashem will only accept names of Righteous Gentiles, as they are called, when there are witness testimonies to prove the rescue. Yad Vashem admits that many times the Jewish person died even with the assistance.
For every rescuer there were many anonymous accomplices -- people who helped, but who chose to remain anonymous. The anonymous accomplices would leave packages of food or supplies on a doorstep in the middle of the night. The anonymous accomplices would give a signal when a Nazi soldier approached. Many were accomplices just by remaining silent -- by not saying anything, even when they knew that their punishment could be torture or execution.