In most of my Holocaust studies, there were many facts and figures about Nazi brutality, about the many anti-Semites inside Germany as well as those in “conquered” countries who assisted the Nazis in rounding up and killing Jewish men, women, and children to kill them just because they were Jewish. Secondary to the perpetrators were the many silent witnesses from all these countries who stood by and did nothing. Perhaps they felt helpless and powerless to do anything to save the Jews. On the other hand, maybe they were in agreement with what was happening, but felt by not participating in the persecution and deaths of the Jews kept their own hand clean. Proverbs 24:11-12 says, “Deliver [those who] are drawn toward death, And hold back [those] stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” Does not He who weighs the hearts consider [it]? He who keeps your soul, does He [not] know [it]? And will He [not] render to [each] man according to his deeds?” It would have been a hard thing for people to help the Jews, because the Germans told non-Jewish populations if they helped the Jews, they themselves as well as their families would be killed.
Some were active volunteers in helping the Germans. Many Ukrainians lined up to be concentration camp guards. In the city of Lvov, Ukrainian police actively rounded up Jews and beat and killed some before they were handed over to the Germans.
Other people, like Raul Wallenberg, Corrie Ten Boom, Oscar Schindler and Irena Sendler, actively sought to help and save Jews. Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat to Lithuania, under orders not to help the Jews, defied his government and issued hundreds of visas to Jews, saving their lives. His career was ruined and he died in poverty. The majority of the people stood by and did nothing.
While working in a small village in Ukraine doing humanitarian aid for Jewish people, and elderly Ukrainian man came up to us and told us that during the war, he and his father saved 17 Jewish people. Being the skeptic I am, I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just trying to get some of the humanitarian aid we were giving to Jewish people. The next day, he came to us with two certificates from the State of Israel, recognizing him and his father as Righteous Gentiles, for saving the lives of 17 Jews during the war.
The next day, he took us to the woods and showed us depressions in the ground that had partially filled in and had forest undergrowth over it. During the war, they were deep trenches, and they hid the Jews in the trenches in the forest, covering them with branches. Ever couple of days, he and his father would go in to the woods and bring them food. In the winter, they tied branches on their feet so they wouldn’t make tracks in the snow so the Germans couldn’t follow their footprints into the forest. Everyone they took care of survived the war. He told us when the Jews were taken away, the Germans told the Ukrainian people to take the things in the Jew’s homes. He said whoever took those things didn’t live very long. We provided this man humanitarian help until the day he died.
It bothers me that there weren’t more people who helped the Jews during the war, but it would have been a hard decision considering the German’s threats against anyone who would help the Jews. It took real courage to help. It bothers me more that Allied planes didn’t bomb the train tracks to the concentration camps. They too did nothing.
On this day of remembrance of those who perished, I remember those who defied the odds and did something to help. The interesting thing is that Poland is regarded as a highly anti-Semitic country, yet there are more righteous gentiles from Poland than anywhere else.
I believe there are many people who would be Righteous among the Nations, if they had the chance, but thankfully we are not in such a time. Yet, even now, the last generation of survivors of the Holocaust lives, and are dying at the rate of one person an hour. This may be our last chance to help Holocaust survivors. Those who stand with us and help us are truly Righteous among the Nations.
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