Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Price of Holocaust Rescuing

"No one knows for certain how many non-Jews risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust There were nearly 700 million people in Nazi-occupied territories Only a tiny fraction of them were involved in rescue activities Moreover rescue activity demanded utmost secrecy Lives depended on it Many rescuers were discovered and killed. Some sheltered a Jew for a night; others hid several people for years. Some made single, one-time gestures; still others were part of an anonymous network that searched for hiding places, papers, food coupons, and money for Jews. The parting words between some Jews and the Christians who saved them were: “Promise me that you will never tell anyone my name. Don’t ever write to me. Good luck.”

"Two-thirds of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe was wiped out, and most people had done nothing to stop it."

"At a time of worldwide upheaval, when civilized norms were held in suspension a few individuals held fast to their own standards. They were not saints nor were they particularly heroic or often all that outstanding. They were simply ordinary people doing what they felt had to be done at that time With a few exceptions—such as the highly publicized rescue efforts of Swedish envoy Raoul Wallenberg who saved more than 30,000 Hungarian Jews—they were people who were easily over looked. Conscience and Courage aims to correct this historical oversight. It tells their stories and, in doing so, undertakes to explain why these people became rescuers."

"The act of rescue was an expression of the values and beliefs of the innermost core of a person.
It is a core nurtured in childhood, which came to expression during the Holocaust in the act of rescue, and then continued in the postwar years. Saving Jews came from that inner core and became part of it. This rescuer self was and, over the years has continued to be, an integral part of their identity."

"The Good Samaritan went on his way after a night; a rescuer could not. No one knew how long the war would last. In some cases, an offer to provide a safe haven for one night stretched into months and sometimes years of nerve-racking tension. The unsettling and terrifying conditions of war added more pressure to an already intense situation. Fear of discovery loomed over the rescuers’ every action and haunted their every thought. Some of the rescuers’ charges were difficult people who, under the best of circumstances, would have been hard to live with. They complained to their hosts and quarreled among themselves. Sometimes it was the rescuers who were unbearable. Underlying these tensions was the rescuers’ awareness that they had voluntarily put themselves and their loved ones in grave danger. They sometimes wondered: Should they continue to place their children’s lives in peril? Should they continue to serve their family meager rations so there was enough food for those in hiding? Should they continue to risk their lives when their children were dependent on them?"

"In different places and different accents, I heard these same sentiments time and again. It is what a seventeen-year-old Polish girl who hid and fed thirteen Jews in her apartment said. It is what a men who underwent financial ruin and death of his own son felt. And it is echoed in the sentience "Someone came who needed help, we did not think about the risk" uttered by a Danish fisherman who ferried a boat full of Jews to safety."

"Heroics came at a price... "The Gestapo figured that I might have something to tell them... They put my hand between two bars and they broke all five bones. From then on all they had to do was pinch it and I would tell them anything."

"They saw a need and wanted to help. Ona Simaite ate only potatoes and cabbage in order to have food to give to the Jews. Elizabeth Heims, a German Quaker from Munich, died in concentration camp trying to protect the Jewish orphans she was hiding. The citizens of a dozen villages in the south-central French regions of Vivarais-Lignon and the Cevennnes conspired to hide approximately 5,000 Jewish children and hundreds of families from Nazis. In Assisi, Italy, Franciscan monks cared for 200 Jewish fugitives."

"On October 15, 1941, the German authorities passed a law requiring the death penalty for all Jews who left the ghettos without permission. The same punishment applied to "persons who knowingly provide hiding places for Jews." Any christian who learned that a Jew was breaking this law had an obligation to report the crime of be subject to the same punishment. This law was widely publicized and determinedly implemented. In the town square of Lodz, a Christian mother and father and their children were hanged next to the Jews they had harbored."

"It took a determined effort to penetrate the propaganda, to be aware. Those who became rescuers made that effort. Their heightened sense of empathy overrode Nazi propaganda and their own instinct for self-preservation. They saw these victims of Nazi persecution as people different from themselves perhaps, but still part of the same human community."

"Rescuers framed the question in other terms: "Can I live with myself if I say no?"

"Those who took responsibility were not hindered by how that help wold endanger themand their family. All they though about was thea someone was in trouble. Of course they would help."

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