Stories of Rescue and Heroism

T he horrors of the Holocaust are so numerous, and so overwhelming, that the occasional heroic act often goes unnoticed or is forgotten. Researchers did not even begin to seriously study the many instances of rescue during the Holocaust until decades after the end of WWII. Still, it is imperative that the world recognize and remember the stories of those who helped save Nazi victims from persecution. The purpose of teaching students about those rescuers who saved thousands from Nazi genocide is to help students understand how the human values of kindness, dignity, and compassion stayed alive during the most trying of circumstances. The challenge facing a teacher is how to present these virtuous heroes as plausible and relevant models of moral activism. Students should observe these heroic people not as idealized superhuman figures, but as average decent human beings who expressed a normal response to tyranny. Teachers should help their students to see that each individual possesses the heart, power and strength to make a difference in the fight against hatred and oppression. This sentiment is reflected in the inscription on the medals awarded to Righteous Gentiles: "Whoever saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the whole world."

Their Brothers' Keepers
 by Philip Friedman

On November 6, 1957, the historian Philip Friedman dedicated this book, a product of ten years of difficult and meticulous research, to Christians who aided Jews during the Holocaust. The classic volume is the first documented evidence of Christian assistance to Jews during the Third Reich. Friedman relied upon firsthand information: eyewitness accounts, official documents, personal correspondence, and diaries. As he interviewed people across Europe in his efforts to discover instances of mercy and sacrifice, Friedman also attempted to understand the rescuers' motivations in risking their lives to save strangers. Recommended for high school students.

Righteous Gentile: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg
 by John Bierman

The story of Raoul Wallenberg, a relatively unknown Swede who is credited with saving close to 100,000 Hungarian Jews, is one of danger and excitement. The diplomat had the choice of remaining in safe, neutral Sweden but instead risked his life to help Jews escape one of the most perilous places in Europe, Nazi-occupied Hungary. Wallenberg was eventually arrested by Soviet police and put in prison. His fate there has remained a mystery, yet across the world he is honored as the first among the Righteous Gentiles. A former Speaker of Israel's Parliament said of Wallenberg, "he saved not only the Jews but the honor of man." Recommended for high school students.

Lvov Ghetto Diary
 by Rabbi David Kahane

This memoir contains numerous descriptions of the Nazi controlled city of Lvov and the Janowski camp not to be found elsewhere. Rabbi David Kahane's characterizations of the Nazi executioners are especially valuable for they provide material to assist scholars in understanding the social psychology of the murderous Third Reich. The chief virtue of this memoir is its contribution to the historiography of one of the most bitterly disputed areas of the Holocaust, the Ukrainian attitude towards Jews. Kahane's account of Ukrainian-Jewish relations during that period reveals some unlikely Righteous Gentiles, ecclesiastical figures who saved the lives of Jews by hiding the Jews in monasteries. Recommended for high school students.

The Courage to Care: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust
 edited by Carol Rittner, R.S.M. and Sondra Meyers

These editors have gathered a collection of photos, short personal narratives, and essays that provides an overall view of efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Some accounts in this book tell the stories of individual rescuers while others describe the actions taken by entire villages. Five short essays, which include related questions, by important writers, such as Elie Wiesel, give readers an opportunity to think critically about the stories of rescue. Foreword by Elie Wiesel. A film of the same title is also available. Recommended for junior high school and high school students.

Rescue: The Story of how Gentiles Saved Jews During the Holocaust
 by Milton Meltzer

Milton Meltzer presents some remarkable stories of how Righteous Gentiles risked imprisonment and even death to save Jews from Nazi persecution. The book also provides some basic background information about the Holocaust. While Meltzer recounts the stories of some famous rescuers, such as Raoul Wallenberg, King Christian X of Denmark and Oskar Schindler, he also tells of ordinary people who made a difference and became heroes because they acted courageously and did not tolerate Nazi hatred. Recommended for junior high school students.

Assignment: Rescue
 by Varian Fry

This autobiography tells the captivating story of Varian Fry, an unlikely American secret agent who traveled to France in June of 1940 under the guise of assisting the International YMCA. His real intention was to help smuggle Jews through the tightly controlled French borders. The Jews trapped in southern France, at the time run by the new puppet government of Vichy, would face certain deportation to concentration camps if they did not escape the Gestapo. Fry describes the thirteen months he spent helping the enemies of the Third Reich to obtain money, false passports, transportation and other items necessary for safe travel across France. He is credited with saving the lives of two to three thousand people. Recommended for junior high school and high school students.

Schindler's List
 by Thomas Keneally

Thomas Keneally's famous novel is a carefully balanced mixture of fact and fiction. Based on a true story, Keneally utilizes the testimonies of survivors to relate the remarkable account of Oskar Schindler, a supposed Nazi sympathizer who decided that Hitler's violent campaign of murder was profoundly, morally wrong. Schindler began to intercede from within the German system itself. He outsmarted the SS and the Gestapo by secretly harboring thousands of Jews in his factory. Schindler's factory employed Jewish workers and thus saved many who were targeted for deportation to the concentration camps. Oskar SchindlerÕs personal initiative and courage cost him dearly financially, but his life-saving mission rescued men, women and children from certain death in the gas chambers. His name will never be forgotten as a heroic Righteous Gentile. Steven Spielberg's critically acclaimed movie, SchindlerÕs List, is faithful to the novel and makes a useful teaching tool in accompaniment. Both are recommended for high school students.

While the scarlet child stopped in her column and turned to watch, they shot the woman in the neck, and one of them, when the boy slid down the wall whimpering, jammed a boot down on his head, as if to hold it still and put the barrel against the back of the neck--the recommended SS stance--and fired....

At last Schindler slipped from his horse, tripped, and found himself on his knees hugging the trunk of a pine tree. The urge to throw up his excellent breakfast was, he sensed, to be suppressed for he suspected it meant that all his cunning body was doing was making room to digest the horrors of Krakusa Street.

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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.

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