Book Review: The Righteous

The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes Of The Holocaust 

Author: Martin Gilbert

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, hardcover, 529 pages, including: List Of Maps, Preface, Acknowledgements, Afterword, Maps Of Places Mentioned In The Text, Bibliography, Illustration Credits, and Index

The Author

At the time this volume was published in 2003, Sir Martin Gilbert had published eight books on Holocaust themes, a subject he had been writing on for forty years. He was an Honorary Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, where he taught and did research for many years. In 1995 he was knighted, and in 1999 he was awarded a Doctorate of Literature by the University of Oxford for the totality of his published work. He also taught Jewish History at the University of California and Hillsdale College, Michigan. 


In addition to the sections of this volume mentioned above, this work contains seventeen chapters, titled: 1 Rescue in the East, 2 Eastern Galicia, 3 Vilna, 4 Lithuania, 5 Poland: The General-Government, 6 Warsaw, 7 Western Galicia, 8 Germany and Austria, 9 Germans beyond Germany, 10 Central Europe and the Balkans, 11 Norway, Finland and Denmark, 12 France, 13 Belgium and Luxembourg, 14 Holland, 15 Italy and the Vatican, 16 Hungary, 17 In the Camps and on the Death Marches. 


As a historian of the Holocaust, Gilbert has been thorough in the compilation of this volume. In addition to travelling to many of the places mentioned, he has relied on correspondence and conversations from Holocaust survivors and their family members, “the Righteous” (those who helped Jews and saved them by hiding them), and archives, especially from the Yad Vashem Righteous Among the Nations Archive, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Photo Archive, as well as newspaper and journal articles, and books on the Holocaust.

The stories of the Jews who escaped the Nazis and survived the Holocaust because of “the Righteous” Gentiles who hid them are very similar—though, of course, there are unique factors in each of them. 

When asked why “the Righteous” Gentiles hid the Jews, knowing that if the Nazis caught them, they too could be killed (and many of them were, or they too were taken to concentration camps); one of the most common answers was quite modest: “We are not heroes, we only did our duty, what needed to be done.” Some said that it was their Christian faith that motivated them to do the right thing. 

Many of them expected nothing in return from the Jews; and some hid them for long periods of time, even years, until the war was over. However, they not only hid the Jews, they also provided them with food, drink, and sometimes clothing, and even medical care when needed. Those Righteous who could hide Jews only for a short period of time, were often instrumental in moving the Jews to other safe places.

Some of the hiding places were small, crowded, and dark—requiring the Jews to lay down or sit in a position quietly for lengthy periods of time, until it was safe for them to come out of such hiding places. 

In a number of cases, Jews had to be constantly on the move, from one temporarily safe hiding place to another, in order to keep one step ahead of the Nazis. Tragically, many Jews had hidden somewhere safely for a lengthy period of time, only to be discovered close to the end of the war and then murdered, along with “the Righteous” who had hidden them. Also, tragically, Gentile neighbours would betray their neighbours who were hiding Jews. Even after the war, some of “the Righteous” Gentiles were murdered by their neighbours; or they realised that they were not safe where they lived and had to move elsewhere.

“The Righteous” who saved Jews came from all walks of life and backgrounds. Some of them prior to the war had Jewish friends and neighbours and colleagues, and supported Jewish businesses; others had no Jewish friends, neighbours or colleagues. 

On rare occasions, even enemy soldiers would disobey orders knowing they could be killed if they were caught saving Jews. Some soldiers would tell the Jews that they were opposed to Hitler’s “final solution.” 

The Italians, even though they were Germany’s ally in the war, refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and did not kill their Jews, nor did they allow them to be sent to the concentration camps. It was only after the Nazis occupied Italy that the Jews were killed and sent to the camps. 

Many religious authorities, pastors and priests, etc., issued baptismal certificates and false identity documents to save Jews. Some of them protested adamantly to the Nazis authorities and were willing to sacrifice their own lives to save Jews. 

Many of the Jews who were saved by “the Righteous” did their best to show their gratitude to them—sometimes keeping in touch with them all of their lives, and even providing financial support to them. They also publicly honoured them as “the Righteous” at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. 

Several of the stories shared in this volume are indeed heart-warming, highlighting the love, humanity, and benevolent care of “the Righteous” in a time of violent evil, hatred and destruction. 

This volume will remain a helpful and instructive one for Holocaust historians in particular, as well as a general audience. The detailed, extensive Bibliography is most impressive, and will serve as an important reference for readers who wish to study the history of the Holocaust further. Highly recommended!