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. 

Content

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. 

Observations

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! 

Today-January 27, 2018 is Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yad Vashem Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

I took this photo in 2014, when we visited this museum. It was a most moving and informative experience.

Today is Yom HaShoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day to remember the millions of Jewish people across Europe who perished in the concentration camps of the Nazis. A day to listen to those survivors who are still bearing witness to their experiences in the face of the evils of the Shoah. A day to strengthen our resolve to end all hatred and anti-Semitism. A day to realize that no matter what colour our skin may be, what country we were born in and now live in, what language we speak, God is the Creator of us all, loves us all, and in response to this love, calls and gifts us to love one another. A day to pray to God to help us all to continue to grow in this love in thought, word and action.

If there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day Service or event in your community, I encourage you to attend.

70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen

Today, April 15, 2015, marks the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by the British army. Last night on PBS, there was an historical film of that event. There were dead, emaciated bodies that numbered in the thousands, and were left out in the open for all to witness. How some were able to survive such raw evil is amazing, yet they did, even though their lives were changed and deeply wounded forever.

The Holocaust Educational Trust has produced a 13 page PDF on the subject, which is available online here. I encourage readers to read it, as there are several Holocaust survivor accounts included in the document.

Tomorrow is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day

Here is an intercession for Yom Hashoah, from Eugene J. Fisher & Leon Klenicki, An Interreligious Holocaust Memorial Service: From Desolation to Hope (New York & Chicago: Stimulus Foundation and Liturgy Training Publications, 1990), p. 23:
Exalted, compassionate God, grant perfect peace in your sheltering Presence, among the holy and the pure, to the soul of all the men, women and children of the house of Israel, to the Righteous Gentiles, to the millions who died defending the right to be different, at a time of madness and terror.
May their memory endure, may it inspire truth and loyalty in our lives, in our religious commitment and tasks. May their memory be a blessing and sign of peace for all humanity. And let us say all together: Amen.

Holocaust denial and antisemitism

 

Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic act of hatred very troublesome 

Recently, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre carried out an e-mail petition campaign against Roman Catholic bishop, Richard Williamson, who denies that any Jews perished in gas chambers during the Holocaust. Most troublesome is Pope Benedict XVI’s reinstating of Williamson and the Vatican’s act of blocking the e-mail petition. After Vatican II’s outstanding work of reconciliation between the Jewish people and the RC Church, this is certainly a huge step backwards. The pope needs to take immediate action to reverse his decision, discipline Williamson, and issue an official apology to the Jewish people. Anything less would be a contradiction to the Second Vatican Council.

 In another act of anti-Semitic hatred, fuelled by the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez; last Friday at about 10:00 P.M. until 3:00 A.M. Saturday morning, the Caracas Jewish synagogue was vandalized by hoodlums who desecrated it with anti-Semitic slogans. The Jewish community was so fearful that they did not even attend synagogue last Sabbath.

For more information visit the following websites: Simon Wiesenthal Center USA and Wiesenthal Centre Canada.