Rescuers are those who, at great personal risk, actively helped members of persecuted groups, primarily Jews, during the Holocaust in defiance of Third Reich policy. They were ordinary people who became extraordinary people because they acted in accordance with their own belief systems while living in an immoral society. Thousands survived the Holocaust because of the daring of these rescuers. Although in total their number is statistically small, rescuers were all colossal people.
Profile of rescuersRescuers were peasants and nannies, aristocrats and clergy, bakers and doctors, social workers and storekeepers, school children and police officers, diplomats and grandmothers. They were from many countries—the Netherlands, the Ukraine, Poland, Germany, France, Hungary, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Belgium and other nations. Rescuers viewed Jews and other victims not as the enemy, but as human beings. Generally, rescuers were able to accept people who were different than them. They also held the conviction that what one person did could make a difference.
Each rescue story is different. Yet, what rescuers had in common was a combination of awareness, resourcefulness, empathy, vigilance, inventiveness, courage, compassion, and persistence. First, a rescuer had to recognize that a person was endangered, something that was not always clear because of the propaganda and the secrecy of the Nazis. Many rescuers today recount that witnessing one horrifying incident between Nazis and their victims propelled them into becoming rescuers. Next, rescuers had to decide whether or not to assume the responsibility of helping and risk the potential consequences. Public hangings, deportation to concentration camps, and on-the-spot shootings were very real consequences of helping enemies of the Third Reich. After the rescuers found ways to help, they took action. Sometimes the entire transformation from bystander to rescuer took just seconds, and, in certain cases, was not even a conscious decision.
People rescued others for various reasons. Some were motivated by a sense of morality. Others had a relationship with a particular person or group. Some were politically driven and were adamantly opposed to the Third Reich. Other rescuers were involved at work, as diplomats, nurses, social workers, and doctors, and continued their involvement beyond their professional obligation. Many children followed in their parents' footsteps and became rescuers.
The scope of the rescuing activities varied, from leaving food regularly by a ghetto fence, to hiding someone within one's house for several years, to creating a bureaucracy that allowed thousands of Jews to emigrate.
Rescuers possessed an inner core of unshakable values and beliefs that enabled them to take a stand against the horrific injustices Hitler perpetrated during his twelve years in power. As social psychologist Dr. Eva Fogelman explains in Conscience and Courage:It was a reign which, nearly half a century later, still challenges our understanding. Evil was rewarded and good acts were punished. Bullies were aggrandized and the meek trampled. In this mad world, most people lost their bearings. Fear disoriented them, and self-protection blinded them. A few, however, did not lose their way. A few took their direction from their own moral compass.
The Heart Has Reasons This 12-page excerpt profiles Dutch rescuer Rut Matthijsen, who was part of a student group that saved hundreds of children. Included are Rut's thoughts on how the Holocaust might best be taught and studied.
The Hiding Place This 6,500 word condensed version of Christian rescuer Corrie ten Boom's best-selling memoir tells the engrossing story of how she and her family hid Jewish people in their home in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
To Save One Life is a 20-page booklet from the Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College that provides an overview of rescue efforts that took place across Nazi-occupied Europe.
Elisabeth Abegg was a German Quaker who saved Jews in Berlin during World War II.
Joseph Andre was a Belgian abbot who helped rescue hundreds of Jewish children and encouraged them to remain in the Jewish faith.
Per Anger was a Swedish diplomat who worked with Raoul Wallenberg to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
Gitta Bauer tells how she sheltered a half-Jewish woman for nine months in Germany.
Germaine Belline and Liliane Gaffney explain how they hid thirty Jews in Belgium.
Ivan Beltrami was able to use his position as an intern to protect Jews in a hospital infirmary in France.
Marie Benoit was a French Capuchin monk who arranged for the rescue of thousands of Jews.
Anna and Jaruslav Chlup cared for Herman Feder, a Jewish man who escaped from a transport in Czechoslovakia as he was being taken to a death camp.
John Damski barely escaped execution while a Polish political prisoner. Upon release he helped many Jews in Poland to escape the ghetto, obtain false documents, and find work. He helped a Jewish neighbor's family and ended up marrying the daughter.
Jean Deffaugt, mayor of a French town on the Swiss border, aided Jews caught crossing the border.
Marc Donadille was a Protestant minister who rescued about eighty Jewish children in France.
Libuse Fries rescued her future husband and his sister in Prague.
Varian Fry was an American who went to France on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee with the mission of rescuing artists, writers, academics, and others at risk.
Miep Gies helped hide Anne Frank and her family in Holland.
Marie-Rose Gineste harbored Jews in Montauben, France.
Alexandre Glasberg was a French priest rescued Jews and then joined the Partisans.
Hermann Friedrich Grabe used his position as a foreman to employ and protect Jews in Germany.
Paul Gruninger was a Swiss official who disobeyed his government by allowing some 3,600 Jews to cross illegally into Switzerland.
Emilie Guth and Ermine Orsi were French Protestants who hid Jews in the Le Chambon area of France.
Adelaide Hautval was a French physician who secretly assisted Jews in Auschwitz and Birkenau.
Esta Heiber tells how she was able to rescue twenty Jewish children in Belgium.
Andree Guelen Herscovici was a teacher in Belgium who began rescue work when her Jewish students began getting deported.
Henry Hulstein was a devout Christian who risked his life to save Jewish people in Holland. In this extended narrative, his son Ray, who was a child during the war, tells the story of his family's rescue activities.
Father Jacques de Jésus was a Carmelite friar and headmaster of the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de L'enfant-Jésus. His attempt to rescue four Jewish boys is remembered in the film Au Revoir les Enfants.
Jan Karski was a liaison officer of the Polish underground who secretly visited both the Warsaw Ghetto and a German concentration camp, and became one of the first people to try to alert the West about the actions Hitler was taking to exterminate European Jewry.
Antonin Kalina, a Communist political prisoner, was able to protect 1,300 children in Buchenwald.
Helen L. tells how an older Russian soldier's compassion helped save her life when she was on her way to a displaced persons camp in Poland.
Janis Lipke was a Latvian who saved many Jews from the Riga ghetto.
Barbara Szymanska Makuch chronicles her aid to Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Aristides Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat in Bordeaux who signed about 30,000 visas to help Jews and persecuted minorities to escape the Nazis.
Mihael Michaelov explains how he helped Jews in Bulgaria during the Holocaust.
Dorothea Neff was a famous Austrian stage actress who hid her Jewish dress designer in the back room of her apartment.
Yvonne Neyejean was the head of a Belgian agency responsible for the rescue of as many as 4,000 Jewish children.
Ellen Nielsen tells how she helped Jews escape by boat from Denmark to Sweden.
Marion P. is a Dutch rescuer who hid a number of Dutch Jews. (Photo, video, audio, and short text)
Mirjam Pinkhof, a Jewish rescuer, worked with Joop Westerweel in Holland to find refuge for German children sent there by their parents for safety.
Oskar Schindler was a German businessman who protected Jews who worked in his factory in Poland. His story is recounted in the book Schindler's List, and the movie by the same name.
Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania who issued thousands of illegal visas Jewish people enabling them to emigrate to Japan.
Tina Strobos was an active member of the Dutch underground who helped many Jews obtain food, shelter, and false documents during the Nazi occupation of Holland.
Marie Taquet hid the Jewish identity of 80 boys at a school for children of the Belgian military.
Pastor Andre Trocmé lead an effort in the French Protestant village of Le Chambon to save 3,000-5,000 Jews.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who may have saved more lives than any other single rescuer by issuing tens of thousands of illegal visas to Jews in Hungary. After the war, he was arrested by Russian officers and was never seen again.
Jan Zwartendijk, the acting Dutch consul in Kovno, stamped passports of many Lithuanian Jews allowing them to emigrate to Japan.
Five profiles of Polish rescuers from Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust by Gay Block and Malka Drucker appear on this site.
Five additional Polish rescue accounts from The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust by Mordecai Paldiel are available here.
Holocaust Rescuers Bibliography by Mary Mark and Mark Klempner.
Interactive quiz on Rescuers.
Lesson plans, discussion questions, term paper topics, reproducible handouts, and other resources for teaching about rescuers are available here.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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