The Righteous Among the Nations

Blog post by Museum Educator Allene Gutin. To read more posts from Allene, click here.


“And so we must know these good people who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We must learn from them, and in gratitude and hope, we must remember them.” – Elie Wiesel

As part of the education team at the Museum, I am working on a PowerPoint about The Righteous Among the Nations, that is, gentiles (non-Jewish people) who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Yad VaShem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel has a database of people who have been honored as the Righteous, including an online exhibit called I Am My Brother’s Keeper: A Tribute to the Righteous Among the Nations. I thought I would share a few stories from my research.

The Medal of the Righteous

Currently there are 27,362 people who have been identified as “the righteous.” Their stories are amazing. The Righteous Among the Nations took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. “Rescue took many forms and the Righteous came from different nations, religions and walks of life. What they had in common was that they protected their Jewish neighbors at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed.” (www.yadvashem.org)

Survivor Michael Stolowicki with his rescuer Gertruda Babilinska. Courtesy of Yad Vashem.
One particularly inspiring story is that of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.

Master Sergeant Edmonds served in the US Army during World War II. He participated in the landing of the American forces in Europe and was taken prisoner by the Germans. He was taken with other POWs, including Jews, he was taken to Stalag IXA, a camp near Ziegenhain, Germany. In the East, the Germans would single out the Jewish POWs and many were sent to extermination camps or killed. In the West, the Jewish prisoners were also separated from the others.

Jewish Soviet POW captured by the German Army, August 1941. At least 50,000 Jewish soldiers were executed after selection. Image courtesy of the German Federal Archives via.

Sometime in January 1945 the Germans announced that all Jewish POWs in Stalag IXA were to report the following morning. Edmonds, who was in charge of the prisoners, ordered all POWs, Jews and non-Jews to stand together. When the German officer in charge saw that all the camp’s inmates were standing in front of their barracks, he said to Edmonds, “They cannot all be Jews.” To this Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews.” Even under the threat of death, Edmonds stood his ground. Eventually, the German gave up his demand. Edmonds is credited with saving the lives of 200 soldiers from possible death. (For more on this story, go to Roddie Edmonds.)

On October 4th, 1984, Yad VaShem recognized Chino-Sempo Sugihara as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who served as vice-consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Jewish refugees in Lithuania were desperate to leave, but it was practically impossible to obtain immigration visas to anywhere in the world. Sugihara provided between 2,100 and 3,500 transit visas before the Consulate was closed down.

During this time, Sugihara was receiving dispatches from Tokyo warning him against issuing visas without due process.

Upon his return to his country in 1946 Sugihara was dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Service. His understanding was that this was a consequence of his insubordination as consul in Kaunas. From then on he had to make a living doing odd jobs. For more on this story go to Chiune Sempo Sugihara.

Rescuer Genowefa Majcher from Poland with rescued Michael Rozenshein, summer 1947. Courtesy of Yad Vashem.

 

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