I was heartened to read that the Swiss government is formally honoring Carl Lutz, its vice consul in Budapest at the end of the Holocaust. Lutz set up safe houses across the city, making each one an official diplomatic space, off limits to the Nazis and their local collaborators. He saved over 62,000 Jews!
An aspect of the Holocaust that is unfortunately not so well documented is that of the Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews. That was no easy thing to do. Many who did were ostracized by their own nations, such as Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese vice consul to Lithuania who saved some 6,000 Jews.
Many of these Righteous Gentiles — much like WW II veterans who liberated concentration camps — didn’t talk much about their experiences. Some waited until they were much older, when those around them urged them to share their stories. Others never shared at all.
Earlier this week, one Righteous Gentile was honored with Israeli citizenship. Using his status as celebrity cyclist, Gino Bartali transported Jews and documents on his bike, knowing that if he were caught, he faced certain death. His story emerged only recently, when a family he saved made his heroism known.
At the annual survivors’ memorial last month, Osi Sladek observed that every human has the capacity for good and evil. Until faced with the quandary none of us knows which road we would choose. Survival is a human instinct; that’s what makes the Righteous Gentiles so incredible. They defied the instinct for self-preservation. I wonder how many stories will never be known of those who bravely chose the good?
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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